Entering last season, the wide receiver position served as a question mark for the Carolina Panthers. Kelvin Benjamin's offseason ACL tear only exacerbated the worries of Panther fans.
But as the season progressed, veterans Ted Ginn Jr., Philly Brown and Jerricho Cotchery provided needed production while rookie Devin Funchess improved toward the playoffs and during the team's road to the Super Bowl.
As OTAs get going this week, the Panthers are in a completely different situation than in 2015. With Benjamin healthy, the team has its positional star in place with complimentary pieces in Ginn and Funchess. What seemed to be a weak point a year before, the wide receiver position is abundant with veterans and fresh faces on a team coming off a productive year offensively.
With the top part of the depth chart all but set with Benjamin, Ginn and Funchess, the Panthers have a battle for roster spots on their hands as the offseason progresses.
Kelvin Benjamin: Benjamin sat out the 2015-16 season as he recovered from his ACL tear. He exploded onto the scene in his rookie year with over a thousand yards and nine touchdowns on 73 catches. At 6-foot-5, Benjamin provides a hulking target for league MVP Cam Newton.
Ted Ginn Jr.: Ginn was a revelation for the Panthers in his return to the team. The veteran recorded a career-high 10 receiving touchdowns in the regular season, doubling his previous mark of five which came in his prior stint with Carolina. Along with Brown, Ginn served as the primary deep threat for Newton, always a step away from blowing the top off a defense. Drops were an issue as Ginn recorded 10 dropped passes on 96 targets, not including playoffs.
Devin Funchess: In his rookie year, Funchess struggled to find his footing as he adjusted to the pro game. He showed improvement deeper into the season, leading to his breakout performance of 120 yards and a touchdown in the final regular season contest against Tampa Bay. At 6-foot-4, Funchess provides another big body for Newton.
In The Hunt
Philly Brown: Brown was more than serviceable for the team in 2015. The Ohio State product tallied four touchdowns in the regular season with only one drop. He made his presence felt in the postseason, accumulating a season-high 113 yards in the NFC Championship against the Arizona Cardinals. Providing veteran talent and proven production, Brown will likely see the field this coming season.
Stephen Hill: The Panthers re-signed the former New York Jet in March after he spent the entire 2015 season on IR after tearing his ACL last August. Hill hasn't played a regular season game since 2013 but provides solid size at 6-foot-4 and upside--he's still only 25 years old. The signing shows the Panthers still have an interest in seeing what the young receiver can do.
Keyarris Garrett: Keyarris Garrett went undrafted in this year's draft, which came as a surprise because the 6-foot-4 Tulsa product led the NCAA in receiving yards with 1,588 in his senior season. If he makes the team, the rookie would add more height to an already towering receiving core, and that doesn't include tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson.
Could Miss Out
Brenton Bersin: Bersin signed with the Panthers as a free agent in 2013, spending the year on the practice squad. He has seen game action the past two seasons, appearing in nine regular season games this past year while gaining 119 yards. Born in Charlotte, Bersin has ties to the area that make him a player that fans like to root for but with new signings and others returning from injury, Bersin may find himself on the practice squad or without a job soon.
Kevin Norwood: The Panthers traded a 2017 seventh-round conditional draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks last year for Norwood, who is going into his third NFL season. Norwood appeared in one game for the Panthers, where he did not catch a pass against the Texans. While Norwood could still be in the team's plans, the Panthers can afford to part ways with the receiver unlike last year.null