During his five-plus seasons as the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton has seen some pretty bad receivers in his day.
Finding effective wideouts has been a difficult task for the Panthers over the course of Newton's tenure. For every talented pass-catcher like Steve Smith, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen, there are guys like Domenik Hixon, Armanti Edwards and Jason Avant who can't buy a reception.
Even one of Newton's more talented receivers - well, as compared to what else he has - has hands of stone, as we've seen in the case of Ted Ginn Jr. While most teams wouldn't put up with it, the Panthers really haven't had a choice.
It also didn't help that the team allowed its entire receiving corps to walk prior to the 2014 season, including Smith. That mistake was somewhat erased after drafting Benjamin, who has shown star potential in his brief time in the NFL. Sadly for the Panthers, it was only one season before their young receiver would suffer a torn ACL, ending his sophomore campaign before it started.
Even with all that being said, the Panthers still made it to the Super Bowl and had quite an impressive offense throughout the 2015 season. It was only during the Super Bowl where the Panthers were exposed, as their receiving corps simply couldn't get the job done.
The fact that Newton has had success with any of his receiving corps is impressive to say the least, but it doesn't erase the memory of the bad and the ugly he's had to deal with.
Let's take a look at some of the worst pass-catchers Cam Newton has ever played with. We will be including all eligible receivers, not just wideouts. That means tight ends and running backs will also be included.
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15 Devin Funchess
When the Panthers selected Devin Funchess with the No. 41 overall pick in the 2015 draft, the team envisioned him being an impact receiver who would be a great third weapon for an air attack already featuring wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen. So far, that hasn’t worked out as the Panthers planned.
In his rookie season, Funchess totaled just 473 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games played. Those numbers are even less impressive when you consider Benjamin, the team’s No. 1 receiver, missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Despite having more targets to go around and the Panthers’ offense clicking on all cylinders en route to the Super Bowl, Funchess managed just 31 receptions in his rookie season.
It has been more of the same in 2016. Funchess remains in the background of an offense that is desperately looking for any kind of spark. Clearly Funchess isn’t the guy for that and so far this pick is looking like a bust for the Panthers.
14 Ted Ginn Jr.
Another productive player as a member of the Panthers, Tedd Ginn Jr. does one thing really well: he makes big plays. Anytime you see Newton connecting for a long touchdown pass, you need not even look at who the receiver was because most likely it was Ginn.
Ginn resurfaced with the Panthers after a dreadful year in Arizona in 2014 (190 receiving yards in 16 games) and had his second-best season as a pro with 739 yards and 10 touchdowns during a campaign in which the Panthers were without their No. 1 receiver. A major blemish for Ginn’s season and career comes in the form of dropped passes and he was tied for the second-most in the NFL in 2015.
While Ginn is once again an effective weapon this season, most of his damage comes on deep balls and it’s clear Newton is the catalyst that makes him relevant. Granted, making big plays is a nice skill to have, but Ginn is a former No. 9 overall selection and you’d expect a more well-rounded receiver with better hands at such a high pick.
13 Jeremy Shockey
Jeremy Shockey was signed by the Panthers in 2011 and looked like he’d be the team’s No. 1 tight end that season. However, it wasn’t long before he was overshadowed by a more talented player in fellow tight end, Greg Olsen. In fact, the Panthers acquired Olsen just months after signing Shockey.
Shockey’s only season in Carolina was also the last of his career. The controversial tight end caught 37 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns, but that wasn’t even good enough to be the best at his position on the team. That honor went to Olsen, who totaled 540 yards and five touchdowns in his first season, which is tame considering he’s now an elite tight end in the NFL. The 2011 campaign was Shockey’s second-worst season in terms of receiving yards and the Panthers decided not to bring him back the following season.
