The Carolina Panthers have needed a solid Number 2 wide receiver ever since the days of Muhsin Muhammad.
As a Panthers fan I keep trying to convince myself that Brandon LaFell is that guy.
The simple stats show that Brandon LaFell is a good wide receiver. Not great, but good.
As a rookie in 2010 the former third round pick produced a rather impressive 38 receptions for 468 yards despite playing for a 2-14 Panthers team with one of the worst passing games in recent NFL history.
Brandon LaFell's 2011 Basic Stats
In 2011 the Panthers offense was rejuvenated with Cam Newton under center and an innovative Rob Chudzinski drawing up plays. Last year LaFell contributed 36 receptions for 613 yards and three touchdowns.
Looking at Brandon LaFell's stats from last year show an average wide receiver, at best, but not a solid Number 2 who can regularly take the pressure off Steve Smith.
Brandon LaFell's 2011 Advanced Statistics
But looking deeper at Brandon LaFell's advanced statistics from last year give me a little more hope that the young wideout can be the solid Number 2 wide receiver the Panthers have needed for so long.
For example, among wide receivers with at least 36 receptions in 2011, Brandon LaFell's average of 17.0 yards per reception was good enough for 10th in the NFL (data here).
But there are some advanced statistics that paint an even more favorable picture of Brandon LaFell's performance in 2011.
Football Outsiders is the industry standard when it comes to advanced statistics. Many football fans analyze player productivity based solely on fantasy stats - receptions, yards, and touchdowns - without factoring in down, distance, defense, and other factors. As football outsiders puts it, "All of the yards in the world aren't useful if they all come in eight-yard chunks on third-and-ten."
Brandon LaFell's 2011 DVOA
One of the advanced statistics used by Football Outsiders is DVOA - Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. DVOA breaks down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent.
The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance.
Brandon LaFell's 2011 DVOA of 23.2% was 11th in the NFL, just ahead of stud receivers like Wes Welker (12th - 23.1%), Dez Bryant (13th - 21.9%), Greg Jennings (14th - 21.8%), and Andre Johnson (15th - 18.9%).
From an advanced statistics standpoint, the value of Brandon LaFell's contributions based on down, distance, and opponent was among the best in the league.
Brandon LaFell Summary
As a Panthers fan I am hoping Brandon LaFell makes "the leap" in his upcoming third NFL season. Brandon LaFell's yards per reception and DVOA in 2011 are good enough to make Panthers fans optimistic of bigger and better things to come.
The Carolina Panthers have needed a solid Number 2 wide receiver for years.
Brandon LaFell just might be that guy.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Panthers fan. For more from this author, visit Andrew's archive or check these out articles: