Fantasy football team preview: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers followed up their 2015 Super Bowl appearance with a disappointing 6-10 record last season. But the good news is there are a lot of talented players at the skill positions, and this year’s draft seemed to indicate a slightly new philosophy for the team. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula runs an Erhardt-Perkins offense with heavy use of run-pass options and Buck Sweeps, both of which tap into Cam Newton’s unique skill set.
Team Offensive Stats
One of the fantasy’s biggest disappointments last season, Cam Newton was widely drafted as the first quarterback and he ended up finishing 15th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, which was 14 spots lower than his first overall finish in 2015. Consistency plagued Newton last season has he two or more touchdown passes just four times. He also ran much less, with his scramble rate dropping from 5.2 percent in 2015 to just 1.8 percent in 2016. Still, Newton has been a top-five fantasy quarterback in four of six seasons as a pro. That ceiling plus the additions the Panthers made on the offensive side of the ball – especially rookie RB Christian McCaffrey – make Newton a nice value in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
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Carolina made a splash on draft day with the No. 8 overall selection of Christian McCaffrey. The former Stanford running back offers a versatile skill set. He’s a capable runner and was arguably the best receiver in this year’s draft class. His Marshall Faulk-esque skillset bodes extremely well for fantasy production, but there is one thing that could cap his 2017 fantasy value: Jonathan Stewart. The veteran back is now on the wrong side of 30, but he’s still in house and remains a capable early-down runner. Stewart has very minimal fantasy appeal, but his presence keeps McCaffrey in the RB2 range for now. As the primary passing down back, McCaffrey has more value in PPR formats than he does in standard leagues.
Kelvin Benjamin remains inked in as the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver. Like Newton, Benjamin’s biggest issue last season was consistency. He got out of the gate hot, with four scores in his first four games, but then didn’t score again until Week 12. He also only topped 100 yards once last season. Still, he was No. 19 fantasy receiver in standard and finished 26th in PPR. Benjamin doesn’t offer massive weekly upside, but he’s a solid red-zone asset who saw 14 end-zone targets last year. He’s a solid WR3 option in both scoring systems.
Beyond Benjamin, there isn’t much fantasy value to be had. Devin Funchess has emerged as one of those players who is always taking a step forward in the offseason, but he’s yet to make anything more than a minor fantasy impact. Last year, had just two top-25 fantasy weeks. Rookie Curtis Samuel has the inside track for No. 3 duties in Carolina. Samuel is a dynamic athlete who is capable of making plays both as a runner and receiver much like Tyreek Hill. The major concern for fantasy purposes is the Panthers’ limited use of 3-wide last season. Samuel has also been injured for much of training camp. Those in dynasty leagues should keep a close eye on Samuel, but he isn’t a re-draft option at this time.
Wide Receiver Sets
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While he isn’t a flashy player, Greg Olsen is about as steady as they come. He’s finished seventh or better among tight ends in fantasy scoring in each of the last five years with top-five finishes in each of the last three years. He topped 1,000 yards in all three of those seasons. Last year, Olsen managed just three touchdowns with two coming on targets in the end zone. However, he saw 11 end-zone targets on the year. That low conversion rate suggests a positive regression is coming for Olsen. With his volume likely to remain heavy, Olsen should be considered an elite option. Better yet, he’s likely to be the cheapest on draft day out of this year’s top-four fantasy tight ends.
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