Inside the Panthers

He said, she said: Which Panthers receiver is primed to step up against Atlanta?

On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers will officially begin life without former No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Benjamin was traded to Buffalo on Tuesday in a shocking just-before-the-deadline move. General manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera maintained that the trade was necessary for the Panthers’ need for speed at the position, and that it would open things up for the faster, more versatile players on the roster.

Curtis Samuel
Carolina Panthers fans have yet to see what wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) can do. Is this the week they start? Jeff Haynes AP

Now, the Panthers receivers must step up. But who will break out?

Jourdan: Obviously the answer is Devin Funchess. He’s going to be the go-to guy, the top guy for the Panthers. But behind Devin Funchess, there’s going to be a pack of receivers who need to literally separate themselves, not just from each other but from defensive backs as well. They need speed, they need separation at the line of scrimmage – this is what Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula are looking for.

And I think Russell Shepard might be that guy. He’s ain his fifth year, first with the Panthers. He hasn’t had a whole lot of catches – he’s only had 18 targets, 11 catches and 133 yards and a touchdown – but I think he’s got some stuff. He’s an inside-outside guy. He’s versatile. He’s physical, and I think that’s what the Carolina Panthers are looking for right now.

Joe: That’s an interesting thought. It’s an interesting pick. But I think Curtis Samuel (will be the guy). And we’ve been waiting to see this guy! Training camp, comes in, hamstring. We don’t get to see him. Then (quarterback) Cam Newton is kind of – Curtis comes back, and Cam’s out. I don’t feel like Panthers fans, or any of us really, have had a chance to see what he’s all about yet.

We know he’s fast. They tried to get him the ball deep last week at Tampa Bay and didn’t quite get it, nice play by the defensive back.

But you know who is really going to benefit from this move? The running backs. Jonathan Stewart – and he’s probably unhappy about it right now because they all loved Kelvin Benjamin – but I think it’s going to create some space for that struggling running game.

Jourdan: I agree with you on that. Carolina needs to establish Curtis Samuel as a vertical threat, as someone who can stretch the field and help that running game out in the process. (But) Curtis Samuel is still coming along. He still needs to build up a bit of confidence.

They need someone right away who is going to come in and put some points up on the board against the Atlanta Falcons, and Russell Shepard is that guy.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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