Fantasy Football Team Preview 2011: Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers Team Preview is the first installment in a full 32-team series.
Each team preview will detail the coaching situation and the likely fantasy superstars at each position... if they have one. You can even look forward to finding a sleeper and bust candidate for each team.
We start our trip around the league in Charlotte, NC as we will detail the team with the number one overall pick, and some intriguing fantasy story lines that have developed since that draft day.
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2010 Recap: Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers made a major overhaul last season when they shipped out just about every player over the age of thirty. The year saw uncharacteristic low numbers from both of their stud running backs, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. There was also incredible uncertainty at QB, which meant long time fantasy star Steve Smith didn’t make the cut on most fantasy teams. Their 2-14 record could have been more because of their lame duck coaching more than anything else, however.
The Coaching Staff
After seemingly applying for every head coaching vacancy in football, Ron Rivera is now the Panthers head coach. The longtime defensive mastermind will inherit a defense with some strong pieces, but many holes. The offense will be run by Rob Chudzinski and it will likely mean a West-Coast style in Carolina.
There is no doubt that the Panthers were hoping for Stanford QB Andrew Luck to leave college early and be an easy pick for the Panthers. There had to be some second guessing for the Panthers front office, as it took them up until just a few days before the draft to admit they would pick Cam Newton. Newton is largely considered a major gamble. He has only one real year of collegiate football under his belt, and brings more than enough off-field baggage.
So why should you believe in Cam Newton? Maybe because everyone around him is a believer. I’m not talking about his posse; I’m talking about the amount of players that have resigned with the Panthers and the overall positivity exuding from Panthers training camp. To this point Newton hasn’t been the most accurate quarterback in training camp but likely will win the starting gig over Derek Anderson.
Chudzinski has encouraged Cam Newton to run when he has the opportunity, which makes his fantasy value far higher. There has been some speculation that the Panthers could end up rotating their quarterbacks this season. Ron Rivera was on the Eagles staff when they had Donovan McNabb and Doug Pederson rotate, so there is a chance it happens to Newton this year. Comparing Newton to McNabb may be too much, but we think the comparisons to Vince Young may be a little more insulting to Newton.
There were a lot of rumors that DeAngelo Williams would find work elsewhere in 2011, but the Panthers broke the bank on Williams giving him a $43 million contract with $21 million guaranteed. That doesn’t mean anything good for Jonathan Stewart who should again find himself playing second fiddle to Williams.
Really, the Williams signing is a good sign for the Cam Newton era in Carolina. The Panthers have said they want a strong running attack to ease Newton along. In other words, they are going to run the ball until they can’t run anymore. Right now it is still unclear as to who will get the most carries in 2011 and who will do the most with them. Williams’ new contract makes it seem like he is a lock to be the starter and command the majority of the carries. That may be true, but it won’t change the fact that Jonathan Stewart scores the touchdowns, and Williams has played only 13 games in the past two years.
Stewart comes with his own injury concerns, but we would rather take our time and select him later in the draft and hope for his upside. Speaking of injury concerns, much of the blame for the inconsistency in the running game can be put on the inconsistency of the offensive line. When healthy, the Panthers have the premier run blocking offensive line in football. But they weren’t healthy last year and it showed in the running game. The only real question mark on the line would be Geoff Schwartz who would have trouble winning a starting spot on most offensive lines.
Still, if the line remains healthy we believe both Panthers running backs will be solid fantasy options yet again. Not only are they both incredibly talented, but the team will rely on the run even more than they already have. We just think it is more prudent for your team to draft Stewart later on in the draft, than Williams early on.
The Panthers swung and missed on two wide receivers in the third round of last year’s draft. Although they added incredible athleticism with both Armanti Edwards and Brandon LaFell, none showed any real flash of brilliance.
Instead it will be the Panthers’ sixth round pick that will likely be the most fantasy relevant of last year’s rookie group. David Gettis is incredibly fast, as he was a track star at Baylor. Right now Gettis is lining up in practice as the number two, and Newton has a strong enough arm to catch up with him. Gettis posted decent numbers considering the issues the Panthers had on offense, recording over 500 yards receiving on only 37 catches. That was when the Panthers were trying to work in every receiver to the mix. This year, Gettis should be the clear cut #2, but unfortunately for him he is on a run first offense.
The real interesting scenario at wide receiver will be how Steve Smith rebounds from his worst season as a Pro. The 32-year-old receiver barely broke 500 yards and, for the first time since missing the entire 2004 season, he recorded less than seven touchdowns. I know what you’re thinking. He’s old, he’s crazy and he will have an untested quarterback under center. Well you’re right about the first two, but let’s not forget that Steve Smith was beating double teams with Jake Delhomme as his quarterback. Smith seemingly has a whole new attitude going in to the year and will be leaps and bounds better than any other option for Cam Newton to throw to.
The Panthers went out and signed Jeremy Shockey before the lockout and it appeared they would go with him as their guy in 2011. Then during the frenzy that was free-agency, the Bears and Panthers made a deal sending Greg Olsen to Carolina. Olsen just didn’t fit in with Mike Martz’ system in Chicago and it appears he will now be running in two-tight end sets with Shockey during the season. Olsen has yet live up to his Shockey-like expectations, so some figure the Panthers are trying to put Olsen under Shockey’s tutelage.
Both tight ends figure to make a big impact in the Panthers’ offense this year. Coordinator Rob Chudzinski has a long history of utilizing his tight ends, as he has coached Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow. Though it is unclear to this point who has the most fantasy value of these two tight ends, what is clear is that there should be a TE in Carolina that surprises in fantasy. Check back as we analyze workouts and the preseason.
Defense and Kicker
The Panthers spent big to retain linebacker Charles Johnson and you can expect to see him continue his high sack numbers. Newly hired Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott will get the chance to use his multiple blitz packages and pair them with Rivera’s defensive prowess. The Panthers will continue the 4-3 thanks their player personnel, despite the fact Rivera led the 3-4 for years in San Diego. Perhaps a 3-4 is a better fit for the Panthers though, as their linebacking corps is full of promising stars.
The Carolina defensive front is underwhelming and untested, however. We love Richard Marshall and think he will outshine Patrick Peterson in Arizona, but the Panthers should be able to live without him this year. They have had more than enough return on their investment with Captain Munnerlyn and even Brandon Hogan has impressed enough that the Panthers were fine with parting with Marshall.
The Panthers’ defense will not be fantasy relevant this year, but Carolina fans will at least be able to see some explosive blitz packages on defense. If you are in an IDP league, you’re best option would have to be Charles Johnson by far.
Olindo Mare takes over for longtime Panther, John Kasay. It was an interesting move for the Panthers. Mare is incredibly accurate; hitting nearly 90% of his kicks and boasts a very strong leg good for kickoffs.
Sleeper and Bust Candidates
Steve Smith—He clamored for the team to draft Olsen years ago in hopes it would take pressure off him. They have him now and Jeremy Shockey. David Gettis has improved and the offensive line is healthy. Smith could bounce back to his regular form this season and based on where he is being drafted, he is a definite sleeper candidate.
DeAngelo Williams—It’s hard to call Williams a bust, considering he will certainly make an impact on any fantasy team. He has been nicked up too often over these past few years, however. Jonathan Stewart may garner just as many fantasy points, but can be drafted a few rounds later.