Panther Offensive Players due for a Breakout 2014 Season

Through my knowledge of Panther football I’ve generated a list of players who I feel will have a year that will propel their name to a higher tier. This list consists of a variety of players, some who a few Panther fans aren’t too familiar with and others you guys might feel shouldn’t be on here. I wanted to put some big name players on the list because I’ve been keeping an eye on their offseason and believe like these guys could possibly register one of their most productive seasons yet. A few rookies even made the list.

I’ll begin with the 29th ranked Offense in the League last year. In my opinion, it is finally starting to find the true rhythm that belongs in Carolina, and could possibly see a huge progression in 2014. One of the bigger improvements I see is in the interior of the line. 

The reason why is because Amini Silatolu will be back on the second to last year of his contract, more focused than the past two seasons knowing these are two make it or break it seasons coming up. After tearing his ACL at Arizona last year in that early season debacle, he was sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. He hadn’t played much last year, missing a few games credited to his hamstring giving him trouble. However, he finished his rookie campaign on a tremendously high note putting him on the 2012 Pro Football Weekly’s All Rookie First-Team before dislocating his wrist in Oakland.  Silatolu was labeled as the meanest guy in the draft coming out in 2012. If he can find that nastiness again and play to the level he ended his rookie year on, coupled with a better understanding of the blocking schemes, he could just break out. I see him, Ryan Kalil, and Trai Turner posing as one of the better and physically stronger interior lines this season. Yes I said Turner, who gets an unnoted honorable mention for a possible breakout rookie season but let’s get to his rookie teammate.

Kelvin Benjamin is probably the most physically gifted wide receiver coming out of this year’s wide receiver loaded draft. With that, he is also the most criticized. To be 6’5, 240 lbs, run a 4.61 forty time, and have ten inch hands, just putting him on the field instantly gives a defensive coordinator match-up problems that he will have to scheme for. Usually one would imagine that big of a player being at Tight End, but nope.  “Benji,” as Newton likes to call him, has been used inside and outside, being able to outrun linebackers inside, and over power corner backs on the outside. A lot of people have been skeptical about his hands and route running though. Luckily, for us, we might have the best wide receiver coach in football. Ricky Proehl did wonders for Ted Ginn Jr. and even number 89 said he learned so much more from him after already being in the league 10 plus years. Also, Benjamin is staying in Charlotte with Cam and around the facility skipping his first vacation opportunity with a pro contract and using the time before training camp to get as much knowledge of the playbook as he can. He’s in good position to find a connection with Newton that he missed out on in OTAs due to Newton’s ankle. I do see him making some rookie drops at the beginning of the year trying to push himself too hard, but right before midseason I see him falling into form and finding his confidence in Shula’s offense. Look for him to be big in the red zone this year

2014 Predictions:  56 Catches, 577 yds, 9 Touchdowns

Brandon Williams: I think we finally get to see the secret weapon unleashed Panther fans. And if anyone has been keeping up with the Panthers then you guys know why I’m saying this. Looking like a mixture of Thor and the Hulk, William’s name has not been able to stay out of the mouths of by standers or coaches this past year. He has done nothing but impress by making play after play when given the opportunity in practice. The 6’4 250 lb Tight End actually played with Kenjon Barner at Oregon before being shut down by coaches after being diagnosed with a narrow spinal canal complicated by a bulging disc.  After being found by long time defensive lineman Sam Adams, post graduation, he was able to get in with an agent, and get cleared by the NFL to try out.  Now, here we are today, blessed with this gift of raw talent that has been marinating in our playbook, and working vigorously with coaches for the past year (only played special teams last season due to lack of playbook knowledge and raw talent).  He might be one of the overall most athletic guys on the team, equipped with great speed, great hands, progressive blocking and playmaking ability. I remember reading an article last year when William’s name was just surfacing by Tom Sorenson talking about how William’s pulled a picture out on his phone of him dunking in a rec league game and his elbow was above the rim. I, along with a lot of other people, believe that he will be the third tight end to make the team and will play just as much as Dickson.  Rivera has already mentioned how the Panther’s will go back to using a two-tight end set more often just like Cams rookie year in which the offense flourished.

