The Carolina Panthers receiver corps has been an impressive bunch so far this offseason.
With the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the improvement of Devin Funchess, combined with the game changing speed of Ted Ginn Jr., Carolina’s wideouts have gone from a question mark to an exclamation point.
And while Benjamin and Funchess have the team excited for what could be ahead, one of the biggest storylines has come from the back end of the bunch as the battle for the fifth, and a possible sixth, receiver spot has been one of the most heated of the entire offseason.
Many of the Carolina wideouts on the roster bubble like Brenton Bersin, Kevin Norwood and Stephen Hill, have their upside and have performed well to this point. But by all accounts, the fifth receiver spot should be Damiere Byrd’s to lose.
Last season, Byrd joined the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina. At 5-foot-9, 175-pounds, Byrd ran a 4.28 40 at his Pro Day and was brought to Carolina as a developmental project.
After flashing some of that speed and potential in the 2015 preseason, Byrd earned himself a spot on the team’s practice squad where he spent the entire year.
When practices began in 2016, Byrd came in confident and ready to put on a show.
“I have higher expectations than anybody else, just naturally. That’s just who I am,” said Byrd, according to ESPN’s David Newton. “They both [Ron Rivera and Ricky Proehl] will give me the opportunity to play, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Showing up almost 10 pounds heavier and more physical, Byrd dominated minicamp and OTAs and had Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl excited.
“He’s going to be someone to reckon with. His speed and confidence and coming back with the development he had last year, he’s a totally different player,” Proehl said. “He’s going to make some noise in this offseason.”
And he certainly has made quite a ruckus.
Since training camp began in late July, Byrd has been on a tear as one of the Panthers standout performers.
Making big plays in practice has become a regular and consistent thing for Byrd as he tries to make the leap from practice squad player to the 53-man roster.
And those plays and his overall improvement have caught the eye of his MVP quarterback as well.
“When he’s confident, he’s as good as, if not one of, our top tier guys,” said Cam Newton, via the Charlotte Observer. “He’s very shifty, he’s fast and when he gets in that mentality that no one can cover him then he can be an asset for us.”
But it isn’t just practices where Byrd has made an impression. In both preseason games thus far, the second-year wideout has made standout plays that have kept his stock as high as ever.
In Week 1 against Baltimore, Byrd caught just one pass on five targets but it was certainly one for the highlight reel as he bobbled a one handed pass over the defender and came down with it for a 35-yard gain.
The second game of preseason action versus Tennessee was even better for the young receiver as he was targeted six times, catching three of them for 36 yards. On numerous occasions though, Byrd had beaten his defender deep and missed sure touchdowns due to errant throws.
What Byrd brings as a returner is another positive aspect of his game. So far this preseason he has returned three kicks for a total of 94 yards, including a 48-yard return against Baltimore. He’s also been the team’s primary punt returner.
Four catches for 71 yards and no scores in two games may not seem like promising numbers but looking at the catches individually is proof of the massive improvement that Byrd has undergone.
The way he runs routes and the physicality he has displayed throughout the summer has been evident and consistent and been enough to put him in the lead, no just contention, for one of the final receiver spot on the Panthers roster.
“I think I’ve done everything I can to vie for my spot on this team. I just have to keep going out there and making plays,” said Byrd, via Panthers.com. “I think that I’ve put out the best resume that I can put out and I’ll continue to do so.”
Bersin may have the experience and Hill’s size-speed combo looks enticing, but what Byrd has proved all offseason long is that he, by far, has the greatest potential and deserves a spot and a role on the Panthers 53-man roster.
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