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32 Teams in 32 Days: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers head into their 9th season with Ron Rivera as their head coach. While Rivera has a mediocre 71-56-1 record as the Panthers coach, he did manage to get them to the Super Bowl in 2015 on the legs of Cam Newton’s MVP season. The Panthers enter the 2019 season with hopes to make another deep playoff run. The Panthers bring back both coordinators and have done enough to upgrade the offensive line in free agency. Eric Washington enters his second season as Panthers defensive coordinator where he turned a bottom-five pass defense into the 12th ranked unit in 2018. The biggest jump to be made for the Panthers in 2019 will be the sack numbers, which the Panthers ranked 27th in the NFL a year ago. The addition of free agent Gerald McCoy and 1st round rookie pick Brian Burns from Florida State can help boost this unit. Washington has been a defensive line coach with the Panthers in the 7 years prior to getting the defensive coordinator job; in those seasons, the Panthers finished top 10 in the NFL in five of seven seasons. The most exciting news in Carolina is Norv Turner returning for another season to call plays for the Panthers offense. Turner boosted the Carolina rushing attack in 2018 as they finished 4th in the NFL. The biggest boost was to Christian McCaffrey, who finished as the RB2 overall last season, less than a full point behind Saquon Barkley. Norv Turner returning should help maintain the consistency for CMC, as he is likely to be used as a modern-day LaDanian Tomlinson in Norv Turner’s offense; in four straight seasons, the Chargers finished as a top-7 offense in the NFL with Turner calling plays. 

Studs

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Christian McCaffrey – Look no further than CMC if you want guaranteed fantasy points. McCaffrey is a stud in every sense of the word; his 3,000 total yards and 20 touchdowns in two seasons has been remarkable. 2018 was a record-setting year for the 2nd year running back, as he broke the NFL record for receptions in a season by an RB with 107 catches on 124 targets. McCaffrey has finished as a top-10 RB in back-to-back seasons. With the upgrades to the offensive line in free agency and a healthy Cam Newton, the sky’s the limit for CMC, who has a current ADP of 2nd overall. He is everything you can ask for in a “bell cow” back. In two seasons, McCaffrey has grabbed 187 receptions, so if there’s a threat of him losing TD volume, his work in the pass game alone should always keep him among the top RBs in dynasty, year in and year out. 

Luke Kuechly – Although he’s aging, there have been very few defensive players who have produced to the level of Luke Kuechly over the years. For so long, the chants of “Luuuuuuke” have rung loudly in Carolina as it seemed Kuechly was in on every play, whether it was a run or pass play. Kuechly has had 102 tackles or more in 7 straight seasons, with three straight 150+ tackles in his first three seasons. The injuries, mainly concussions, have scared both Panthers fans and dynasty owners in the past few years; despite all of that, the All-Pro LB returned to form in 2018, playing all 16 games with two sacks, six pass defenses and one interception. Until Kuechly proves he’s slowing down, which doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon, he will be considered an IDP stud.

Cam Newton – This might surprise a few readers, and maybe I’m a bit biased, but Cam Newton has always been a stud in fantasy football. Since taking the league by storm, Cam Newton has finished as top-12 QB in all but two seasons, with a particularly memorable season in 2015 when he was named NFL MVP. The rushing baseline Cam has set is the great equalizer; in eight seasons he has never had a year with under 350 rushing yards or four rushing touchdowns. Combining that with the fact that he’s never thrown for less than 18 touchdowns or less than 3,000 yards in a season, and Newton is the perfect dual-threat weapon at QB on your dynasty team. Cam Newton has taken a lot of heat for his play in the Super Bowl, but the numbers don’t lie when Cam plays; he produces consistently and can single-handedly give you a huge advantage in both standard and especially superflex leagues. In superflex leagues, Newton has an ADP around QB9, very close to Jared Goff and rookie Kyler Murray, which is arguably a bit shocking, but this makes Cam a buy for me currently in dynasty. If Cam Newton can play 16 games, he’s almost a lock to be a top 5 dynasty QB in 2019. 

