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A No. 1 wide receiver not critical to success

Ron Rivera admitted last week at the NFL owners meetings that the Carolina Panthers may not have a bona fide No. 1 receiver in 2014. The fourth-year head coach also said the Panthers may not need a top receiver who does everything like Detroit's Calvin Johnson.

So I wondered. How many teams actually had a bona fide No. 1 last season? And how critical was that to success?

I deferred to Matt Williamson, a former scout for the Cleveland Browns who now serves as an NFL scout for ESPN.com. He came up with 13 players on 12 teams -- Chicago had two -- that he considered legitimate No. 1s.

He came up with eight other receivers he considered borderline No. 1s. One of those played for a team with a surefire No. 1.

So if you count the borderline players, only 19 of 32 teams had a No. 1 receiver in 2013. If you don't count them, only 12 did.

Not among the 12 were Super Bowl champion Seattle, NFC South champion Carolina, AFC East champion New England, AFC South champion Indianapolis and NFC wild-card team New Orleans.

Those teams were a collective 59-21 during the regular season.

Of the 12 teams that had bona fide No. 1s, seven finished .500 or worse. Detroit, Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta and Tampa Bay were a collective 21-59. Of the four teams with true No. 1s that made the playoffs, two lost in the first round.

So when Rivera says he's not worried, he really isn't. Neither should those following Carolina, although many of you have been since the Panthers released Steve Smith.

Smith, by the way, didn't make Williamson's list of legit No. 1s. He hasn't been a No. 1 for several years.

So the Panthers moved on. They now have in Pittsburgh Steelers free agent Jerricho Cotchery a solid veteran who caught 10 touchdown passes last season. They have in Tampa Bay's Tiquan Underwood a potential up-and-comer whose previous year stats are far better than Ted Ginn Jr.'s were coming into last season, and many of you considered the loss of Ginn in free agency a setback.

Throw in a rookie from a talented and deep draft class, along with Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King, who the Panthers are high on, and there's potential.

And consider this: New England quarterback Tom Brady began last season without his top five receiving targets from 2012 in wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, running back Danny Woodhead and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots brought in injury-prone Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins. Doesn't sound much more impressive than what Carolina has now.

New England made it to the AFC Championship Game.

Successful offenses are more about successful schemes and balance. The teams that achieve balance typically don't need a true No. 1.

"The thing that we had to look at is we have a good group of young guys that we feel need to get opportunities," Rivera said. "We’ve got the draft, and there’s no secret that at some point if we’ve got a chance to draft a wide receiver we are going to do it.”

The bottom line: To be a top team, you don't have to have a top receiver.