Carolina Panthers

Who is the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 receiver in 2019? Everyone, and no one. Here’s why

Young Carolina Panthers receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel will shoulder a big responsibility this season:

Moving the team’s offense further into the future.

Both players, in their second and third respective NFL seasons, will help evolve the Panthers’ offense this fall into something both non-traditional and reflective of each player’s skill set.

Samuel will be the “No. 1 receiver.” So will Moore.

Heck, so could everybody.

“If you were really going to ask me ‘Who is your No. 1?’ I’d say ‘Probably Christian (McCaffrey) right now,’” laughed head coach Ron Rivera, after the Panthers’ OTAs practice on Wednesday morning. The running back led the team in catches with 107 last season, which also led all running backs in the NFL and ranked eighth among receivers and tight ends.

Rivera was being tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Because the Panthers’ plan at receiver is a lot more interesting than simply “who got the most catches.”

Here’s an explanation: The Panthers had long featured a more traditional offense, with one specific wideout considered the “No. 1”, in the featured role and often playing on the outside in the dominant “X” position.

But after former receiver Devin Funchess, who was supposed to step up into the vacant “No. 1” role last season, sat out with a back injury in Week 12 and then saw his targets dwindle, Moore, Samuel and McCaffrey provided a glimpse into the future of what the Panthers’ offense could be.

“Having us all out there together, it just looked smooth,” said Moore. “So we kept going with it.”

Versatile. Complementary. Shifty. Dynamic.

And faster.

“We’re just so dynamic. We’ve got a bunch of speed all over the field,” said Samuel. “At all positions. So just being able to showcase that.”

Smaller, sure — at 6-foot-2, Andre Levrone is currently the tallest wideout on the roster — but as general manager Marty Hurney outlined this spring, getting separation isn’t just about being long.

But the most important feature of the Panthers’ receivers room? The fact that the “No. 1” is no longer a position.

It’s more of a fluid concept.

“There’s really no clear-cut No. 1,” said Moore. “You have me, Curtis and J-Wright out there right now. Just being out there, you don’t know who will get the ball and anybody could make a play at anytime.

“...That ‘No. 1’ thing is really out the window. You don’t have to have a No. 1 (receiver) when you’re trying to build a whole team...You all have to put the job together.”

Which is, of course, the point. Much of the story of the Panthers’ offseason is about becoming more hybrid and using more disguises and mixed looks on defense, but that’s actually what they’re doing on offense, too.

Because Moore and Samuel can both play in a variety of roles along the line of scrimmage — or even behind it; both players took several carries last year out of the jet sweep or reverse plays — the idea is that opposing defenses will not know who is getting the ball just based on pre-snap alignment. They can play on the outside. They can play in the slot.

So can McCaffrey, so can free agent veteran signee Chris Hogan. And so forth.

And defenses won’t know who will “eat” the most, from week to week.

“One game, a guy may be targeted (15, 20 times). But next week, it might be somebody else.” said Rivera.

“It’s just so scary that in any game, you could have any one of our receivers going for 100 yards,” said Samuel. “That’s just dynamic. How many teams can do that?

“Teams not knowing who is going to be the receiver this week or who will be the receiver next week, or two receivers getting 100 yards, it just helps our offense expand a little more.”

Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.
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