“I think he’s developed into a very solid football player,” Rivera said of LaFell. “The fun thing to watch about Brandon is his growth. He’s going to continue to grow and become a better and better football player. The thing I like about him is his ability to get into tight spaces and make good catches.”
Rivera called this is a good draft class for receivers.
But the Panthers enter next month’s selection process with only five picks, having already traded away their third- and seventh-round selections.
“We’re trying to find out about who these young receivers are and do they have the ability to read on the run?” Rivera said. “Can they make those decisions that, OK, they’re in cover-2, I’ve got to run this route. Or they’re in man and it’s, I’ve got to run this route. It’s 3-deep, I’ve got to run this route. What’s happening is you really have to do your homework to find out does this guy play all these different positions? Does this guy understand defenses? And does this guy know the offense? Where in the past I don’t think you worried about some of those other elements in terms of scouting players.”
The Panthers have never had to worry about Smith being a presence.
He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He has more than 11,000 yards receiving since being selected as a third-round pick out of Utah in 2001.
Rivera said finding a player to replace Smith’s competitiveness, work ethic and overall productivity won’t be easy.
“The thing about Steve I’ll always be impressed with is how hard he does everything,” Rivera said. “Not just on the football field. Everything he does, he gives 100 percent. He really does put his all into it. I think that’s why he’s been able to sustain it for such a long time.”