12 Jerricho Cotchery
After having a breakout season in 2007 with the New York Jets, Jerricho Cotchery saw his production steadily decline in the years that followed. His receiving yards went down in every season until hitting rock bottom in 2012 when Cotchery finished with 205 yards in 14 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cotchery would go on to bounce back in 2013 when he posted 602 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Cotchery started his two-year tenure with the Panthers in 2014, but only found paydirt once and had 22 less yards despite bringing in two more passes than the season before. His numbers took an even bigger dip the following year, as he finished with 485 yards and barely improved on his touchdown total. Once thought to be a possession receiver, Cotchery proved he was anything but after dropping three of the five passes thrown his way in Super Bowl 50.
11 Jonathan Stewart
Now in his ninth season with the Panthers, Jonathan Stewart has barely been used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. His best season as a receiver came in 2011 when he caught 47 balls for 413 yards and a touchdown. Aside from that, he has never caught more than 25 passes in any season, nor has he surpassed 181 yards through the air.
Obviously Stewart is more important to this team as a ball carrier and he has been successful in that role. Still, the fact that the Panthers only threw his way 21 times in 13 games last season and are on pace to throw to him less in 2016 speaks to how little the team thinks of him as a receiver out of the backfield. There are plenty of solid two-way backs in the NFL, but Stewart isn’t one of them.
10 Mike Tolbert
When you look at Mike Tolbert’s 5-foot-9, 250-pound frame, the last thing you think is receiver; however Newton has actually connected with Tolbert on a more consistent basis than the aforementioned Stewart during his time in Carolina.
After two straight seasons with 27 receptions apiece as a member of the Panthers, Tolbert has seen his usage decline since those two seasons. It’s not surprising considering Tolbert isn’t exactly an explosive player on offense and his yards per reception prove that.
The big fullback can’t do much in space thanks to his slow speed, and instead he just barrels his way over anyone trying to tackle him. While that’s an effective way to move the chains, Tolbert is best used as a blocker and goal line back.
9 Brandon LaFell
In four seasons with the Panthers, LaFell was actually a pretty productive player, but he was no more than a role player on the team’s offense. LaFell never surpassed more than 677 yards or five touchdowns in any season, and he was always playing second fiddle to wideout Steve Smith and later, tight end Greg Olsen.
LaFell’s pedestrian numbers become even more frustrating to fans when you consider what he has done since moving on from the Panthers. In his first season with the New England Patriots, LaFell posted career-highs in receptions (74), yards (953) and touchdowns (seven). He went on to have another solid year in 2015 and would have again posted better numbers than any of his years in Carolina if he didn’t miss five games. And, in his first season with the Bengals in 2016, LaFell is once again set to have one of his best seasons in the NFL. Newton would have loved to have this version of LaFell when he was still on the roster.
8 Corey Brown
Corey “Philly” Brown was an undrafted free agent signed by the Panthers in 2014, but he has made a minimal impact as one of Newton’s receivers. In his first two seasons, Brown totaled 743 yards and six touchdowns. Yes, he did have four catches for 80 yards in the Super Bowl, but it was in a game where the Panthers were getting smoked, and he had to leave the game early.
Things have gone downhill for Brown in 2016, as he’s on pace to have his worst season as a pro in terms of receiving yards. Adding to that, Brown is averaging less than 10 yards per reception and doesn’t exactly have sure hands, which was evidenced by his five dropped passes during the 2015 preseason that became a huge story.
7 Louis Murphy
With a need at wide receiver in 2012, the Panthers acquired Louis Murphy from the Raiders in exchange for a conditional late-round pick. Murphy, who was originally a fourth-round pick of the Raiders, was coming off a down season and looked like he was going to be cut. So, the Panthers swooped in and made the move for Murphy.
What the Panthers got in return was a receiver who finished fourth on the team in receiving yards with 336, and he only found the end zone once in 16 games. Murphy didn't last long in Carolina and moved on to play for the Giants the following season. For the G-Men in 2013, Louis had 37 - that’s right, 37 - receiving yards in 14 games and was a miserable failure. He then went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next two seasons, but Murphy tore his ACL in 2015 and hasn’t gotten back on the field since.