Duds

Greg Olsen – From 2008 to 2016 Greg Olsen played 16 games in every single season; unfortunately in his past two seasons, he has only played 16 games total. The 34-year-old TE has only managed to catch 44 passes and five touchdowns his last two years. With the injuries to his ankle piling up and young TE Ian Thomas pushing him, I think Olsen is getting ready to hang up his cleats and head to FOX to call football games from the booth. Olsen has had a great career and will still have a role in this offense, but he’s nowhere near the player he once was. There’s very little risk here if you still have him on your dynasty team, although your real concern should be finding a trade to land Ian Thomas, who could fill his role when Olsen does retire. Given the unpredictability at the TE position, thankfully neither of these guys hold much value in dynasty, as currently Ian Thomas has an ADP of 162 (TE22) while Olsen has an ADP of 215 (TE28). 

Mario Addison – This seems unfair to call him a dud, because honestly Mario Addison isn’t on anyone’s IDP radar, but he did finish with the most sacks (9) of any Panthers player last year. There are rumors of the Panthers going to a 3-4 defense; regardless of what they play, my money would be on Addison not performing as well as he did last year. The additions of Gerald McCoy and rookie Brian Burns should be the more attractive players to IDP owners, so there’s a chance Addison sits on the waiver wire in most leagues all season. Addison has totaled 20 sacks in two seasons, but his age and situation seem to be why most are so low on him. 

Breakouts

Curtis Samuel – The former Ohio State Buckeye enters his third season after finishing 2018 as the WR49 in 13 games played. The hype train for the speedy wideout has gone off the rails lately in the dynasty community, but for good reason. Curtis Samuel has increased his fantasy points per game from 3 PPG to nearly 10 last year. Although Samuel didn’t play until week 5, he still managed 39 receptions in 13 games, while also rushing eight times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. The hope for dynasty owners and Panthers fans is that Curtis Samuel can be what we expected a healthy Percy Harvin to be (which is who Samuel was often compared to during the pre-draft process). In Harvin’s first four NFL seasons, he had at least 60 catches and 677+ yards, while also adding 90+ rushing yards in each season. It’s not unrealistic to think that Samuel could post similar numbers to Harvin, since during Samuel’s junior season at Ohio State, he posted 700+ yards both rushing and receiving, while combining for 15 touchdowns. I personally am not the biggest fan of Samuel as a pure WR, but his speed and dynamic ability to create matchup problems give him a very realistic shot to be a low end WR2 this season. The Panthers ranked in the middle of the league in passing offense and points per game while relying heavily on the run last season. Samuel should be trusted more in his third season to help boost the pass game, including as a potential weapon out of the backfield to give Christian McCaffrey a break from time to time. 

D.J. Moore – For so long the Carolina Panthers have lacked the presence of a true #1 WR. It appears that they now have their guy in 2nd year WR D.J. Moore. Moore only started 10 games as a rookie, but he managed to haul in 55 receptions for 788 yards, averaging 14.3 yards per catch while scoring two touchdowns. Moore is very talented and a big reason why the Panthers were comfortable letting Devin Funchess leave in free agency. Moore did play in all 16 games in 2018; the most impactful stat I found was him having 3 receptions or more in seven of his ten starts. Much like Samuel, Moore also offers upside as a runner, which can be seen by how good he is after the catch. Moore had 13 carries as a rookie, averaging 13.2 yard per carry. If there is going to be a leading receiver in this passing offense, it’s likely Moore or McCaffrey you should be trusting the most. The Panthers only addition to the WR core was Chris Hogan, who has never eclipsed 41 catches or 700 receiving yards (both of which D.J. Moore accomplished as a rookie). The current ADP for Moore is around WR17, which is fair value; although you are unlikely to acquire him at this price, he’s worth every bit of it. This might be the lowest price to acquire Moore for many years, so if you’re a believer in his future, the time to buy is now. 

