Fantasy football owners who hoped for a second-half resurgence from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton are likely to be disappointed Tuesday after the Panthers dealt leading receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
The Bills confirmed they acquired Benjamin from Carolina, while the Panthers will receive a third-round pick and seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft.
The trade will have major ripple effects for the respective fantasy values of Newton, Benjamin and Devin Funchess, who now becomes the No. 1 option in the Panthers passing game.
ESPN's Field Yates and Yahoo Sports' Brad Evans noted how Benjamin is sorely needed for the Bills offense:
Field Yates @FieldYates
Bills WRs so far this season: Receptions: 45 (fewest in NFL) Receiving yards: 594 (fewest in NFL) Enter, Kelvin Benjamin.2017-10-31 20:24:02
Brad Evans @YahooNoise
Benjamin to BUF exactly what the doctor ordered for Bills. Will dominate TGTs share. Funchess will as well in CAR. Both WR2s ROS.2017-10-31 20:20:40
If anything, the trade stabilizes Benjamin's fantasy value. He moves to a team where he'll be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver, but Tyrod Taylor is averaging just 191.9 yards per game, which is slightly below his overall average in Buffalo (205.6 yards per game).
Taylor's touchdown total (45) from his two-and-a-half seasons with the Bills leaves a little to be desired from a fantasy perspective as well.
Fantasy owners should be cautiously optimistic about whether a change of scenery will change much for Benjamin. NumberFire's JJ Zachariason believes Benjamin could benefit from matchup advantages over the rest of the season:
JJ Zachariason @LateRoundQB
Re: Kelvin -- talked about this in 15 Transactions, but Buffalo's schedule: NYJ, NO, LAC, KC, NE, IND, MIA, NE. Lots of potential points.2017-10-31 20:20:33
Maybe Benjamin return to his pre-injury self, when he eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie in 2014. But don't plan on him being much more than a WR2/flex option and be pleasantly surprised if he delivers more than that.
Both Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman and NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal lamented what the trade means for Newton:
mike freeman @mikefreemanNFL
Cam just gonna throw the ball to himself. https://t.co/cyQEmt2IVJ2017-10-31 20:17:10
Gregg Rosenthal @greggrosenthal
Wonder how Cam Newton feels about the All Ed Dickson offense2017-10-31 20:26:44
Newton has thrown for 1,841 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. He has also run for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
While Benjamin isn't an elite wide receiver, he was at least a proven veteran in an offense devoid of much depth at receiver. It's hard to see how Benjamin's departure is anything but bad for Newton's fantasy potential.
Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar thought Benjamin's playing style matched perfectly with Newton:
Scott Kacsmar @FO_ScottKacsmar
Sammy Watkins was a great fit for Tyrod. Kelvin Benjamin was a great fit for Cam. What are you doing, teams?2017-10-31 20:26:14
As good as Christian McCaffrey has been as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, it would be a stretch to call him an elite receiving option. Beyond McCaffrey, the duo of Funchess and Ed Dickson don't inspire much hope for Newton.
Newton's inconsistency has made him a fringe QB1 candidate in 2017, and the Benjamin trade may knock him down to bench status depending on what other quarterback options you have at your disposal.
Funchess may be the biggest winner of this trade in fantasy football terms. Unless the Panthers want to convert McCaffrey to wide receiver, Funchess is now Carolina's top wideout.
Fantasy Guru's Graham Barfield laid out what Benjamin's absence will mean for the Panthers' passing game:
Graham Barfield @GrahamBarfield
Kelvin Benjamin's departure opens up 19% of #Panthers targets, 22% of red-zone targets, and 27% of air yards. Huge spot for Devin Funchess.2017-10-31 20:16:47
Tuesday's trade obviously creates a big opportunity for Funchess, but the third-year player has yet to prove he's capable of being a team's primary receiving option.
Funchess caught 54 passes for 844 yards and nine touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has been slightly better in 2017, registering 33 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns.
Not having Benjamin line up on the opposite side of the field could prove to be a double-edged sword for Funchess. Sure, Newton will likely look his way more, but opposing defenses will assuredly put more of their focus on stopping him since they won't have to worry about Benjamin anymore.
Until he shows otherwise, Funchess should be considered a WR2/flex in standard leagues. A higher volume of targets should result in a slight bump in his production, but don't bank on him suddenly becoming a fantasy stud overnight.