The Carolina Panthers didn’t have any problems scoring last season. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton had a prolific inaugural season helping the Panthers score 25.4 points per game which tied them for 5th best in the league.
No the Panthers’ biggest chore this offseason will be beefing up their porous defense which ranked 28th in the league allowing 26.8 points per game. Expect them to try and sign a few defensive free agents but they will mostly attempt to improve their defense through the draft.
They will need to make an upgrade at the wide receiver position though. Their best receiver last season was Steve Smith who while still productive, will be 33 when the 2012 NFL season starts and can’t be depended on to produce at such a high level for much longer.
And the guy who played opposite him, Legedu Naanee, is not the answer to succeed Smith. Naanee was maddeningly inconsistent and produced only one touchdown in 15 games played last season. With the Panthers targeting defensive players with most of their high picks in the 2012 draft, Carolina will look towards the free agent crop of receivers to address their need at that position.
There are a few young receivers available that can help this team but some of the more talented ones come with baggage. The Buffalo Bills’ Steve Johnson and the Philadelphia Eagle’s DeSean Jackson are two of the youngest and probably the two most gifted athletes available at the position but both are head cases.
Johnson made some big catches last year but also had a lot of untimely drops. Jackson on the other hand was not nearly as productive as he had been in previous years. Jackson was upset about not receiving a contract extension last year and was in a funk all season. Both were distractions with their childish behavior and would potentially clash with the team’s resident head case, Smith.
There are four more receivers on the list that Carolina would love to sign this offseason but two of them are sure to be resigned by their respective teams. Mike Wallace had a great year for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is sure to be franchised if the Pittsburgh Steelers fail to sign him, while Dwayne Bowe was one of the few bright spots for the Kansas City Chiefs last year.
That leaves the Indianapolis Colts’ Pierre Garcon and the Dallas Cowboys’ Laurent Robinson as the most coveted free agent targets that the Panthers will pursue this offseason. Garcon will be courted heavily by his own team with the expected departure of their top receiver Reggie Wayne but may not want to stick around with all of the changes going on in Indy. Robinson on the other hand may be tempted to leave Dallas rather than be stuck in the lineup behind receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
Robinson proved to be a big time play-maker for the Cowboys last year after being inserted into the lineup when Austin went down with an injury. Robinson played in 14 games for the Cowboys last year starting four of them. Robinson had 54 catches for 858 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns on the season.
Robinson was a vertical threat and 6’2” also proved to be a pretty reliable possession receiver. He would be a great compliment to Smith who may retire in a couple of years.
Most importantly he would be a great weapon for Newton to grow with. With the canon of an arm Newton possesses, Robinson could become a Pro-Bowl caliber receiver in a year or two. That is if the Panthers can get him.