Panthers talk about increasing the number of offensive playmakers
Five feet 10, 5 feet 11, 5 feet 11, 6 feet, 6 feet 1.
Those are the listed heights of Carolina Panthers wide receivers Jarius Wright, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Torrey Smith and Chris Hogan, respectively.
With the departure of 6-foot-4 receiver Devin Funchess to Indianapolis this offseason, there is growing concern within the Carolina fanbase about the team’s perceived lack of a red-zone target. Some national analysts also have predicted that the team selects a big-bodied receiver in next week’s NFL Draft.
But while general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera are looking to add playmakers through the draft and free agency, they say size isn’t necessarily the first trait they covet in a wide receiver. Rather, they want to know how far they can get from their defender — and how quickly they can get there.
“If you can get separation, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 5-foot-8 or you’re 6-foot-5,” Hurney said at the Panther’s pre-draft press conference Wednesday. “Get separation and get open ... not just in the red zone but anywhere on the field.”
Creating space with his defender is something Carolina’s newest receiver, Hogan, does well. His 4.1 average yards of separation at the time of a catch or incompletion was second only to New York Giants tight end Evan Engram’s 4.4 yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Wright averaged 3.2 yards; Moore, 2.9; and Samuel, 2.4. Funchess? He averaged 2.3.
Hogan’s addition won’t stop Carolina from drafting a receiver next week, although it will not be as high a priority as improving its offensive and defensive lines.
But there’s a reason pundits believe there’s a place on the Panthers’ roster for a big-bodied wide receiver — it’s about presenting a diverse offense to an opposing defense.
While NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout, sees the value of separation in the red zone he isn’t ready to dismiss the importance of size once teams get inside the 20-yard line.
“I still think there’s a place for size when you get down in the tight red zone,” Jeremiah said. “We can see, you’ll see a lot of the pick plays, you want to play man coverage down there, you’ll see a lot of those rub routes, and you can escape and do some of those things.
“But I always go back to the theory of trying to get a basketball team. I want some of everything. I don’t want to trot out a team with a bunch of little guys, and I don’t want to trot a team out there of all power forwards. I want to have a mix of size and skill set.”
Carolina isn’t likely to draft a receiver with either of its first two or three picks, but Jeremiah said there should still be shifty receivers available in the mid-to-late rounds:
Riley Ridley: 6-foot-1/195 pounds, WR, Georgia (R2-R3)
Ridley, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley, didn’t wow anyone with his numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.58-second 40-yard dash, with a 7.22-second three-cone drill and 4.28-second 20-yard shuttle. But his sharp route-running at Georgia left Jeremiah impressed.
“I know he didn’t test well. I know he doesn’t have a ton of production,” Jeremiah said. “But that dude knows how to run routes, and he generates separation. Talking to people around the league, he’s probably going to end up going in the third round when it’s all said and done, which I think is a tremendous bargain.”
Mecole Hardman: 5-foot-10/186 pounds, WR, Georgia (R2-R4)
Hardman’s 4.33-second 40-yard dash was one of the fastest times at the Combine, regardless of position. He was also an explosive returner, which is a position of need for Carolina. Projected to go anywhere between the second and fourth rounds, Hardman would be an intriguing option if he fell to the Panthers’ No. 100 overall pick in the third round.
Travis Fulgham: 6-foot-2/215 pounds, WR, Old Dominion (R3-R4)
Fulgham’s size warrants a “big-bodied receiver” designation, but Jeremiah said the former walk-on can create space despite his frame. Adding their second Old Dominion player (after quarterback Taylor Heinicke) could give the Panthers the best of both worlds in terms of size and separation ability.
“A guy like Travis Fulgham from Old Dominion, there’s another one who ran 4.58 (40-yard dash),” Jeremiah said. ”But he creates separation, gets away from people, (and) he’s a really good route runner. “
Emanuel Hall: 6-foot-2/201 pounds, WR, Missouri (R4)
Another big-bodied target at wide receiver, Hall is an explosive athlete on the outside. Although he relied in college more on his speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) than his route-running, he could be special with some NFL-level coaching.
“Emanuel Hall from Missouri is probably a top three vertical receiver in this draft, and he runs away from everybody,” Jeremiah said. “He definitely can create some separation.”
Penny Hart: 5-foot-8/180 pounds, WR, Georgia State (R6-R7)
Hart, a converted high school running back, separated at will during the Senior Bowl in January but is still somewhat raw. He may be a project at wide receiver but the athletic traits are there, and he should be around long after the Panthers address their more pressing needs.
“If you want to go late, really late, there’s somebody in the slot that can create some separation,” Jeremiah said. “You just watch Penny Hart from Georgia State at the Senior Bowl and the job he did of creating separation. He’s just a really good player. Doesn’t wow you with height, weight or speed, but he knows how to get away from people and create some room.”