Fantasy Football: Boom or Bust Projections for the Carolina Panthers

Charles Edwards@@CEdwards80Contributor IJune 22, 2013

Fantasy Football: Boom or Bust Projections for the Carolina Panthers

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    Fantasy football is around the corner and it won't be long before leagues all around the world begin drafting their teams.  The Carolina Panthers offer a few names of interest going into the new season, but they may lack the luster of players from more high-profile teams.

    Make no mistake: The Panthers are a team that is on the road to improving, and their roster looks to produce a few playmakers each week who will make fantasy owners everywhere happy. 

    While most of the Panthers listed here should be taken on draft day, there will be others who should be monitored and possibly claimed via free agency or the waiver wire.

    Each year, fantasy owners get hung up on whom to draft and which players will make a bigger impact for their teams.  Carolina offers a few players who could be the difference between a successful fantasy season and one that will end in complete misery.  Drafting wisely and knowing when to play certain players will determine whether an owner is dominating his league or becoming the proverbial whipping post each week.

    Here are the boom or bust projections for some of the more notable names on Carolina's roster this year.  Happy drafting!

Cam Newton

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    Critics can say what they want about Cam Newton.  The bottom line is he figures to be the first Carolina Panther taken in any draft.  Some owners may be concerned about last year's rookies (who overshadowed Newton) slumping in their second season, and that could prompt them to take Newton ahead of any of them.

    The biggest issue about Newton is what kind of production he will put up each week.  Despite scoring fewer touchdowns and seeing his total yards production drop from his rookie season, he still put up some decent numbers.

    He is the only quarterback to throw for over 7,000 yards in his first two seasons, and as long as he is in the offense, anything can happen. 

    Carolina has a new offensive coordinator this year in Mike Shula, but the play-calling should be about the same and perhaps even simplified.  This should bode well for Newton owners, who could see him have a spectacular season in 2013. 

    If he can transition into more of a game manager type, not force or make bad throws and get support from the running backs, Newton could mirror his stats from 2011 with significant improvements in the touchdown department.

    Fantasy Projection: Boom

DeAngelo Williams

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    The fact that DeAngelo Williams is still on the team is amazing in itself.  It seemed at one point he was expendable, and the Panthers were ready to drop him and eat the remainder of his contract.  However, he restructured his deal and is back with the team for the foreseeable future.

    However, anyone who had Williams on their roster last season knows all too well the pedestrian stats he put up during much of the season.  It is most likely that many of those same owners sat him in the season finale against the New Orleans Saints when he had his biggest game of the year.

    The question for fantasy owners will be which player will show up in 2013?

    If Williams can pick up where he left off in Week 17, he will be making both his fantasy owners and teammates very happy. 

    He hasn't had a 1,000-yard rushing season since 2009 and missed 10 games the following year due to injuries.  The only reason his production has dropped off after completing a full season can be attributed to him not getting as many touches as he did when he rushed for over 1,000 yards. 

    During those seasons he carried the ball over 200 times.  Carolina has effectively gone away from that since drafting Cam Newton, but with a desire to return to a power running attack the Panthers could see the DeAngelo Williams of old. 

    It's not out of the question, and if he can stay healthy and be an integral part of the rushing game, he will be an excellent draft pick for anyone looking to take a running back in the middle rounds.

    Fantasy Projection: Boom

Jonathan Stewart

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    Jonathan Stewart has the potential to be a starter on any team and could very well be a feature back with the Panthers.  However, he has been limited in his role and after starting in six games out of nine total, he missed the rest of the season from an injury. 

    He has often been mislabeled as not being durable, but last year was the only season of his professional career where he missed significant time. 

    Much like DeAngelo Williams, he has the opportunity to return to his former glory, and while he may not rush for 1,000 yards, he can still get to 700.  Aside from last year, he has never rushed below that in any year where he played in at least 14  games.

    Unfortunately, he may not get the goal-line carries he once did with the addition of Mike Tolbert, but if he can stay healthy and get some help up front, he could complement Williams very nicely each week.

    Stewart is a capable receiver out of the backfield and had his best year catching the ball in 2011.  He caught 47 passes for 413 yards but had only one touchdown to show for it. 

