Carolina free-agent rankings: No. 8

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No. 8 in my ranking and evaluation of the 21 Carolina Panthers scheduled to become unrestricted free agents is a player who didn't start a game last season but had one of the season's biggest plays.

Wide receiver Domenik Hixon.

Seeing him this high on the list, particularly with No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell so low, may be a surprise. I'll explain that below.

To rehash the rankings so far:

  • No. 21 quarterback Jimmy Clausen, No. 20 wide receiver Brandon LaFell, No. 19 cornerback Drayton Florence, No. 18 guard Geoff Hangartner, No. 17 linebacker Dan Connor, No. 16 linebacker Jason Williams, No. 15 tackle Bruce Campbell, No. 14 cornerback James Dockery, No. 13 defensive tackle Colin Cole, No. 12 guard Travelle Wharton, No. 11 linebacker Jordan Senn, No. 10 quarterback Derek Anderson and No. 9 cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. On to No 8:Domenik Hixon: Because of a preseason injury and playing the same position as No. 1 receiver Steve Smith, Hixon never really got a chance to show what he could do after general manager Dave Gettleman signed him as a free agent from the New York Giants that both were a part of the year before. Hixon had only seven catches for 55 yards, albeit his diving 14-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left to beat New Orleans was huge. It gave the Panthers a 17-13 victory that propelled them to the NFC South title. Because Gettleman likes the leadership and class of Hixon, and because he believes at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds Hixon has all the physical attributes to be a solid receiver, it makes sense to bring him back. He can do many of the small things that LaFell did well, such as block and run good routes. The team just needs to find out if Hixon can consistently make the big catches that LaFell never did. That he won't demand a high dollar makes sense for a team fighting salary-cap issues.