The Carolina Panthers created a massive hole in their wide receiver room when they traded D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears in exchange for the first-overall pick. Moore eclipsed 1,000 yards three times in his five years in Carolina. This leaves a large amount of yardage and targets available to the new receiver core in 2023. With offseason signings and draft picks used on the receiver position, the 2023 wide receiver room is revitalized.
Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Preview
The former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver signed with the Panthers to a three-year, $25 million deal. Thielen spent his entire career in Minnesota and has an opportunity to be the No. 1 receiver in his career again. Throughout his time with the Vikings, Thielen was second fiddle to Stefon Diggs and then Justin Jefferson. As the Vikings moved on from the two-time Pro Bowler, the 32-year-old still has quality years left.
Thielen may be different from the receiver he once was in 2017-18 with 1,276 and 1,373 receiving yards. He scored a career-high in receiving touchdowns with 14 in 2020 and 925 receiving yards. Last season, Thielen had 70 receptions and 716 receiving yards as the No. 2 wide receiver.
The former Viking comes into the 2023 offense as a reliable option for Bryce Young, as Thielen is the most sure-handed receiver in Carolina. He’ll likely line up all around the field with a low route tree as a short to mid-route option. Overall, Thielen won’t fill the void of Moore but will become a reliable option for his quarterback and mentor to the younger receivers.
DJ Chark Jr.
The 2019 Pro Bowl wide receiver spent his first four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chark broke out in his second year with 73 receptions, 1,008 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns. He struggled to stay healthy the following two seasons, as he played 13 games in 2020 and four in 2021.
Once his rookie contract was up, Chark signed with the Detroit Lions on a one-year deal. In 2022, he caught 30 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns while missing six games. He went into the offseason and signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Panthers in what’ll be a prove-it deal for Carolina and other teams in the NFL.
One of the main concerns of Chark is his injury history, as he’s struggled to stay on the field throughout his career. When he’s on the field, the 6’4” wide receiver makes a difference as a vertical threat and jump ball receiver. He’ll bring his explosiveness to this offense and a contested catch ability that’ll outweigh this Panthers wide receiver room.
Terrace Marshall Jr.
After showing some signs of life in the back half of 2022, Panthers fans are hoping for a Year 2 leap from the former second-round pick After a forgettable rookie year with 138 receiving yards, Marshall improved in 2022 with 490 yards. With the absence of Moore and having a role as the No. 3 receiver, things are looking up for the LSU receiver.
“Terrace Marshall is absolutely phenomenal. Even the coaches have come in and said ‘Wow I didn’t realize this kid was this good’,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said.
In 2023, Marshall will interchange in the slot and on the outside with Thielen. With a veteran duo of receivers at the top of the depth chart, Marshall is the leader in being a part of a young group of receivers. If what Fitterer is saying is true, then the future is bright for a young receiver that can make headway on this Panthers roster.
Laviska Shenault Jr.
Going into his second year on the Panthers, Shenault has the possibility of becoming an x-factor on this offense. He can have a breakout year in Carolina with excellent speed and the ability to line up anywhere.
Shenault started his career with the Jaguars in 2020 with 600 receiving yards in 14 games and 619 yards in 2021. He was traded to Carolina before the 2022 season for a 2023 seventh-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick. In 2022, Shenault was used sparingly because of injuries and adjusting to a new team. He finished the season with 27 receptions for 272 yards. The highlight of his season came on a 41-yard backward pass that he took to the end zone.
LAVISKA SHENAULT TO THE 🏠 pic.twitter.com/8YyEcccE6A
— PFF (@PFF) November 11, 2022
His 2023 season will be made or broken, as he has a low floor but a high ceiling to his offensive production. At 24 years old, he joins Marshall as part of the potential future Panthers wide receiver core.
Drafted early in the second round, Jonathan Mingo rose on draft boards a week before the 2023 draft. The Ole Miss wide receiver will be paired up with Young as they’ll build chemistry the quickest by being in the same draft class. With a 6’2”, 225-pound frame, Mingo’s initial comparison was his fellow Ole Miss receiver AJ Brown. While being compared to Brown are lofty expectations, he’ll be given the time to develop under the veteran receivers his rookie year.
Mingo, paired with Marshall and Shenault, makes up a young trio of talented receivers for a promising future in Carolina. All three receivers share a commonality of being drafted in the second round, meaning all three have the talent to be great in the NFL.
Like Chark, Mingo has a similar skill set in going up and getting the football in contested situations. For his rookie season, he’ll be mixed into different wide receiver sets but isn’t expected to be a starter yet. If Mingo does excel with his limited opportunity, the Panthers could see Mingo takeover Chark’s No. 2 spot in 2024, with Chark on a one-year deal.
Drafted in the sixth round in 2021, the South Carolina wide receiver struggled to find an identity in his rookie year with 104 yards. In 2022, Smith impacted the receiving game with 296 yards, but also in the punt return game.
Smith started six games as a returner and returned 23 punts for 143 yards. His longest return being 22 yards, while he averaged 6.2 per return. Currently listed as the starting punt returner on ESPN, he’ll get the first opportunity in 2023 to retain his starting role. Smith will also be used for relief to other receivers in offensive sets.
The former Panther wide receiver in 2016-18 signed back with Carolina this offseason. In signing with Carolina, the Panthers become his fifth different team in five years. The 5’9” speedster has become more of an offensive weapon since he left. He was mainly used on the special teams in his first stint with Carolina. In 2020, with the New England Patriots, Byrd had a career-high in receiving yards with 604. Byrd showed off his new skill set against Carolina in Week 8 for the Atlanta Falcons with a 47-yard touchdown.
Damiere Byrd only catches TD passes, those are the rules pic.twitter.com/3xQ2Zfnnwr
— Miles Garrett (@MilesGarrettTV) October 30, 2022
Now on the Panthers, Byrd can compete for the kickoff and punt return roles based on his sheer speed. Carolina should look at implementing him into different offensive sets, similar to his previous teams. Allowing him to rip apart defenses and become an important weapon for Carolina.
“I think it was just a thing that everything aligned,” Byrd said. “Charlotte has always been my home. We never really left. No matter where we were, we would always come back here in the offseason. It was kind of aligned.”
Main Photo: Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports