The Carolina Panthers have many receivers trying to make the final 53 man roster, but the team usually only keeps five receivers. With Kelvin Benjamin returning and receivers like Devin Funchess, Corey Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. holding up their roster spots, it will be a tight battle for the last remaining spots. Even the battle to make the practice squad is a tight one. Look out for some of the long shots to turn heads during the preseason and to move up the depth chart.
Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Projection
Who Will Make the Roster?
Benjamin is essentially a lock to make the final 53 man roster. The former Florida State Seminole was a first-round pick in the 2014 draft and had a stellar rookie campaign, but missed the entire 2015 season with an injury. Benjamin will probably have a light load during the preseason and the remainder of training camp because an ACL tear is an injury that needs to taken seriously. He’ll most definitely be starting WR1 this year and should be more than ready to start the regular season with no limitations.
Funchess is another lock for the Week 1 roster. This second-round pick out of Michigan was everything the Panthers had hoped he would be and then some. The former Wolverine had the usual rookie growing pains in the beginning of 2015, but throughout the season he made leaps and bounds in development. Most notably, in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers, Funchess had three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown to help the Panthers get to an 8-0 record.
Corey (Philly) Brown
Brown will make the 53 and will be tied for starting slot receiver with Ted Ginn Jr. The only trait Brown has over the veteran Ginn is youth. Brown and Ginn are both nearly identical in speed and size, but Brown has just begun his career. Brown is a tremendous deep threat with lightning speed. He can get over the top of opposing defenses and come down with the ball against bigger defenders. Brown had a drop spell in the 2015 preseason, but that is doubtful to happen again. With the return of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess starting alongside him, Philly Brown is set for a break out year.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Ginn is more than likely a lock to make the final roster due to his tremendous deep threat ability and special teams play. Before Ginn returned to Carolina in 2015, the Panthers had one of the worst special teams units in the NFL, so it’s doubtful they let the former Ohio State Buckeye go again. Ginn also had a career year with the Panthers last season when he was WR1 due to the injury to Benjamin. During the season, Ginn had 35 receptions for 525 yards and six touchdowns, which was a huge increase in production after Ginn barely saw the field in 2014 while he was with the Arizona Cardinals.
In the Hunt To Make Final 53
Damiere Byrd joined the Panthers in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. After the preseason, he remained on the practice squad throughout the 2015 season, but he is poised to make a run at the final 53 this season. Byrd hit the weights and is much bigger this season, while keeping the same speed and quickness as before. Byrd has speed comparable to that of Brown and Ginn, which could help him find a way onto the final roster.
Look out for Byrd as a kick and punt return threat alongside Ginn. That could be a potentially lethal combination on special teams. Byrd had a phenomenal performance in the Panthers preseason game where he nearly returned two punts for touchdowns, and made quite a few difficult catches. The former South Carolina Gamecock could be the fifth receiver on the roster if he continues to play like that.
Brenton Bersin aka “Sunshine” has been with the Panthers since 2012, but was not on the active 53-man roster until the 2014 season. The former Wofford Terrier had a bit of a setback at the beginning on 2015 when he was waived after the preseason and signed to the practice squad once again. After the Panthers noticed the lack of production from Kevin Norwood in 2015, they brought Bersin back onto the active roster.
Bersin is as consistent as it gets. Through his 24 games played, he’s had 22 receptions for 270 yards. He makes the catches when his number is called, regardless of the mismatch he may be facing. Bersin had a strong showing in the Panthers first preseason game, further showing his dependability and consistency.
Norwood was a fourth-round pick in 2014 for the Seattle Seahawks. He was traded to the Panthers after the injury to Benjamin to add a little depth to a depleted receiving core. Norwood saw action in Week 2 against the Houston Texans where he was targeted for a touchdown, which was instead an interception because of a bobbled catch. Norwood was inactive for the remainder of the 2015 season, but has been turning heads in training camp in 2016. The former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide may be a bit of a long shot to make the final 53, but don’t count him out.
Stephen Hill has been with the Panthers for a couple seasons but spent his whole first season on the practice squad and all last season on injured reserve with a torn ACL. It seemed like the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket was turning some heads in training camp, but he has still struggled with the drops that plagued his time with the New York Jets.
Hill has tremendous size and blistering speed, but he needs better hands. That would make him a much tougher matchup. Hill is still in the hunt to make the final roster, but it’s a crowded road ahead of him. He made a few catches in the team’s first preseason game, but he also had a few drops.
Long Shots To Make Roster
Keyarris Garrett was undrafted out of Tulsa and was thought to have been a steal for the Panthers to obtain him and not waste a draft pick. Garrett led the nation in receiving yards at Tulsa and was slated to be drafted fairly high. His only downside might be his hand size, which is slightly smaller than coaches like to see for NFL receivers. In rookie mini-camp and OTAs Garrett has made an impression by making some plays, but he has struggled with drops throughout training camp. Garrett is surely a longshot to make the final roster, but ideally he has a solid chance to land a spot on the practice squad.
Avius Capers is a Charlotte native who played football at Independence High School and Johnson C. Smith University right down the street from Bank of America Stadium. He was invited to rookie mini-camp in 2015 but did not get a call back. This season is different. After the release of cornerback Brandon Boykin, Capers was called to join the Panthers squad for training camp. At 5-foot-9, Capers is a little undersized for the receiver position, but he does have the speed and the grind for it. He could most definitely make the practice squad as a potential project.
LaRon Byrd has a tougher task ahead of him to make the roster. The former Miami Hurricane has spent time with the Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, and Washington Redskins before joining the Panthers this off-season. Byrd is a big bodied 6-foot-4, 230 pound receiver who has potential, but has been riddled with injuries throughout his career.
Miles Shuler is similar to Damiere Byrd in size, coming in at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. He’s a little lighter than Byrd but only slightly taller. Shuler was undrafted out of Northwestern, where he mostly contributed on special teams. He has an extremely steep climb to make the 53 and a tough battle to make it onto the practice squad as well. It would not be a surprise if Shuler ends up getting released during the preseason.
Final WR Projection:
- Kelvin Benjamin
- Devin Funchess
- Philly Brown
- Ted Ginn Jr.
- Damiere Byrd
Practice Squad Eligible:
- Brenton Bersin*
- Keyarris Garrett*
- Avius Capers*