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Camp Battles: Carolina WR
By Mike Beacom

Camp Battles: Carolina WR
Steve Smith has finally set sail… now what!?

During his 13 seasons in Carolina Steve Smith was a one-man show. Complementary receivers came and went – Muhsin Muhammad, Drew Carter, Dwayne Jarrett, Louis Murphy – all while Smith piled up catches and yards. More than 800 catches. More than 12,000 yards. His resume will earn him consideration for Canton (although probably not entrance to) and will make him a legend to Panthers fans. But he’s gone now, and a passing game that has been so one-dimensional for so long must now grow and branch out.

To fill the Smith void the Panthers made two key offseason moves. They used their first round pick (pick No. 28) on Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and they signed free agent Jerricho Cotchery to a reported two-year deal. The two give quarterback Cam Newton and help diversify a passing game that so badly needs it. Now they will battle for the right to be called Newton’s primary receiver.

Why Cotchery will win the job: In a word: experience. Cotchery has 10 years under his belt, having spent the first seven with the Jets and last three with the Steelers. In terms of stats, he leads Benjamin by 437 catches, 5,558 yards and 30 touchdowns. Cotchery has played for good quarterbacks and bad, on playoff teams and been part of rebuilding rosters – he’s seen it all. Of the players on this roster able to make a difference, Cotchery can help the most now, which is why he is the smartest and safest best to become Newton’s go-to receiver.

Why Benjamin will win it: The future, stupid! When a team uses its top pick on a wide receiver, in a year in which they dispose of their top playmaker, it’s a sign. A big neon sign pointing to change. Benjamin is the future – the hand-picked weapon to pair with Newton. Why wait? At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Benjamin has a four-inch and 35-pound advantage over Cotchery. He’s raw, sure, but his stats for the Seminoles suggest he is able: 84 catches and 1,506 yards in two seasons. And Benjamin is a killer near the goal line; almost one-third of his catches last year went for touchdowns (15 of 54). Don’t think Newton will ignore his frame inside the red zone.

Don’t forget about: Jason Avant
Yes, that Jason Avant… the one who lived in near obscurity during his eight years in Philadelphia. It’s easy to forget that from 2010-2012 he caught 50-plus balls a season. Avant is not a game-changer for fantasy owners, but he could be the steadiest performer on this roster.

Who fantasy owners should pull for: Benjamin
Cotchery and Avant offer fantasy owners very little upside. Cotchery’s 10 touchdowns last season were more a matter of circumstance than of Cotchey’s nose for the end zone. Both have essentially been complementary receivers, never capable of filling the No. 1 spot for any period of time. Benjamin, on the other hand, has the makings of a franchise receiver. His size is an obvious plus, but his 2013 season at Florida State showed he can shine on the biggest stage college football has to offer. He can be a star, and out of need, could find a big role in year one.

Follow Mike Beacom on Twitter @mikebeacom
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