    Fantasy owners shouldn't expect too much from Stewart this year, but he could be a decent bench player on bye weeks or if a starter is injured. 

    Fantasy Projection: Bust

Mike Tolbert

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    Anyone who has seen the show "The League" understands that Mike Tolbert has a reputation as a fantasy vulture.  For the uninitiated, this means that Tolbert takes away scoring opportunities from the running back doing much of the leg work and basks in the rewards.

    This was very true for Ryan Mathews owners in 2010 when Tolbert was taking away many touchdowns that easily could have gone to the San Diego Chargers feature back.  While that may not be the case in 2013, Tolbert will be called upon when the Panthers are deep inside the red zone.

    For the most part, Tolbert disappointed in his first year with Carolina, but considering he was working with two other quality running backs, it should have been a certainty he would not get the touches or scores he enjoyed before.

    However, he is still a dangerous running back and is strong as an ox.  Much like DeAngelo Williams in last year's final game, he had his best game of the season.  While he rushed for only 25 yards on 10 carries, he did score three times and continued his reputation as a fantasy vulture. 

    Could you imagine the kind of day Williams would have had if he had one or two of those scores added to his stat sheet?

    Tolbert may prove to be a valuable player in leagues built upon scoring but looks to be one of those who will be claimed off the waiver wire after draft day.

    Fantasy Projection: Bust

Steve Smith

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    If there is any player within the Carolina Panthers offense who has enjoyed having Cam Newton throw the ball, it's Steve Smith.  After two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving campaigns, Smith has shown that he still has what it takes to be elite in this league.  If he had scored a few more times, he probably would have made another Pro Bowl appearance.

    However, Smith isn't getting any younger, and while he is the Panthers top receiver, he shouldn't go any higher than the fourth round in 10-12 team leagues.  Pairing him with Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald will give any owner a strong receiving corps each week, and one that will generate a lot of points.

    The good news here is that Newton shouldn't be trying to force too many balls to Smith, and with the additions of Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn, Jr., relying on him to be open may not be as important as it was in years past.

    Smith is as solid as they come and aside from one season that saw him miss essentially the entire year, he has proven to be durable and productive.  Age has nothing on Smith and he should maintain a strong level of play for the next couple of seasons.

    As long as Smith keeps hauling in passes and getting chunks of yardage, fantasy owners will be happy.  They will be even happier if he can get a few more touchdowns.

    Fantasy Projection: Boom

Brandon LaFell

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    Brandon LaFell doesn't get the kudos he deserves from fantasy owners or from much of the Carolina fanbase.  While his numbers have been decent, they haven't screamed draft worthy.  At best, LaFell has been considered a late-round pick who just occupies a bench spot until he is played in a spot start or released for an up-and-coming player on the waiver wire.

    However, by looking at his numbers, an owner should see that LaFell improves every year.  He has seen gradual increases in his receiving yards and touchdowns.  If he can step up his level of play in 2013, he could make a strong case for becoming a valuable third wide receiver or flex option on an owner's roster. 

    The supporting cast should help him as opposing teams will focus on Steve Smith.  That should allow for a few more chances for LaFell to get open and make a big play. 

    LaFell has averaged 14.9 yards per catch during his career.  If he can catch 50 passes this year, he will have 745 receiving yards.  That wouldn't be bad for someone who will probably be overlooked by many owners this year.

    Fantasy Projection: Boom

Greg Olsen

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    Greg Olsen is coming off a great season that saw him reach career highs in receptions and receiving yards.  He could be in line to improve those numbers, if not repeat them, in 2013. 

    Additionally, he could see himself taken earlier than usual in many drafts with the uncertainty of New England's tight ends (Rob Gronkowski's injury and Aaron Hernandez's legal issues).  Many owners may not want to take a chance on an uncertainty.

    Olsen is, however, a sure thing.

    He has been a reliable receiver in Cam Newton's arsenal and has made big plays when all he needed to do was pick up short yards for a first down.  He has the tools that many fantasy owners want in a tight end, and in a league that is seeing the position change into one that is more receiving-oriented, Olsen will be among those who will go relatively fast.

