From an offensive perspective, the Carolina Panthers are one of the most exciting teams to watch in all of football. Largely due to the young superstar under center. We know how good he is, and we will get into that in detail. So, let’s take a look at the fantasy good and bad of the Panthers, shall we?
I cannot wait to draft Cam Newton in a handful of my leagues this year. I’m very, very high on the third-year quarterback, having ranked number three at the position from a fantasy perspective. That’s ahead of proven guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Let’s go inside the numbers (creepy ESPN voice) of Cam’s 2012 campaign. While his numbers regressed a bit, throwing for about 200 less yards and two less touchdowns. However, considering his incredible rookie campaign, regression was definitely expected. Keep in mind, though, that Cam did improve in other areas. His quarterback rating went from an 84.5 to an 86.2 and he threw five less interceptions. Overall, he just looked a lot smarter and more careful with the football. Now, of course, we haven’t even gotten into the icing on the Cam cake, which is his legs. Last season, Newton rushed for a ridiculous 741 yards and eight touchdowns. To put that into perspective, he rushed for more yards than his teammate, DeAngelo Williams, Darren McFadden and Willis McGahee. From Week 9 and beyond, he averaged 7.7 fantasy points on the ground alone. With his size and strength, Cam is legitimately the Panthers best running option in the red zone, which explains his 22 rushing scores over his first two seasons. There is just too much for me to like about Newton as a fantasy option, and I believe he has enough weapons to produce. Top three? You can bet your bottom dollar.
How frustrating is this position. First of all, any backfield-by-committee can drive a fantasy owner insane, but it’s even worse when two players with all the potential in the world just can’t seem to put it together out on the football field. Let’s start with Jonathan Stewart. The 13th overall pick back in 2008’s draft, many believed Stewart had the skill and upside to become one of the better every down backs in the league. Injuries have hindered him a bit, including an ankle injury last season that limited him to just nine games. There would have been plenty more love for Stewart as a fantasy runner if the Panthers hadn’t brought back Williams. Now, with Stewart, Williams and even Mike Tolbert in the backfield, it’s just simply not smart to trust that any one running back will stand out above the rest. All of this is going against these guys and I haven’t even mentioned that Newton will likely be vulturing touchdowns away from them in the red zone, along with Tolbert. There’s certainly upside with these backs, but the platoon and unimpressive track record (disregarding Williams’ killer 2008 season) is enough to keep me away.
With what seems to be ongoing regression, his fantasy value continues to decline year after year. Fair, but I think Steve Smith will provide fantasy value based off of his ADP (average draft position). He’s quickly fallen outside of the top-20 in my personal ranks, as well as many other fantasy analysts out there. Well, despite turning 34-years old, Smith still has the talent and ferociousness to do much better. At 5’9″, Smith is a strong advocate for the saying “Big things come in small packages.” You’d be hard pressed to find another wideout tougher and more resilient than Smith. He goes right after even the biggest corners and isn’t afraid of anything. Still, no matter what he does, it’ll be hard for him to return to his elite self with no complementary option across from him. He hasn’t had someone opposite him since Muhsin Muhammad. Who remembers those days? With Cam as his quarterback, at least 1,000 yards should be expected, but the lack of touchdowns (just 13 in last three seasons) will keep him from being a top tier wideout.
With the ongoing uncertainty and state of the tight end position, Greg Olsen has a realistic shot at becoming a top-10 fantasy option at the position. In 2012, the Miami product set career highs in receptions (69) and yardage (843), easily serving as Newton’s secondary option in the passing game. Olsen has one of the best combinations of size and speed among all tight ends in the game and is an absolute pain for defenders to have to guard across the middle. Touchdowns will be an issue for Olsen, as he only scored five times last year and was only targeted a mere five times inside the 20-yard line. Still, Olsen can go up and make a play when the ball is thrown his way, and considering the position, I have him ranked as number eight among tight ends.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.