Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Panthers Fantasy Preview

Monday, June 11, 2018


Panthers 2015-2017 Offensive Profile

2015-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 27th > 20th > 27th
2015-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 1st > 7th > 3rd
2015-2017 Play Volume Rank: 8th > 8th > 13th
2015-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 13th > 21st > 19th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017 (Rank): 1,586 (8th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017 (Rank): 202 (8th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Cam Newton
RB: Christian McCaffrey
WR: Devin Funchess
WR: D.J. Moore
WR: Torrey Smith
TE: Greg Olsen
LT: Matt Kalil
LG: Amini Silatolu
C: Ryan Kalil
RG: Trai Turner
RT: Daryl Williams

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Passing Game Outlook

Cam Newton enters his eighth NFL season with top-five fantasy finishes in 5-of-7 years coming off career highs in rushing attempts (139) and rushing yards (754) under ex-OC Mike Shula. Supplanting Shula is 66-year-old Ron Rivera pal Norv Turner, who spent 2017 out of football after resigning in-season as the Vikings’ 2016 OC. Whereas Cam is a generational dual threat, Norv’s history is almost strictly with pocket passers from Troy Aikman to Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson, Kerry Collins, and Philip Rivers. It’s fair to wonder how old-school Turner and new-school Newton will mesh. Nevertheless, Cam’s fantasy track record speaks for itself. He’s one of the few perennial difference makers at the largely-replaceable quarterback position.

Devin Funchess broke out as a third-year pro, logging WR19 (non-PPR) and WR21 (PPR) finishes, buoyed by Kelvin Benjamin’s in-season trade and Greg Olsen’s foot fracture, which cost Olsen nine games. In five games sans Benjamin and Olsen, Funchess averaged 7.8 targets for 81.0 yards with four TDs. In four games after Olsen returned, Funchess averaged 5.5 targets for 39.3 yards with two scores. Although Funchess has never created much separation, Newton is one of the NFL’s most-willing quarterbacks to throw into tight coverage. Funchess is above average in contested situations and running after the catch, and he commands red-zone targets at 6-foot-4, 232. Olsen’s return and Carolina’s first-round pick of Moore add risk, but Funchess offers TD upside and room for further growth in his contract year.

D.J. Moore was the first receiver selected (No. 24) in April’s draft after breaking out as a 2017 junior to earn Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year with 80 catches and eight TDs. Moore solidified his stock by posting the No. 2 SPARQ score among wideouts drafted, including 4.42 speed and an explosive 11-foot broad jump. More interior technician than perimeter field stretcher, Moore is built in the Golden Tate-Pierre Garcon mold with a chance to become a high-volume receiver. Moore just turned 21, however, only had one big year in college, and doesn’t *seem* like a perfect stylistic match for Cam's skill set. While it may be smart to temper first-year expectations, the odds Moore bypasses Funchess as Carolina’s most-targeted wideout can’t be ruled out. He’s a late-round pick with underrated upside.

 

Editor's Note: The 2018 Rotoworld Draft Guide provides more than 500 extensive player profiles, tiers, projections, Evan Silva’s Sleepers and Busts and much more. Get the NFL Draft Guide now.


Carolina’s third receiver will come down to Torrey Smith, Curtis Samuel, and Jarius Wright. The Panthers acquired Smith in a (confusing) pre-draft trade and are scheduled to pay him $5 million. 2017 second-round pick Samuel set season highs in targets (7) and yards (45) last Week 10, only to suffer a year-ending leg fracture with ligament damage in his ankle. Samuel was slow to emerge after missing his rookie offseason with repeat hamstring injuries, and now looks questionable for Week 1. Nevertheless, Samuel offers the most upside in the group. Cut by the Vikings, slot man Wright relocated to Carolina on a low-rent, three-year, $7.5 million deal. If the Panthers want Moore in the slot, Smith will likely win the third receiver role. If Moore plays outside, Wright is the probable No. 3. Samuel is the wild card.

Greg Olsen suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot last Week 2, returned in Week 11 for an up-and-down finish, flirted early in the offseason with a broadcasting career, then signed an extension through 2020. Prior to 2017, Olsen played 16 games in nine straight years, an incredible feat at one of the NFL’s most-injured positions. Jones fractures require a second surgery 20% of the time, notably occurring in the NFL with Dez Bryant, Sammy Watkins, and Julian Edelman. 33-year-old Olsen is at elevated injury risk, but he’s by far Carolina’s most accomplished pass catcher under an OC in Norv Turner with a prolific history of tight end production. Olsen did drop an 8/107/1 receiving line on the Saints in the playoffs, showing he'd returned to prime form by January. Olsen is my TE5 behind Rob Gronkowski, Travis KelceZach Ertz, and Jimmy Graham.

Running Game Outlook

Christian McCaffrey’s rookie season was viewed as disappointing based on his rushing inefficiency (3.72 YPC) and inability to render Jonathan Stewart irrelevant, but McCaffrey showed his robust floor with RB10 (PPR) and RB15 (non-PPR) finishes. He led all NFL running backs in targets (116) and targets inside the ten-yard line (8) as then-OC Mike Shula created an offense highly schemed to feed McCaffrey in space. Shula arguably put too much on McCaffrey’s plate, however, and the Panthers fell to 15th in yards per drive and 19th in yards per play. McCaffrey now enters a committee with C.J. Anderson, a younger (27), fresher version of Stewart with superior versatility. Nevertheless, McCaffrey is a rock-solid RB2 with a safe floor and untapped upside should his ball-carrying productivity take a sophomore leap. ESPN projections wizard Mike Clay forecasted McCaffrey to finish 12th among running backs in yards from scrimmage this year.

C.J. Anderson was cut by Denver after logging his first-career 1,000-yard rushing season, then landed in Carolina on a one-year, $1.75 million pact. As McCaffrey struggled between the tackles as a rookie and the Panthers are missing the NFL’s eighth-most carries from last year’s team (202), early-down rushing opportunity is aplenty for Anderson, who projects as Carolina’s primary inside runner. Predecessor Jonathan Stewart finished top ten in both carries inside the ten-yard line (28) and inside the five (12). The Panthers’ interior run blocking took a sizable hit with stud LG Andrew Norwell’s departure for Jacksonville, however, and Anderson is unlikely to contribute in the passing game. Like Stewart before him, Anderson will likely max out as a touchdown-or-bust RB3/flex option barring injury to McCaffrey.

2018 Vegas Win Total

The Panthers’ Win Total opened at 9.0 with -120 odds to the under. Outside of its own rough NFC South division, Carolina’s schedule consists of the beatable NFC East and AFC North, Detroit (away), and Seattle (home). More concerning are coordinator changes on both sides of the ball, especially 66-year-old Turner's ability to scheme an offense suited to Cam's strengths after making his name on pocket passers. Offensive line play is a serious concern, and Carolina’s pass defense looks subpar on paper. Stalwart WLB Thomas Davis’ four-game PEDs ban won’t help. The Panthers are an above-average team with too many question marks for a comfortable projection, and close-game regression is forthcoming after last year’s Panthers went an otherworldly 8-1 in games decided by one score. Carolina outkicked its expected wins by nearly two full games. Even at lower-upside odds, I think the under on Carolina eking out nine wins is the right play.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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