We've already covered the quarterbacks and running backs, but it's time to move on to the last of the skill positions: the receivers.
The Panthers have a nice mix of youth and experience among their receivers. Here are the notable players currently on the roster:
Steve Smith, No.89
Brandon LaFell, No.11
David Gettis, No.12
Legedu Naanee, No.17
Kealoha Pilares, No. 81
Starter(s): Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell
Steve Smith has been one of the most reliable players for this franchise over the past decade. He's been successful under nearly every quarterback and remained loyal to Jerry Richardson and the team.
Smith is not only an attention grabbing playmaker, he's a great leader as well. He's become a mentor to the numerous young receivers currently on the roster, and his chemistry with Cam Newton early on is something few expected.
With a rookie quarterback at the helm, many receivers would struggle to deal with the mental miscues and missed opportunities, but Smith put it upon himself to ease the transition on Newton and had one of his most productive professional seasons ever in 2011.
Smith, however, is 32 years old and will not be around forever. I wouldn't put it past him to get a few more elite seasons out of his body, but at a certain point, there will need to be a replacement waiting in the wings for his inevitable retirement.
Opposite of Smith this season was Brandon LaFell, who made great strides when being handed the starting job following injuries to David Gettis in the preseason and then Legedu Naanee in Week 16.
LaFell is not a burner, nor is he a physically dominant wideout, but he does many things well and earned his way into a potential starting job heading into training camp next season.
The youngster out of LSU has already amassed over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons in the league and should remain a contributor on the Panthers versatile offense, even if another starter is added onto the roster.
Backup(s): David Gettis, Legedu Naanee, Kealoha Pilares
The Panthers knew they had something special in David Gettis after a stellar rookie season, but after he lost his sophomore season to injury, LaFell gained the starting role from Gettis for the time being.
Gettis has the frame and athleticism to be an elite receiver and possesses the skills—hands, route running ability, blocking—to be the heir apparent to Steve Smith. The big question is whether or not he can bounce back from this injury and be the player the Panthers hoped he could be.
Naanee was brought to Carolina mainly due to a past connection to Ron Rivera in San Diego, but he performed beyond expectations towards the end of the season. Early on, he seemed to drop more passes than he caught and never came up big in clutch situations.
However, following the bye week, Naanee was a much more consistent player and may have earned himself a re-signing—he is an unrestricted free agent.
The Panthers may be better off finding help in a deep receiver class though. Finding a more talented player than Naanee will be possible in Rounds One to Four this year, making it an avenue that the Panthers could look to.
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