6 Jason Avant
Jason Avant signed a one-year deal with the Panthers in 2014 after the veteran wideout was a solid contributor for the Philadelphia Eagles over eight seasons; although he never gained more than 1,000 yards. The Panthers had major holes in their receiving corps with four wideouts having departed and Avant was one of their solutions, albeit an unsuccessful one.
He lasted just 11 games in a Panthers uniform and caught 21 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown. After it was clear Avant was past his prime, the Panthers cut him and his days in Carolina were over. From there, Avant was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs and played much better with 152 yards in five games. Avant posted career-lows in receiving yards and yards per reception the next season, which was his last in the NFL.
5 Brenton Bersin
In his third season in the NFL, Brenton Bersin has never caught more than four passes in any game, and his career-high in receiving yards for a single contest is 54. Overall, Bersin has 23 receptions for 277 yards and one touchdown in 31 career games with Carolina.
The Panthers hoped Bersin could step up in 2015 with the injury to Benjamin, however he played in just nine games and made next to no impact. A bigger role was also expected for Bersin once again in 2016 coming out of the preseason. Instead, Bersin played on just five snaps in the first three weeks and saw just one target in seven games. The 26-year-old was later cut by the Panthers in a move to free up some roster space and he has yet to resurface since then.
4 Ed Dickson
Tight end Ed Dickson means well, but he’s not much of a receiver. In his two previous seasons with the Panthers before 2016, Dickson recorded just 27 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns in 32 games. In 2015, he averaged just 7.1 yards per reception.
Dickson’s numbers aren’t helped by the fact that he’s the No. 2 tight end on the team behind one of the best in the game. Even if he wasn’t, Dickson isn’t explosive at all and is not someone a team would rely on as a top pass-catching option at the position. He might be a solid blocker and a big target in the red zone, but asking anymore of him than that would be a mistake. Just don’t tell him I said so because he’s a big dude.
3 Armanti Edwards
After a successful college career, Armanti Edwards was taken by the Panthers in the third round of the 2010 draft as a quarterback. Once it was clear the Appalachian State product wasn’t going to get any playing time behind center, Carolina switched his position to receiver in 2012. In 16 games as a receiver and returner in 2012, Edwards corralled just five of his nine targets for 121 yards, 82 of which came on one play.
Once it was clear Edwards wasn’t much of a receiver, the Panthers released him during the 2013 season and he was later picked up by the Browns. Unfortunately for Edwards, that move didn’t work out and after just one catch for 10 yards in two games, Edwards was placed on injured reserve and then released with an injury settlement. Although he was signed by the Chicago Bears the following season, Edwards was cut before being able to play a single game.
2 Domenik Hixon
The Panthers signed Domenik Hixon in 2013 after he proved to be a serviceable receiver for the New York Giants over five seasons. Hixon totaled 596 yards in 2008 and 567 yards in 2012, his best two seasons in the NFL. He also spent time as a returner, although he wasn’t anything special in that regard.
Carolina hoped to get the 2012 version of Hixon, but he was nowhere near that. The former Panthers receiver played in 15 games in his only season with the team and saw just nine targets. He brought in seven of those targets to the tune of 55 yards. Following the 2013 season, Hixon signed a one-year deal with the Bears, but tore his ACL during OTAs. It was the third time in his career he had suffered such an injury and it spelled the end of his time in the NFL.
1 Michael Dyer
There’s a reason Newton didn’t target running back Michael Dyer in college: he wasn’t a good pass-catching back. In four years at college - one of which was spent with Newton at Auburn - Dyer caught just eight balls for 48 yards and never found paydirt through the air. With Newton behind center, Dyer caught just one pass for nine yards.
After running into a slew of problems during his years at Auburn, Arkansas State, and Louisville, Dyer was seen as a one-dimensional back and went undrafted and unsigned. Finally the Oakland Raiders gave him a chance and he attended a tryout at the team’s rookie minicamp, but failed to make the roster. A last-ditch effort to play football with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL didn’t last long, as he was released by the team less than two months after signing.
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