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Ask Bryan: Who's ready to take next step?


Bryan, who comes to mind for breakout player this season? In my mind, it's Tre Boston. – Jack in Los Angeles

The Panthers would love it if Boston does prove to be their breakout player in 2016. The defensive backfield is in transition, and being able to count on Boston to pair with Kurt Coleman as a reliable last line of defense would provide a big boost for the young cornerback group. Boston certainly seems motivated.

I'm going to go to the other side of the ball for my breakout candidate and peg running back Cameron Artis-Payne. His role as a rookie wasn't as big as some expected thanks in part to Jonathan Stewart's stellar season, but he showed something late in the regular season when the Panthers took a cautious approach to foot injury sustained by Stewart. The Panthers in turn showed confidence by not adding any running backs to the roster before signing invited tryout Jalen Simmons.

Stewart still has plenty to offer and should be the lead back again in 2016, but Artis-Payne is a candidate to carve out a more significant role.

Are we going to keep more than five wide receivers on the roster because we are stacked with wide receivers? – Charles via Twitter

The Panthers have 14 receivers on their 90-man roster, and realistically they won't have room for even half of them on the 53-man roster that will be set about a week before the season opener. The Panthers have kept five receivers each of the past three seasons but have kept six at times.

If there's one thing I can guarantee you, it's that there are no guarantees in the NFL. Common sense says the likes of Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn, Jr. surely will be on that roster. Of course, Benjamin was assumed to be on the roster last season before his training camp injury.

Cuts are never easy, and for some reason they always seem particularly challenging at receiver. It's easy to fall for a pass catcher with eye-popping athletic ability or one who seemingly comes out of nowhere to make an impression in the preseason, but other factors could determine the last couple of spots. The importance of special teams ability, for example, can't be overstated.

Given the talent at the position, I'm sure the Panthers would love to find room for a sixth receiver. But only time will tell as that's far from the only position with more talent than eventual roster spots.

How do you think Kelvin Benjamin will produce this season? – Cory in Rowland Heights, Calif.

Not sure if this was meant as a fantasy football question, but I'm going to take it that way. Benjamin will do what the Panthers need him to do, but exactly what form that will take is up for debate.

As a rookie in 2014, Benjamin matched tight end Greg Olsen with 1,008 receiving yards and led the team with nine receiving touchdowns. He missed last season with a knee injury, but the Panthers responded by leading the NFL in scoring for the first time in franchise history.

With Olsen at the top of his game, Ginn emerging with 10 touchdowns last season and Funchess rounding into form, will there be enough balls to go around on a team that values its running game? The short answer is yes. I see Benjamin getting his share, and while receiving touchdowns are hard to forecast, Benjamin did recently call the red zone his "playground" and looked awfully good in that area of the field before the injury.

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