Carolina’s strength has never been its receiving corps. It’s been a headache for Marty Hurney, late Dave Gettleman, and Marty Hurney again. The Panthers boldly traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills for a third-round pick earlier in the season. The offense had been struggling as the Panthers coaching staff continued to find ways to make it work with two big boys (Benjamin and Devin Funchess) and speedsters, Damiere Byrd and Curtis Samuel. The move worked it seemed, but it did thin out a group that didn’t have any proven experience. Devin Funchess thrived in Benjamin’s former role and Samuel showed promise. The pieces, including Christian McCaffrey, fit together better.
Then injury hurt. Samuel suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Byrd went on IR with a broken arm, and tight-end Greg Olsen joined Byrd with a broken foot. Carolina once again brought in Brenton Bersin to bridge the gap as Byrd and Olsen worked to return. Russell Shepard, who was acquired in free agency, struggled to show he could be a consistent option in the meantime.
Carolina, however, managed. Funchess played well and the running game found a motor in trusty Cam Newton. In Week 15 when Byrd and Olsen both scored touchdowns after being on the injured reserve list just weeks earlier, Carolina’s offense looked to maybe have enough juice to make a playoff run. Damiere Byrd, however, is back on injured reserve after suffering a lower leg injury against the Bucs. leaving many wondering if Carolina has enough horses for the playoffs.
Currently, Carolina’s receiving corps consists of Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Brenton Bersin, and Mose Fraizer. Funchess leads the bunch with 67 receptions this year, but there isn’t much after that.
Finding consistency at wide receiver has been a problem for Carolina since the days of Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. Even in 2015 when Carolina’s offense seemed unstoppable, it was hardly the most formidable group. Carolina’s current receiver corps may be the least experienced and talented group in team history. Ron Rivera has stated that they don’t have plans of bringing in a free agent to help bolster the bunch.
If Carolina’s offense to make any type of push in the playoffs, Funchess is going to have to carry the group and Shepard will have to contribute more consistently in order to open some lanes of opportunity for Clay and Bersin.
By Tony Dunn
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