The New Head Coach, Frank Reich
The Panthers wanted to bring someone in who had NFL head coaching experience over promoting a coordinator or bringing another college coach to the pros. They found their new head coach in former Colts head coach Reich.
In his four and a half years leading the Colts, he had three years where his offense was in the top ten in points. In two of them, the Colts were top ten in yards. This is all while having a rotating cast of veteran quarterbacks. Despite being let go midway through the 2022 season, his overall record for the Colts was 40-33-1, with only one and a half seasons with a losing record. He is coming back to lead the franchise, where he holds the distinction of throwing the first passing touchdown in franchise history. What does that mean for your dynasty pieces and the team’s trajectory as a whole?
The Panthers don’t have a quarterback signed to the 2023 roster other than Matt Corral. Corral missed all of his rookie 2022 season with a foot injury. They muddled through the 2022 season, starting Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and PJ Walker. Reich is known for developing quarterbacks. He was a pivotal player in the development of Carson Wentz, who was putting together an MVP-caliber season in 2017 but was derailed by injuries. With the ninth overall pick in the draft, the Panthers and Reich can pick the quarterback they want and develop him. If they feel they need to move up to grab the guy they want, they can, with two second-round picks and plenty of other draft capital and tradeable players. There are also plenty of veterans available in free agency, including Wentz, if Reich intends to take a more traditional route and have a rookie sit and learn for a year.
It won’t be a high-end fantasy option in production this year but will hold value down the road. If the Panthers can secure one of the top names in the draft, they will probably be the Week 1 starter, and hype will build for what they can be. Reich’s ability to develop a young quarterback into a solid performer who protects the ball should ensure they are a fantasy asset for years to come. If it is a veteran, they can be in the conversation as a streaming candidate or a solid option in 1QB leagues. The only quarterback starting for Reich who finished outside the top 20 fantasy quarterbacks was Jacoby Brissett in 2019, where he only played 14 ½ games. While the high-end upside may not be there, solid production can be expected.
The leading rusher for the Panthers in 2022 was D’onte Foreman. He is heading to the open market as a free agent. That would leave Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear on the rosters. Both have been lackluster in their careers, with only two 100-yard games between them in 45 games. Neither of them ranks above 50th in evaded tackles on Playerprofiler.com. Only Hubbard cracked the top 50 in yards created at 49th overall. The Panthers will have to figure out what to do at the running back position to be successful. It’s a large group of free agents, so the Panthers can sign a veteran and focus their draft on other areas. Outside of his first year with Andrew Luck, a Reich lead Colts offense was in the top ten in rushing plays percentage and twice in the top five. It’s a focal point of a Reich lead offense.
Whoever is receiving the bulk of the carries for the Panthers will be fantasy relevant. Reich is a lead-back-type coach. In his time with the Colts, he has never had a backup rusher reach more than 20% of the team’s total carries. This bodes well for whoever is the lead dog in that backfield. It just remains to be seen who that will be, as neither Hubbard nor Blackshear has shown it on the field. The lead Panthers should be Zero-RB darlings, and if they have a pass-catching skill set, they could end up being monsters in PPR leagues. They will have the workload to be in the top half of RB2s this season.
DJ Moore, WR
Moore finally broke out of his three-year patterns of 1,000 yards and four touchdowns. He finished the 2022 season with only 888 yards but seven touchdowns. It was a down year for Moore, who only saw 118 targets, catching 63 of them. This was a symptom of having to deal with two different coaches and three different quarterbacks. Moore could use some consistency from his passer.
The Panthers should be adding another weapon opposite Moore. They made due the past season with the likes of Shi Smith, Terrace Marshall, and Laviska Shenault. All the Panthers wide receivers besides Moore combined for only five receiving touchdowns this past season. They have roles in the offense but haven’t shown consistent production. It’s an area of need that the Panthers should address. It’s a weak free-agent group, so the draft looks more likely. The Panthers have two second-round picks thanks to the trade of Christian McCaffery. Rookies take a while to adjust to the speed of the NFL.
Moore owners should be looking at the finishes for the top receivers in Reich’s offense and be a little worried. Only twice in his four-year tenure did a receiver have over 100 targets. It was T.Y. Hilton in 2018 with Andrew Luck under center and Michael Pittman in 2021 with Phillip Rivers. Those receivers finished just outside the WR1 range at WR14 and WR17 in both years. Moore should be in line for the bulk of the Panthers’ targets and in line to get back to his norm of 1,000 yards, four touchdowns, and finishing as a WR2 in fantasy.
Tight ends have been able to produce in Reich’s offense. Combined, his tight ends have scored at least seven touchdowns every year. Tommy Tremble and Ian Thomas are still under contract and have flashed, but neither has stood out. With Reich leading the team, they should see an increase in workload. While they will split the production, they both can have boom games and will finish as TE3s.
If one becomes a cap casualty, the other could jump up. Rookie quarterbacks tend to favor tight ends as a safety blanket. Without other viable receiving options on the team, the tight end should be a second read on most passing plays, finish as a TE3 for fantasy, and produce some solid weeks. The thought that any of them could get to what Eric Ebron was in 2018 is a long shot. Ebron ended that season as the overall TE4 with 13 touchdowns. That was with Andrew Luck under center, and it’s unlikely the Panthers will have that caliber of passer in 2023.
Was Reich the Best Hire?
Reich is known for being a coach who sets the culture. It was evident on the Colts in season Hard Knocks on HBO. The Panthers excelled last season under interim head coach Steve Wilks when they bought into his system. Ownership seems to want to continue that process. It looks like almost a complete roster overall, as the Panthers will be $9.5 million over the record $224.8 million cap.
They can add to their already young core by holding the ninth pick and two other picks in the top 75. The Panthers were the eighth youngest team in the NFL. They have to make some moves to get under the cap. They are in a weak division where the Buccaneers went to the playoffs with a losing record. Reich has all the pieces in draft capital and young core players to build a winning franchise. If they add the right pieces they could be back to contending this season, but more realistically, it’s a move for the future. They were in contention to win the division up until Week 17. All signs indicate it is the right move for the team and its fantasy pieces.
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