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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Carolina Panthers

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Carolina Panthers.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day, players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Carolina Panthers

Last Year’s Accuracy
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1015440 (43.3%)575 (56.7%)40 (7.0%)355 (66.4%)125 (23.4%)30 (5.6%)
2020 Stats993407 (41.0%)586 (59.0%)36 (6.1%)372 (67.6%)114 (20.7%)41 (7.5%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

NNothing terribly surprising to report. The Panthers were bad, but that was expected. Matt Rhule’s head coaching seat was never in question as the team continues on its path to rebuilding. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady was rumored to be connected with almost every head coach vacancy out there, but he’s still relatively inexperienced. He remains in Carolina for at least one more year. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow will also retain his position as the defense saw reasonable improvement year over year.

Joe Brady unlikely to be an NFL head coach in 2021
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Coaching History

The big question I had posed last year was which offensive mind would prevail in pacing the Panthers; Brady’s lightspeed LSU offense or Rhule’s slow and methodical Baylor offense. The verdict is pretty clear after year one. Carolina operated at the 3rd slowest pace in the league en route to posting the 7th fewest total plays in 2020. In fact, once you account for Christian McCaffrey’s injury-plagued season (resulting in a higher pass rate and lower running back positional target share), we pretty much nailed the projection last year. The offense did indeed operate at a near-league average run-pass ratio while featuring wide receivers in the passing game and fading tight ends. Sure, Mike Davis was an adequate fill-in at running back, but there’s a reason CMC is the highest-paid back in the NFL. Losing him is going to create ripple effects throughout the offense.

Looking Ahead

The Panthers made a lot of moves this offseason, but you get the feeling that a lot of them were just lateral moves to replace lost talent. Draft highly touted rookie wideout Terrace Marshall, but lose Curtis Samuel. Trade for Sam Darnold cut Teddy Bridgewater. Draft exciting scatback, let current backup running back walk. You get the picture. The only position that it really felt like the Panthers improved at was cornerback. Hopefully, that will help solidify the very young defense so that they might get off the field a little faster in 2021. Getting off the field faster leads to more drives, which in turn leads to more total plays.

Christian McCaffrey scores 2 TDs to lead Panthers past Buccaneers – The  Denver Post
Tim Ireland/Associated Press

As for what Rhule and Brady will do with those extra plays, expect more of the same from last year. Sure, the return of Christian McCaffrey likely means more targets for the running backs, but it’s not like the Panthers had to scheme targets away from the running backs in his absence. Mike Davis proved to be a competent fill-in. Besides, where would those increased targets come from? The tight ends physically can’t take a big hit; they don’t have the targets to spare after tying for the lowest positional target share in the league last year. Logically that would leave the wide receivers, but the loss of Curtis Samuel was at least partially mitigated through both the draft and free agency. There are only so many targets we can reasonably move away from them.

The other thing to consider is just how much new quarterback Sam Darnold throws the ball away. Maybe it was because he had to deal with the 6th highest pressure rate among quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts, maybe it was because of Adam Gase, or maybe it was simply because Darnold just isn’t a good quarterback. Whatever the cause, there’s a very real possibility that all of Carolina’s position groups will see a small decrease in target share due to an increase in “no target” throws. Questions about Darnold’s ability coupled with the return of McCaffrey could lead the Panthers to operate a slightly more run-heavy offense this year.

2021 Projections
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats993407 (41.0%)586 (59.0%)36 (6.1%)372 (67.6%)114 (20.7%)41 (7.5%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1063449 (42.2%)614 (57.8%)39 (6.4%)355 (61.7%)138 (24.0%)47 (8.2%)

Previous Entry: Buffalo Bills

Next Entry: Chicago Bears

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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