NFC South Breakthrough Candidates: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers:  SEC Rookies, Former Appalachian State QB-WR Dynamo, and 2nd-Year Safety.

At first thought I was like, why not Dante Rosario?  You figure Carolina would be more apt to utilize the TE being Steve Smith is their only proven receiver, coupled with the fact that either much anticipated young blood Jimmy Clausen or incumbent Matt Moore will be taking snaps under center for the Cats in 2010.  Right?  Ever since his game-winning touchdown grab which propelled the club to an upset victory against San Diego in the 2008 opener, I, along with many others have expected him to breakthrough in a big way.  

At times I’ve been lured to wow in awe when watching this athletic specimen perform, but have more times than not come away wondering asking myself, “Was Dante even on the field today, was he invisible?”  I’ve been a victim of the “Dante Rosario High Hopes Syndrome”.   I have moved on.  I can no longer think this way.  So instead of the underachieving one-hit wonder Rosario, I actually decided to go with a bevy of players for Carolina:

– Brandon LaFell, WR (LSU):  Dwayne Jarrett isn’t cutting it and LaFell was a flat-out steal in Round Three.  He has the prototypical size you want in a possession receiver who could move the chains on 3rd down.  He also gives you a big and strong enough target in the red zone.   He will be everything Jarrett was supposed to be and everything the inconsistent Rosario isn’t.  I truly believe LaFell will develop into the sure go-to option down inside the 20 for jump balls.  5 or 6 touchdowns isn’t out the reach for this former Louisiana State Tiger standout.  John Fox will love his blocking and he will be the given the opportunity to shine as the second option at wide out next to Steve Smith.  The only potential thing hindering him back may be the coaching staff, who may not see the “it” factor in LaFell right away.   

– Eric Norwood, LB (South Carolina)/Greg Hardy, DE (Ole Miss):  Both players have the knack to get the quarterback.  They possess the innate ability to make a difference when it comes to 3rd down passing situations.  Drafting Norwood in the Fourth Round was a gem.  Hardy in the Sixth Round, an absolutely highway robbery, a theft, what a coup.   Norwood will be a menace at either OLB or DE.  His ability to play two positions will help his cause for early playing time.  He and Hardy will be difficult assignments to handle because of their quickness off the ball.  Look for these two former SEC defenders to make life tough for opposing QB’s for not only this year, but for plenty of years to come in the NFC South.

– Dexter Jackson, WR/Return Specialist and WR Armanti Edwards:  Remember these guys at the “Assassination in Ann Arbor”?  They helped pull off one of the all-time greatest upsets in College Football history –its widely considered one of the biggest shockers ever, in any realm of sports.  Anyways, Dexter Jackson has new life coming over from Tampa Bay, where he was labeled as a second round bust.   He has the chance to prove his worth and answer doubting critics.  

Armanti Edwards is changing positions, converting over from QB to WR.  This kid is tough and sees the field really well –with his elusive ability he’s excellent in open space.  Both are raw, but both have tons of upside.  Jackson will turn heads as an electrifying return man.  Edwards will be in on a handful of timely gadget plays on offense as well as having his part in the slot.  Look for these former teammates to reunite and open eyes making many reminisce to the Saturday afternoons when they were making plays all over the field for Appalachian State.  The return of a killer dynamic duo?  Without a hesitation of a doubt, the skill level is clearly evident.   

– Sherrod Martin, Starting Free Safety:  Chris Harris’ replacement is a superb athlete with tremendous range and coverage skills, having the ability to go get the ball in the air.  He made waves early on as a rookie, making his first start at Arizona, picking off two Kurt Warner passes en route to the team’s triumph over the Cardinals.  This year he will be making headlines more often, as he is being called upon to start next to fellow safety Charles Godfrey, whom he filled in for in the starting line-up.  Expect him to raise eyebrows pairing up with Godfrey forming a solid play making tandem in the secondary for Carolina along with the uber-talented Chris Gamble.  The sky’s the limit for Martin, he’s got all the potential in the world, and he will show it off in year two for John Fox’s attack.

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