Ian Thomas – The changing of the guard is all but here at TE for the Panthers. Another Greg Olsen injury hurt the passing game in 2018, but it was less impactful with Ian Thomas on the roster. The former Indiana Hoosier started six of sixteen games as a rookie, catching 36 of 49 targets and two touchdowns. Thomas posted a 73.5% catch rate, which was better than any of Greg Olsen’s 12 seasons in the NFL. While Olsen still projects to be a starter, the Panthers would be foolish to not use the skill set of Ian Thomas in the passing game. At best, Greg Olsen plays maybe another year or two, but not in a full-time role, so Thomas is a buy for me in dynasty leagues. Greg Olsen has shined in Carolina with Cam Newton throwing him the football; in five straight seasons from 2012-2018, Olsen had at least 69 receptions and 800+ yards while going over 1,000 yards in three of those five seasons. If and when Ian Thomas takes over as the starter, he has low-end TE1 upside at a fraction of the price. 

Shaq Thompson – You guys rely on me for IDP content, so I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention an IDP breakout. Shaq Thompson immediately comes to mind. Although he enters his fifth NFL season, he has improved steadily, and regardless of whether the Panthers line up in a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme, he will have a role. Thompson had a career-high 50 solo tackles in 11 games started last season. This is a contract year for Thompson, and with Thomas Davis gone in free agency, he should potentially see a huge boost in IDP value in 2019. His next contract might not be with the Panthers, but if Shaq can put together a LB1 or high-end LB2 season, he can be a league winner for this year and possibly beyond. 

Stashes

Will Grier – Will Grier returns home after being drafted by the Panthers in the 3rd round this year. Grier can play QB in the NFL, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that he likely sits behind the NFL’s “Superman” in Cam Newton. But if called upon, Grier can step in and keep the offense moving. Grier tossed 81 college touchdowns passes in three college seasons, but those stats are a bit misleading, as he did most of his damage in the Big 12 playing for West Virginia. Regular readers already know how I feel about the Big 12 conference and their desire to never play defense, but nonetheless, Grier had 71 of his 81 career TD passes at West Virginia (after beginning his career at Florida). Will Grier will be comfortable in the backup role, and if he can pick up Norv Turner’s offense quickly, he should be a must stash in super flex dynasty leagues, especially if you have Cam Newton shares. 

Elijah Holyfield – Calling Holyfield a stash is a shot in the dark, but it’s a case of just trusting my eyes when watching film. When I compare Holyfield and fellow rookie RB Jordan Scarlett, I can’t help but think Holyfield is much better. Although Scarlett was drafted and Holyfield wasn’t, the numbers and tape prove it should have been the other way around. Holyfield managed over 1,000 yards on 6.4 yards per carry and rushed for 7 touchdowns last year at Georgia. If nothing else, the Panthers might keep Holyfield around for flex competitions with star RB Christian McCaffrey. 

Bonus Coverage 

Eric Reid – Reid made his return to football last season, filling a major need on the back end of the defense for the Panthers. Eric Reid can still produce in the world of IDP, and he showed that with another 50 solo tackles and 5 passes defended, along with a sack and an interception. I had hopes of Tre Boston making a return to Carolina to boost the secondary, but if that doesn’t happen, Reid should hold good value as a solid DB2 for the 2019 season. 

The Trenches – As I spoke about in the intro, the Panthers’ biggest issue last year was getting after the QB. They ranked 27th in sacks last season. In an effort to change that, the Panthers added free agent Gerald McCoy, who leaves division rival Tampa Bay, where he has at least five sacks in each of the last seven straight seasons. The Panthers also add rookie Brian Burns, who recorded 23 sacks in his three seasons as DE at Florida State. The Panthers lastly added troubled free agent edge rusher Bruce Irvin, who played in both Oakland and Atlanta last season. Irvin is often overlooked, but his solid production is helpful; he has managed 5.5 sacks or more in six of his seven NFL seasons. 

The 2018 Carolina Panthers managed to run the ball extremely efficiently but ranked an average 18th in pass blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus. This makes sense, as the Panthers lost both starting tackles before the season even started. The Panthers solidified the offensive line going into 2019 when they re-signed tackle Daryl Williams and signed free agent C Matt Paradis, who graded as PFF’s 2nd best center out of 38 qualifiers in 2018. Like Williams, Paradis is also returning from a nasty injury, but if he returns healthy, he can be a difference maker for the Panthers offense, which will increase their ability to put up fantasy football points for our dynasty teams. 

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