The Carolina Panthers’ 2014 draft class has officially signed with the team, with first round pick Kelvin Benjamin and third round selection Trai Turner signing their rookie contracts earlier this week.
Now that the Panthers’ latest draft class has officially signed, the attention turns to the players signed under the radar the same week these aforementioned players were drafted: the undrafted free agents.
The Panthers signed ten undrafted free agents within days of the draft completing, and similar to the team’s draft selections, several of those players have a chance to compete for jobs considering most play positions the Carolina Panthers are desperate to fill. My colleague Scott Braswell profiled a few of these players in his article last week. Here I concentrate on Marcus Lucas, the undrafted wide receiver from Missouri.
I struggled initially to decide between three undrafted free agents: Lucas, Canadian tackle David Foucault, and Carrington Byndom, the wiry cornerback from Texas. All three players were primed for analysis with all three possessing interesting qualities warranting roster consideration, but Lucas stood out. Literally.
Information on the 25-year-old Foucault is relatively limited, and while the 6-foot-8, 320-pound offensive tackle has potential written all over him, his age and the fact he may have more potential at guard than at tackle makes analyzing him slightly less appealing.
Byndom would make for good analysis considering the need at cornerback, but with Melvin White returning, Charles Godfrey moving to cornerback, and my colleague Scott Braswell analyzing 5th round draft selection Bene Benwikere this week, the San Jose State cornerback the Carolina Panthers traded up and gave up their seventh round pick to select, a Byndom analysis could be more overkill than beneficial to the interested fan.
After careful thought, the decision became obvious: Marcus Lucas. Unlike Foucault and Byndom, Lucas was a 2014 NFL Combine invitee, and in my opinion, he wowed. The deeper one looks into Lucas, the more interesting he becomes. For starters, Lucas is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound wide receiver. Sound familiar?
Consider: Lucas is essentially the same size as Kelvin Benjamin, their first overall pick, and Lucas played in the highly competitive SEC against the some of the best defensive competition in the country. In 14 games for the Tigers last year, Lucas caught 58 passes for 692 yards for an average of 11.9 yards per catch and three TDs. His 58 receptions were more than Benjamin (54), and he accomplished this on a team that also featured Dorial Green-Beckham (59 receptions).
Also worth consideration is Lucas’ combine results. Lucas bested Benjamin in the shuttle time, cone drill, jumped 3.5 inches higher in the vertical jump, and despite being twenty pounds lighter Lucas benched seven more reps than Benjamin. In fact, Lucas was tied for the fourth most repetitions among wide receivers.
Perhaps the most analyzed metric of the combine for wide receivers, Lucas fell one hundredth of a second shy of Benjamin’s 40-yard dash time (4.61 seconds). So considering the two 40-yard dash times while taking the other speed drills into account, Lucas may be the quicker receiver off the ball while not losing anything on the fly.
Lucas was also a senior on draft day, compared to Benjamin’s sophomore status. While Lucas played four years at Missouri, including two in the SEC, improving every season, Benjamin is a young, raw talent whose two shorts years at Florida State become evident through film study at times. Lucas has been praised for his work ethic on and off the field, film study, and excellent practice habits; Benjamin has been criticized for his work ethic, although that could be attributed to his maturity as the redshirt sophomore had considerably less college experience.
It’s easy to see why the Carolina Panthers and fans alike would be interested in the progress of Lucas, who could potentially make as much noise this season as Benjamin, assuming he makes the team and contributes. Benjamin was a production monster for the Florida State Seminoles in 2013, scoring 15 touchdowns and gaining 1,011 yards averaging 18.7 yards per catch.
Benjamin was also a Red Zone matchup nightmare for opponents, clearly one of the biggest reasons the Panther’s selected Benjamin with their first overall pick. Conversely, Lucas provided little Red Zone production, despite a frame essentially built for it, and only managed one 100-yard game in his entire four-year career.
The Carolina Panthers had three major concerns entering the 2013-2014 off-season: wide receivers, the secondary, and the offensive line. All three phases were addressed to some degree through free agency, the draft, and via undrafted free agent signings. Considering how much attention is paid to free agent signings and early round draft selections it’s easy to overlook players entering organized team activities and minicamp that were undrafted and/or flew under the radar as late round draft picks.
Lucas represents that class of potentially overlooked players with the potential to take the Carolina Panthers to the next level. Imagine the Panthers developing wide receiver sets featuring two receivers with tight end size and wide receiver skills? Now consider they’re both rookies; these wide receiver sets could exist for years to come.
Lucas also represents insurance for Benjamin in a way. Bringing in Lucas shows Benjamin that other young, hungry 6’ 5” 220-plus-pound receivers exist with off-the-charts quickness and athleticism, and Lucas’ maturity could provide a perfect model for his contemporary. At the very least bringing in Lucas provides the requisite competition.
The Carolina Panthers have plenty to be excited about entering 2014, with the possible exception of defensive end Greg Hardy’s legal case and quarterback Cam Newton’s ankle surgery, and it’s because of players like Marcus Lucas. Not only did the Panther’s draft to their needs, with the exception of Kony Ealy who was selected based on talent and availability, the team signed undrafted free agents that will compete for jobs in positions the Panthers need filled immediately, like wide receiver.
After letting go of three of their top four pass catchers from 2013, including the Carolina Panthers all-time leading receiver and fan favorite Steve Smith, the Panther’s needed to make a splash with some sort of playmaker this off-season. Carolina accomplished both and without breaking the bank. For a team with superstars and even more salary cap issues, that was just the scenario that needed to play out.
Now all these guys just have to do is make the team.
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