Breaking down Panthers’ wide receiver depth chart: Where does Terrace Marshall fit?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Panthers tinkered with their wide receiver depth chart throughout the offseason in hopes of creating a playmaker cocoon around rookie quarterback Bryce Young. And while Carolina traded away former top pass-catcher DJ Moore in order to land Young in the draft, the front office has done a solid job of upgrading the quantity — and perhaps, long-term quality — at the position.

On paper, the Panthers run at least four deep at the position. Veterans Adam Thielen and DJ Chark were signed in free agency to play significant roles this season. The team also drafted Jonathan Mingo in the second round to be an eventual starter at the position. Terrace Marshall, a Matt Rhule era holdover, had an impressive performance during the second half of last season, and he figures to be a major target as well.

From there, more than a handful of hopefuls — including past roles players like Shi Smith, Laviska Shenault and Damiere Byrd — are competing to stick to the unit under the guidance of new receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.

Here’s a breakdown of all 12 wide receivers on the Panthers’ offseason roster:

The locks

Adam Thielen

No matter how one defines the No. 1 wideout position, Thielen — regardless of last season’s dip in production with Minnesota — was signed to lead the group. While he will primarily operate out of the slot in 11 personnel looks (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs), Thielen shouldn’t leave the field very often, even when the plays feature just two wideouts. Thielen has the ability to move around the formation, and the Panthers will take advantage of that versatility, especially early on in the Frank Reich era.

Thielen, 33, shouldn’t have to carry all of the weight of the passing offense following the additions of Chark and Mingo. But he should be Young’s favorite target, given his role in the slot and his ability to create space. Thielen is a savvy veteran who should elevate those around him through his influence in meetings and on the practice field. While his production might not add up to his Pro Bowl campaigns of the past, he should be a focal point of the offense in his first year in Carolina.

DJ Chark

Chark signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Panthers during the second wave of free agency. Unlike Thielen — who signed a three-year, $25 million pact — Chark is looking to prove himself in hopes of landing a long-term deal in the future. That motivation should compel Chark to hand in a career-best season in Carolina.

And while Chark has plenty to play for this year, his history of injuries clouds his projection for the upcoming campaign. Chark has been sidelined for the majority of the offseason program as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery. Chark, who is best fit at the Z (or flanker) position, hasn’t played more than 13 games in four of his first five seasons in the league. Chark’s procedure was meant to cure a lingering injury that had plagued him for a couple of years.

So, the hope is that Chark, with a clean bill of health, can bounce back to his 2019 form. During that season, he made the Pro Bowl after producing 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. Chark, who was seemingly signed to start in Carolina, will need to recover quickly and cement his status this summer in a competition with Marshall and Mingo.

Terrace Marshall

Marshall has earned strong reviews throughout the offseason program. Both Reich and Thielen have praised the third-year wideout’s work in the early days of the new regime. Overall, the Panthers’ staff appears to be invested in his upside to this point.

The 2021 second-round pick received inconsistent snaps during his first two seasons in the league. Marshall was an afterthought during the final weeks of the Rhule era, but he received a promotion to the starting lineup while former interim head coach Steve Wilks ran the roster. Marshall then flashed on occasion throughout the second half of last season, producing 24 first downs off 28 receptions for 490 yards and a touchdown.

The next step for Marshall will be to find consistency. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver also needs to be more effective in the red zone. With Jefferson, a former NFL wideout, guiding the way, Marshall could be in for a breakout campaign. His ability to play all three wideout positions should help him receive consistent playing time, especially as he battles for snaps with Chark and Mingo.

Jonathan Mingo

Mingo was someone the Panthers were enamored with heading into Day 2 of the draft. While some pundits — including this one — felt that the wideout was a reach with the No. 39 pick, Carolina’s front office clearly had the conviction to stay put and take Mingo with a premium asset.

Mingo, listed as 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, received inconsistent playing time during his tenure at Ole Miss. He also sustained a significant foot injury during his penultimate college season. But he was able to put together a breakout season as a senior, as he showed off his versatility, jump-ball ability and red-zone prowess during his final college campaign. He also blew away the Panthers’ brass during his “30” visit in March.

Mingo is a projection at this point. His blend of size and speed make him a mismatch on paper for most defensive backs, but he has yet to step on an NFL field and put those attributes to work. He has looked good during the trio of workouts he has had in front of the media, and he’s earned positive feedback from the coaches in press conferences. The Panthers selected Mingo to be a future staple of the offense, but that doesn’t mean he will be given a top job right away.

Mingo is built like a prototypical “X” receiver. He has the size to overcome press coverage and the speed to blaze past defensive backs on deep routes. The Panthers should want him on the field, but his status will stem from how well he plays this summer. Can he take a starting job from Chark? Will he one-up Marshall in the lineup as a rookie? We’re about to find out during the next few months.

On the bubble

Laviska Shenault

First off, Shenault should run more routes than he did with the previous regime. The former second-round pick was mitigated to line-of-scrimmage work under former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo after being acquired in a trade last September.

In order for Shenault to make the roster, he has to be able to evolve beyond the “offensive weapon” label and become an effective pass-catcher, unless Reich wants to go the Cordarrelle Patterson route and permanently move him to the backfield. Reich has brought Shenault up regularly during press conferences this offseason, which is a good sign for the receiver. He’s one of the more intriguing bubble players on the entire team.

Damiere Byrd

The Panthers have dealt with inconsistency at wideout and punt returner over the past few years. Byrd could, in theory, help solve both of those problems. He has the ability to return punts and kickoffs, and while he has receiver chops as well, special teams will probably be his path to the roster.

The South Carolina alum needs to be dynamic in the third phase in order to overcome the competition at the position. In theory, Byrd could be competing with Shenault and Smith for one spot. If one of the dark-horse players under that trio steps up, the pressure to stick could be even more palpable.

From a receiver standpoint, Byrd is one of several options in the slot for the Panthers. He has good speed and can make plays after the catch.

Shi Smith

Smith has been an inconsistent role player for the Panthers in the past two years. With a new staff to impress, Smith is seemingly on the deep end of the roster bubble, especially after the signings of Thielen, Chark and Byrd.

The issue for Smith is that he is competing for snaps with proven players who were handpicked by the new staff. If Smith can’t produce a strong summer as a receiver and a returner, he might be looking for work in August. He will need to outplay Byrd and Shenault to find his place on the roster this year.

The rest

Derek Wright

Wright has made a couple of nice plays during OTAs while working with Young in team drills. He could be a dark horse for a fifth or sixth wideout spot.

C.J. Saunders

Saunders, like Wright, is a practice-squad holdover from last year. A smart player with organizational familiarity, Saunders will need to enter the bubble zone early on in the summer.

Marquez Stevenson

Like Smith and Byrd, Stevenson’s outlook is more about special teams than offense. Stevenson could stick around Carolina by earning a returner job.

Josh Vann

The undrafted rookie from South Carolina will try to get into the returner conversation this offseason. Like fellow former Gamecocks, Smith and Byrd, Vann will also aim to stand out as a deep-depth option at slot receiver.

Gary Jennings

Jennings earned a spot on the offseason roster after having a successful tryout during rookie minicamp. The former XFL receiver is a long shot for the 53-man roster, but he could surprise in training camp if given the opportunity to prove himself.