Welcome to another edition of Panthers' "By the Numbers," my weekly look at some of the statistics surrounding the team.
One of the most important -- but hidden -- statistics for a receiver is how many yards they average when the quarterback targets them with the football.
Based on my analysis of this number in particular through the first quarter of the season, I think it's time Brandon LaFell starts in front of Legedu Naanee at wide receiver for Carolina.
Simply put, bad things -- or nothing -- seems to happen when Cam Newton is throwing at Naanee. I compared Naanee's averages in several ways to LaFell and also to Steve Smith and tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, who have been Carolina's three most productive receivers so far this season. (For this exercise, I have excluded running backs since they generally aren't down-the-field receivers).
First, here's how often Newton has thrown at each man this season, and how many they have actually caught for how much yardage:
Smith -- 41-24-530
Olsen -- 27-17-219
Naanee -- 24-8-75
Shockey -- 20-11-178
LaFell -- 16-12-161
So while LaFell has caught 75 percent of the throws directed toward him, Naanee has caught only 33.3 percent of the ones Newton has thrown at him. Now this isn't all Naanee's fault. Newton, for instance, once missed a wide-open Naanee in the end zone in the Arizona game.
But the numbers are pretty glaring. Here's the amount of yardage the Panthers have gained on average per play when each receiver was targeted (this includes both completions and incompletions):
So far this season, Naanee has been an "almost" sort of player, as in he "almost" had a touchdown here or he "almost" caught that critical fourth-down pass against Chicago there.
I know Naanee is more familiar with the offense than LaFell, based on his time in San Diego, and I think Naanee can still be useful to the Panthers in all the three-wide sets. He obviously can get open or Newton wouldn't be throwing to him an average of six times per game. (I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera Monday if LaFell should get a chance to start over Naanee Monday, and he did not commit either way, saying both had played "well").
But to me, the most prudent move now is to try LaFell as the starter for awhile. Based on the numbers, he deserves it.
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