 2014 Predictions: 42 Catches, 322 yds, 3 Touchdowns

The Backfield:
DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Tyler Gaffney, Kenjon Barner

I feel like this year our running backs all have something to prove. They may also be a big part of Carolina’s offensive plan this season. If you guys haven’t noticed, this offseason has really revolved around our running game and what can we do to make it better than it was in 2014. We ranked 11th in rushing last year and managed to do so with an O-line infected by the injury bug that plunged all the way down to 3rd string in some areas.  For the first time in probably four years, J-Stew is finally healthy. All of our running backs bring something to the table, and his plate is probably the biggest because he punishes defenses causing them to put more in the box by the end of the game. DeAngelo’s offseason has been very busy, and with a loss to his Mother, Mrs.  Sandra Kay Hill, (my sincerest condolences) he seems more focused than ever. I have heard that he looks more explosive this offseason than he has looked in a while. He and J-Stew will be the two featured backs followed by Tolbert, who last year really came into his own and took off in the passing and rushing game becoming an integral part of the offense. Our sixth round pick Tyler Gaffney probably won’t bust out of the seams right away, but I would surely keep up with him. He is sharp in all aspects of the game and once he makes the pure transition will possibly be the back of the future. I look for him to break out in his sophomore campaign. Kenjon Barner will probably take on more of the role as a back to bring in and insert into formations that circle around isolating the running back out of the backfield and getting him into open space; his vision is top notch. With our interior line having the chance to be stronger than ever this is the year, our backfield should make a statement. 
 2014 Predictions: Ranked 3rd in Rushing- DeAngelo Williams 171 Att. 779 yds. 5 TD. 23 Rec 340 yds 1 TD–Jonathan Stewart 182 Att. 883 yds 7 TD. 10 Rec. 180 yds -Mike Tolbert 113 Att. 408 yds 8 TD. 30 Rec. 207 yds. 2 TD. -Tyler Gaffney 51 Att. 287 yds. 3 TD. 15 Rec.  250 yds 2 TD.-Kenjon Barner 25 Att. 117 yds. 1 TD. 22 Rec. 327 yds. 3 TD (kick return specialist)

Cam Newton is in a position to have his best year yet, and that’s saying a lot about the only football player to have over 50 passing touchdowns and 25 rushing touchdowns in his first three years and, arguably, the best start of any quarterback in the history of the NFL. In his first two years, we saw that Cam was able to be a highly productive quarterback, but his third year we all saw the maturation from player to team leader. Cam Newton excitingly found out the recipe to winning in the NFL last season. The worry behind Cam this year is mainly the outside of the offensive line, both tackle spots seem highly questionable and so was Dave Gettleman’s decision not to draft or pick up a tackle in free agency.  Just in the past year, I have seen enough of DG to trust his moves, especially him being a lover of Hog Mollies. Many fans questioned the wide receiver free agency moves he made, but if you guys didn’t notice, we finally have three sure handed receiving options for the first time since the early 2000s. This is not including Kelvin Benjamin, who like I said earlier will only progress throughout the year and give Cam another Superhero to throw to. People don’t understand our offense is not the type where receivers need to be the main component of our play book; our system is old school and requires sure handed wide receivers that can block like tight ends. Also, for the first time since college, Cam’s ankle will be 100 percent. For a QB of his size who carries the rock as much as he does, that is highly important. Add in the two-tight end set that bolstered his rookie year numbers and gave the Panther’s the seventh ranked offense in the NFL, and you can probably see where I’m going with this.  The pieces have been slowly put into place just the right way for Cam, so anyone counting him or the Panthers out this season will be truly surprised around late December when the Panthers are in the same position they were last year.  

2014 Predictions:  479 Att. 296 Comp.  3,978 yds. 32 TD 11 Int. – 113 Att. 607 yds. 10 TD

By Gerin Honeycutt  
Follow him on Twitter @_OGerin_