The Carolina Panthers continued their offensive overall this week. They signed Andy Dalton, presumably to be the backup for whichever quarterback they select now that they have the first overall pick in this year’s draft. A pick they got in a trade with the Chicago Bears that included them shipping out leading wide receiver D.J. Moore. Now they signed running back Miles Sanders, who is coming off the best year of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Panthers were projected to be one of the best landing spots for a running back to sign due to the lack of competition and how well the rushers did last year. What does the Sanders signing mean for him and the rest of the Panthers fantasy relevant players this year and for the future in dynasty?
Miles Sanders- Stock up
I couldn’t be happier about Sanders landing in Carolina. Let’s first talk about the player. Sanders is coming off a year with 259 carries, 1,269 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Those were all career highs. He also split the backfield with quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had 164 rushing attempts. Sanders’s touchdowns came when he was often not the back to either be on the field or be the one who got the ball in the red zone. He was still able to get into the end zone and finish eighth overall in running back touchdowns. It’s a vast difference from his 2021 season, where he failed to score any rushing touchdowns.
He now has a chance to match, if not better, those stats. Let’s also not gloss over the fact that Sanders averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Which was actually below what he has been for most of his career. He has proven that he can be a workhorse, every down back in the NFL. The Eagles made it to the Super Bowl with the help of what Sanders did on the ground.
He joins a Panthers team that has Duce Staley as a coach. Staley coached Sanders in 2019 and 2020, his first two years in the league. Not only that, Frank Reich is the head coach. As head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Reich never had a second back reach over 20% of the team’s carries. He runs a bell cow system, and Sanders is now that running back for 2023. As mentioned in our article about Reich’s hiring, his offenses have always been in the top ten in rushing play percentage. It’s a massive boon for Sanders. He should easily see upwards of 250 carries.
In 2021 D’Onte Forman saw 203 carries and didn’t take over the backfield until Week 7, when they traded away Christian McCaffery. If you take the leading rushing attempts from each Panthers game last year, that back would have had 285 carries. Now it’s a new system with Reich. If you look at the leading rusher for the nine games Reich coached and extrapolate that out to 17 games, that back would have hauled the rock 268 times. Both of those are over Sanders’s total from last year. The Panthers are also sitting with the first overall pick in the draft. They will be headed into the season with either that rookie under center or 13-year veteran Andy Dalton. The rookie will need to adjust to the speed and depth of the NFL, and Dalton has been decent but is far past his prime. The running game will be even more crucial as the Panthers look to take an early lead in the weakest division in football.
Ability to Catch Passes
There is also a pass-catching upside to Sander’s game. We haven’t seen it much in the past few years from Sanders. His target totals have shrunk every year of his career—63 in 2019, 52 in 2020, 34 in 2021, and 26 in 2022. I will refer you back to the fact that Staley was the running back coach in Philadelphia in 2019 and 2020, when Sanders had his best pass-catching years. The Panthers don’t have another back who projects to that traditional pass-catching role. Raheem Blackshear and Chuba Hubbard have only 49 receptions in their combined three years in the NFL. That’s less the Sanders had in his rookie season (50 receptions). The Panthers also lack other pass catchers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Sanders will be the first option in running plays and could be a top two option on passing downs.
Long-term Sanders signed a four-year deal. It is worth $25 million, so Sanders will receive $6.25 million yearly. That puts him inside the top 15 highest-paid running backs in the NFL. It’s not outlandish for a 25-year-old back who has only had 914 attempts (carries and receptions) in his NFL career. He just signed his second contract and should be the lead back in Carolina for the long haul. As part of the trade to move up to the first overall pick, the Panthers had to give the Bears their first-round pick in 2024. They do have a second this year, even though they also sent one to the Bears. The one they sent was the one they received from the 49ers in the package for McCaffrey. It’s a deep class of rushers, and the Panthers could take one at 39th overall, but considering their needs at other positions, it wouldn’t make sense. That would leave either the third round this year (93rd overall) or the second round next year when they could draft a rusher to push Sanders for the starting role.
Other Skill Positions- Same Value
Honestly, you probably weren’t super excited about the other skill positions on the Panthers. They signed tight end Hayden Hurst. He has only six games over ten fantasy points in the last two seasons. He has only one season over three touchdowns, which was back in 2020. Hurst has been living off and getting paid off that season ever since.
The wide receiver room comprises of Laviska Shenault, Shi Smith, and Terrace Marshall. They have nine total touchdowns in their careers across 78 professional games. It seems like a given that the Panthers will add a player, if not two or three, via free agency and the draft, but until they do, we can’t get excited. Shenault has shown flashes in a more gadget-type role, utilizing his speed with the ball in his hands. Marshall has struggled to stay healthy and on the field. Smith has had two decent games with solid production but hasn’t been consistent. It may have to do with the revolving door at quarterback last season, or it could be that he is, at best, a WR3 on a team.
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