Fantasy Football Sleepers 2011: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers

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Fantasy Football Sleepers 2011: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
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The Panthers are looking like NFL free agency winners so far this offseason, as they have retained their core group. There is an added swagger coming out of Carolina that many are saying is thanks to rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

The losing culture in Carolina is a short one and something the franchise and new starting quarterback would like to keep from extending in to 2011.

In our first installment of the 2011 NFL Predictions, we looked at the Carolina Panthers and found our first Fantasy Football Sleeper.

The odds aren’t in their favor, but they do have Steve Smith on their side. Smith had one of his worst seasons as a pro last season, although he can’t take all the blame. The Panthers had no consistency at quarterback and for the first time since 2005, Smith had fewer than six touchdowns.

Smith was apparently on the trading block early in the year, mostly by his own doing. He has since changed his views on the organization that drafted him in 2001. The now 32-year-old receiver saw that the organization would give him the support he had been asking for.

In fact, oddly enough the team is giving him the support he had asked for back in 2007. That year Smith petitioned hard for the panthers to draft Greg Olsen with the hopes that he'd help alleviate some of the pressure opposing defenses were putting on him.

The current Panthers offense is going to incorporate the tight ends far more than they ever did with John Fox as head coach.

New Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski has always used tight ends in his offenses and that trend will continue in Carolina. So how does added targets help Smith? When the dynamic receiver was the only playmaker on the offense from 2007 to 2009 he was still performing admirably in fantasy.

This year both of the Panthers running backs will be healthy, the Panthers should have somewhat more competitive quarterback play, and their is a reason for defenses to key on a pass catcher not named Smith. We like Smith’s chance of rebounding to gain more than 1,000 yards and around his typical 6-7 touchdowns.

In PPR leagues, Smith hasn’t been as much of a true value sine the 2005 season. He has seen his catches dip ever since, so there is some reason to believe that Smith could be slowing down. We don’t believe it, however.

The Panthers moved from a run-first offense to a run-only offense, and it affected Smith’s value. Now, the Panthers will have added weapons to work with on offense, forcing the play caller’s hands to throw the ball more often than they have in recent memory.

Smith is still incredibly athletic and has the ability to devastate a secondary. With these added passing plays, behind a shaky pass blocking line, Cam Newton could have to throw to his number one guy. Smith is that guy and he will no doubt devastate a fantasy team’s day this season.

The Panthers offense will remain run heavy, but we are going to finally see Steve Smith in an offense where he doesn't have to do it all. His new love for the city and team makes us think he is as motivated as ever, and we're intrigued by the idea of adding such a big threat near the ninth round of your fantasy football draft.

Steve Smith won’t be at his 2005 form. If he can return to 2006 or even 2007 form, however, he is going to be a great investment in the second half of your draft.

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