(Leading up to the start of free agency on March 14, Panthers.com is looking at the state of each position group.)
POSITION REVIEW: In a season filled with upheaval and injury, Devin Funchess emerged as the Panthers' clear No. 1 wide receiver based on the current makeup of the roster. Carolina traded its previous top target, Kelvin Benjamin, halfway through the season, and Funchess seamlessly slid to the "X" position and responded with 17 catches for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the three games following the trade. A shoulder injury slowed him down the stretch, but he was the lucky one relatively speaking as speedsters Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd flashed their potential but were both limited to essentially half the season because of injury issues.
STATS OF SIGNIFICANCE: Funchess finished the season with 63 receptions. The rest of the Panthers' wide receivers (not counting Benjamin and his 32 catches before the trade), totaled 55 receptions on the season.
WORTH WATCHING AGAIN: There were more spectacular plays from the wide receivers (even in the game featured above), but Byrd's second touchdown grab against the Packers in Week 15 showed the value of speed/quickness in the slot and the fact that Byrd specifically has value in that regard.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES: Yes, Byrd and Samuel showed potential in support of Funchess, but this position group needs help. The length of the steps forward that Samuel is able to take in his second season are important, but before Samuel can grow as a receiver he has to heal. Byrd is an exclusive rights free agent that the Panthers surely will bring back, but the futures of potential depth pieces Kaelin Clay (restricted free agent) and Brenton Bersin (unrestricted free agent) aren't as clear.
HOPE FOR 2018: General manager Marty Hurney wants "to add speed and athleticism to the skill positions," and wide receiver no doubt qualifies for an upgrade. The top free agents (think Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins) are expected to get really expensive, but it will be interesting to see how the market shakes out for guys like Marqise Lee, Paul Richardson and Donte Moncrief.
Come the draft, the directions Carolina could go are endless – more than 30 wide receivers have been selected in each of the last four NFL drafts. Do the Panthers want to invest early in someone like Oklahoma State product James Washington; wait a little bit and hope a talent like Christian Kirk of Texas A&M or D.J. Moore of Maryland falls to them; and/or try to pull an underappreciated prospect late in the draft like Dante Pettis of Washington or Cam Phillips of Virginia Tech?