    If there is one thing that he could stand to improve this upcoming season, it is his touchdown production.  While he has a career-high eight scores from his 2009 season, he has never scored fewer than five times since his rookie year.  Both owners and the Panthers could benefit from Olsen finding the end zone with a little more regularity this year.

    Regardless, he is one of the best players in the Carolina offense and will prove to be valuable not only for the Panthers on game day, but to the fantasy owner who has the fortune of picking him up on draft day.

    Fantasy Projection: Boom

Graham Gano

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    Most Carolina fans will agree that putting too much stock into the team's kicker is a disaster waiting to happen.  Since 2010, the Panthers have used three different kickers, and while Graham Gano is the place kicker (for now), history has proven anything can happen.

    Honestly, Gano holds the fate of his career and potentially the outcome of close games in his hands...or more precisely his foot.

    Out of all the players listed individually on this slide, Gano figures to remain on the free-agent list for a long time until he can prove to owners he can be both accurate and clutch.  He has the potential but has failed to sell anyone on his skills.  Otherwise, the Panthers may not have bothered bringing another kicker to camp.

    At season's end, this entire analysis could be wrong.  However, Gano will have a lot of work ahead of him to prove that he is worthy of being a weekly kicker on any fantasy team.

    Fantasy Projection: Bust

Carolina Defense

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    Defenses are generally reserved for the later rounds, and unless a defensive unit is a sure bet, it shouldn't be drafted high at all (and by high, I mean late-middle rounds).  Carolina hasn't had a defensive unit that owners were scrambling to claim for a while, but that could change this year.

    The Panthers made significant improvements to the interior of their defensive line by drafting Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in April's draft.  By pairing either one with Dwan Edwards and the sack happy duo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, Carolina suddenly has a very desirable defensive unit among fantasy circles.

    However, it stands to reason that the upgrades up front will lead to significant change in the unit's production.  The linebackers need to stay healthy, and while Thomas Davis returned to his first full season since 2008, Jon Beason has only played in five games the last two years.

    Then, there is the secondary. 

    As much praise as has been poured over the improved front seven, the safeties and cornerbacks are leaving a lot of question marks.  How well will they defend against the pass?

    While that is just one concern, owners in general have to like the potential for high sack numbers the Carolina defense looks capable of producing. 

    Defenses are not one-dimensional, and their value will depend on how many points they give up during a game and any bonuses that come along with a great performance. 

    The Carolina Panthers are not a top-10 unit just yet, but there is a good chance they will reach that status towards the end of this year's fantasy season.

    Fantasy Projection: Boom

Ones to Watch

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    There are going to be guys who may get a spot start with the Panthers or see a lot more time because of injuries.  Some will be valuable due to their return skills.  There is a good chance that none of these guys are drafted but could prove to be an asset if they produce and put up big numbers on a consistent basis.

    Domenik Hixon, WR

    Hixon looks to be the third wide receiver for Carolina.  He could challenge Brandon LaFell for the second receiver spot, but he looks primed as the No. 3 guy on the depth chart.  Hixon has experience and could be a sleeper on certain weeks.

    Ted Ginn, Jr., WR

    Ginn will have more of an impact as a specialist than a receiver, although he is making a strong case to be involved with the offense on a more consistent basis.  Ginn has thrived in the NFL as a return man and could earn some high value in leagues that play punt and kick returners.

    Kenjon Barner, RB

    This rookie torched opponents on special teams during his college days at Oregon.  If he can carry that success over to the NFL, he will be a hit among fantasy owners who carry return specialists on their rosters.  Barner shouldn't be too involved in the offense, but if something were to keep out either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, he would be a solid option to consider. 

    Armanti Edwards, WR

    If Edwards had established himself as the multipurpose weapon he was projected to be out of college, he would have had his own slide.  However, he will be fighting for a roster spot as either a fifth or sixth receiver and as a punt returner.  The news on him is good, as he has shown vast improvement in OTAs and minicamp. 

    Joe Adams, WR

    Another return specialist who hasn't been that special in his first year,  Adams has struggled a bit in camp by muffing a couple of punt returns, so his future is not as bright as it once was when he was drafted out of Arkansas.  If Adams can turn it around, he will immediately land on the radar of fantasy owners who may need his talents in the return game to net them some points.