Panthers Depth Chart Analysis: Wide Receiver

Entering training camp this year, the wide receiver position could be the toughest position battle the Carolina Panthers have. The team has done a good job adding talent to this group and the coaching staff is going to have tough decisions to make as they get down to their final cuts. Brandon Croce breaks down what the depth chart looks like for the Panthers at wide receiver.

Wide Receiver #1: Kelvin Benjamin

Even though he has missed some time at OTAs this year, Kelvin Benjamin’s spot as the team’s top wide receiver is not in jeopardy. Last year’s first round pick did an excellent job as a rookie and finished the season with 73 receptions, 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished first or second on the team in a number of receiving categories.

Even with the strong rookie season, there is still room for Benjamin to grow. According to Sporting Charts, he finished tied for second in the NFL in dropped passes with 10. He also saw a significant drop in his stats towards the end of the season. Over the first 12 games of the season, he had four games with 50 or less receiving yards. In three of the final four games of the regular season he was not able to break the 50 yard mark.

If Benjamin can improve in these two areas, he should be in line for a big sophomore season with the Carolina Panthers.

 

Wide Receiver #2: Devin Funchess

After Benjamin, the depth chart is very unsettled. Second-round draft pick Devin Funchess looks to be the favorite to start opposite Benjamin after a strong few weeks in mini-camps and OTAs. The absence of Benjamin has given the rookie out of Michigan the chance to play a number of positions. The coaching staff has been really impressed with Funchess so far, as ESPN’s David Newton wrote.

The biggest question is whether or not Funchess’ performance on the practice field in shorts will translate to Sunday in pads. If Funchess can continue to perform like he has in practice against opposing defenses, the Panthers’ wide receivers will be a matchup nightmare because of the size they possess on the outside.

 

Wide Receiver #3: Corey Brown

The wide receiver formerly known as Philly has been one of the most improved players from last year. Corey Brown has been one of the standouts at OTAs and has been working with the first team offense, according to ESPN’s David Newton.

As an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State, Brown saw an increase in playing time halfway through the season when the Panthers released Jason Avant. He was able to bring an element of speed the team was lacking. As Newton wrote, Brown has bulked up and added about 10 pounds. He looks ready to have a big 2015 season.

 

Wide Receiver #4: Ted Ginn Jr.

With all the size the Panthers have on the outside, they are going to need speed on the inside. The combination of Brown and Ginn should be exactly what this offense needs.  

After a season in Arizona, Ginn returns to Carolina where he had one of his best seasons of his career in 2013. He finished that season with a career high in yards per reception (15.4) and touchdowns (5). Even though Brown is slightly ahead Ginn on the depth chart right now, this could change before the season starts. It would not be surprising to see these two interchanged throughout the season either.

 

Wide Receiver #5: Jerricho Cotchery

Last year, Cotchery was the veteran presence necessary for an inexperienced wide receiver group. He finished the year with 48 receptions for 580 yards but only one touchdown. At this point in his career he fits the role as a possession wide receiver perfectly.

The question is if the Panthers will value experience over youth. Cotchery is nearing the end of his career and the coaching staff will need to decide if they want to keep him over a player like Brenton Bersin, who is still developing and hasn’t reached his full potential.

 

Wide Receiver #6: Brenton Bersin

Last season was Bersin’s first opportunity to see game action after spending the 2013 season on the Panthers’ practice squad. He spent a majority of the season as a kick returner but did catch 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown.

Unfortunately for Bersin he could be odd man out with all the talent the organization has added this offseason. He certainly has the physical tools to play the position but is still developing. However, the team has so much depth at the position there may not be room for a developing wide receiver.

 

Wide Receiver #7: Jarrett Boykin

The team signed Boykin this offseason to a one-year deal after he spent the previous three seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He had an incredible six game stretch in 2013 replacing an injured Randall Cobb but lost his spot to rookie Davante Adams last year.

Boykin is not necessarily a bad wide receiver but the fact that he is down this far on the depth chart goes to show just how much depth the team now has at the position. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up as one of the final cuts, even though he was a free agent signing.

 

Wide Receiver #8: Stephen Hill

Hill has spent some time on the Panthers’ practice squad and is trying to revive his career. He is largely considered a draft bust after the New York Jets selected him in the second round of 2012 NFL Draft. He hasn’t played in an NFL game since the 2013 season, when he caught 24 passes on 59 targets.

Similar to a lot of players on the Panthers, he has incredible size (6’4”, 215 pounds) however that has yet to translate for Hill to success on the field. Hill is going to need to have a strong training camp if he hopes to make the roster, again not because he couldn’t contribute, but because of how much talent is now at the position.

 

Rest of the Wide Receivers

The rest of the wide receivers are truly longshots to make the roster. The team has four other wide receivers currently on the 90-man roster (De’Andre Presley, Marcus Lucas, Damiere Byrd, and Mike Brown).

Of this group, Byrd probably has the best chance of sticking with the organization, but most likely on the practice squad. The Panthers signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of South Carolina. Byrd demonstrated incredible speed at the college level and will need time to develop some other areas of his game before he can contribute. 

Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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