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Ron Rivera applying Moneyball approach to Panthers?

It was the media who hung the "Riverboat" moniker on Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.


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The 2013 NFL Coach of the Year always preferred "Calculated-Risk-Taker Ron."

After listening to Rivera unfurl the Panthers' wide-receiver blueprint at the NFL Annual Meeting on Wednesday, we concede that his nickname preference is more fitting.

Asked about finding a No. 1 receiver to replace Steve Smith, Rivera echoed Billy Beane's patchwork approach to replicating Jason Giambi's statistics in "Moneyball."

"Look at it this way," Rivera said. "Last year we rushed 15 out of 16 games for 100 yards. We were fourth in the league in total time of possession.

"Our receivers averaged -- as a group, collectively -- 10 catches a game. We have to replace those 10 catches a game. If we are going to continue to run the ball successfully, on the average, we have to make 10 catches a game."

The problem with that "Moneyball" formula is twofold.

For starters, all receptions aren't created equal. Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood, Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt can't replicate the run-after-catch ability of Smith, who ranked fourth among NFL wide receivers with 15 forced missed tackles last season, per Pro Football Focus.

Who will share Smith's penchant for coming up big on key third and fourth downs? Who from that foursome will simulate the deep speed and playmaking ability of the departed Ted Ginn?

The second concern is rather obvious. As strong as the Panthers' rushing attack was last season, the offense needed more than 10 catches per game from their already low-grade wide receiving corps to overtake the true NFC superpowers in San Francisco and Seattle.

Rivera acknowledged it's "no secret" his front office will draft a wide receiver in May.

General manager Dave Gettleman believes it will be "fun to figure out" if any of his unproven receivers from the Island of Misfit Toys can emerge from obscurity as Victor Cruz did with the Giants in 2011.

Even if that latter scenario plays out, the Panthers still need a marked improvement over their 29th-ranked aerial attack to repeat in a more robust NFC South.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" breaks down all the latest news at the NFL Annual Meeting.

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