2015 Fantasy Football Outlook for Carolina Panthers Stars

David Guidera@@DavidGuideraFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2015

2015 Fantasy Football Outlook for Carolina Panthers Stars

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The outlook for the Carolina Panthers fantasy football stars is headlined by another big-name departure in 2015, the same as it was in 2014. General manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera tapped Jonathan Stewart to anchor the backfield when they decided to release DeAngelo Williams.

    Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Cam Newton also fill major roles in carrying this struggling offensive unit forward.

    Carolina’s offense flickered constantly in 2014, finishing 19th in NFL and standard fantasy scoring.

    The Panthers did not make a big splash in free agency from a fantasy perspective, holding just $10.8 million under the cap currently.

    Business Insider’s collection of 11 expert mock drafts predicts Carolina will take offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings out of Pittsburgh. Clemmings projects to be a raw talent at tackle due to inexperience at the position, according to NFL.com.

    The most important factor for the Panthers offense to finish better than 18th for just the third time over the past 10 seasons will be Cam Newton’s health and contract.

    See what the forecast holds for Newton and the rest of Carolina’s fantasy stars.

Honorable Mention

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    Cliff McBride/Getty Images

    Joe Webb, QB

    Carolina re-signed Webb—a reserve quarterback/wide receiver—to a one-year deal, according to Rotoworld.

    Webb took 23 snaps in his “slash” role last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Because he’s listed at quarterback, Webb’s very limited utility role could spice up Carolina’s position in team-quarterback leagues.

    Brenton Bersin, WR

    The Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person reported on Twitter that Carolina re-signed the free agent to a one-year deal.

    The 2012 undrafted free agent out of Wofford will compete for a reserve spot on a very thin receiving unit in 2015.

    Philly Brown, WR

    Brown—a 2014 undrafted free agent out of Ohio State—finished his rookie year with 21 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

    Brown’s ascent to WR3 probably left Jason Avant expendable, but Ted Ginn Jr.’s return indicates Carolina isn’t satisfied with one of the weakest receiver units in the league.

    Keep an eye on Brown’s development, but he’s probably more of a dynasty/sleeper candidate in 2015.

    Mike Tolbert, FB

    Tolbert landed on Carolina’s short-term injured reserve with a knee injury early in 2014. The 5’9”, 245-pound wrecking ball will turn 30 in November.

    He’s still a great lead blocker for the halfbacks behind him, but Tolbert’s big touchdown-scoring days are probably behind him.

    Derek Anderson, QB

    Anderson might be the best backup quarterback in the league. He logged a 105.2 passer rating in six total appearances spelling an injury-saddled Cam Newton in 2014—both starts resulted in Carolina wins.

    It’s not a great format, but if your fantasy league uses the team-quarterback concept, Anderson makes Carolina a solid choice.

Stephen Hill, WR

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Carolina signed Hill to a reserve/future contract in January, per Rotoworld, after Hill spent the entire 2014 season on the Panthers practice squad.

    The former 2012 second-round pick of the New York Jets could crack Carolina’s extremely thin receiver corps if he gets over the dropsies that ran him out of New York.

    Hill blamed the New York media for his ouster in early September, according to The Charlotte Observer’s Joseph Person on Twitter.

    Stephen Hill says his dropped passes were overblown by New York media.

    — Joe Person (@josephperson) September 3, 2014

    Hill dropped six of 27 catchable balls in 2012 followed by three of 27 in 2013, per Pro Football Focus. He finished in the bottom quadrant of PFF’s drop-rate metric in both seasons.

    Keep Hill stashed on your dynasty roster in case he figures it out in Carolina.  

Ted Ginn Jr., WR

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Ginn returned to Carolina after a disappointing one-year stopover in Arizona, according to Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer.

    The eight-year veteran nearly matched his career touchdown-receiving total (six) in one season with Cam Newton in 2013 (five).

    Ginn is expected to be the primary returner on special teams as well as compete for the WR3 spot with Philly Brown. Given his success with Newton in the past, Ginn probably has the lock on the position.

    The acquisition is interesting but doesn’t carry much in the way of fantasy consequences for 2015.

Ed Dickson, TE

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Dickson re-signed with the Panthers, backing up Greg Olsen, according to The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson.

    Ed Dickson back to the Panthers, according to a league source

    — Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 10, 2015

    Dickson spent time at fullback subbing for sidelined regulars Mike Tolbert and Richie Brockel. It was that "behind the scenes" work that made the unrestricted free agent desirable in Carolina, according to Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer.

    The five-year veteran told Person he heard from several teams during free agency—the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins.

    Such interest in Olsen’s backup indicates teams took his putrid 2014 stat line—10 catches, 115 yards and one touchdown—as an anomaly, not a trend.

    Still, Dickson only has relevant fantasy value if Olsen misses time, which doesn’t happen very often.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR

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    Cotchery proved the 10 touchdowns he caught for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 were a fluke, following it up with just one score in 2014.

    The 11-year veteran simply doesn’t have the track record to merit the second wide receiver spot on any team's depth chart, meaning the Panthers should be actively seeking other options.

    Count on Cotchery’s involvement to decrease in 2015 along with his fantasy relevance.

Fozzy Whittaker, RB

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Whittaker signed a two-year deal on March 9 to continue returning kickoffs and take over for DeAngelo Williams as Jonathan Stewart’s primary backup, according to Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer.

    Carolina marked Whittaker’s fourth stop in three years.

    The career backup carries little fantasy value into 2015, even as Stewart’s handcuff. His primary value at this point is having an awesome name reminiscent of Herc's and Carver’s bogus confidential informant on The Wire: Fuzzy Dunlop.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Benjamin finished his rookie season a flagship member of the legendary wide receiver class of 2014. His 9.0 weekly fantasy points average ranked third among his fellow rookies, behind only Odell Beckham Jr. (16.4) and Mike Evans (10.5).

    Despite the accomplishments, Benjamin felt he had a bad year, according to Bill Voth of the Black and Blue Review.

    I feel like I had a bad season. I had a lot of drops. Going through the season and getting tired, not staying focused and not going out there and doing my job.

    I have to do a better job staying healthy throughout the season. I think I slowed down. So I think I’m going to do a better job, just taking care of my body and staying focused.

    Drops comprised the main negative in Benjamin’s rookie season, ranking third to last in drop rate (13.1 percent), per Pro Football Focus.  

    At 6’5”, 240 pounds, the 2014 first-rounder out of Florida State is a quarterback’s dream in the red zone. If he works out the dropsies, he will be a fantasy owner’s dream as well.

    Take Benjamin as a WR2 confidently in 2015.

Jonathan Stewart, RB

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The biggest obstacle to Stewart’s fantasy stardom moved on when the Panthers released DeAngelo Williams, per WBTV’s Molly Grantham.

    #BREAKING: @DeAngeloRB tells me he's released from @Panthers. Done deal. Exclusive story - tonight at 11pm. pic.twitter.com/MaBe1peEgj

    — Molly Grantham WBTV (@MollyGrantham) February 23, 2015

    Stewart and Williams hawked carries from each other since Stewart joined the Panthers as the No. 13 pick in 2008 out of Oregon. Both players suffered through injuries and watching the other run with the hot hand. Stewart shone more recently, and he will be just 28 come the regular season while Williams turns 32 in April.

    The 5’10”, 235-pound potential feature back missed three games in 2014 with a sprained MCL. No stranger to the injury report, Stewart hasn’t completed a 16-game season since 2011.

    Still, Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera must have seen enough in Stewart’s late-season surge to trust him with a full load in 2015.

    Stewart finished the 2014 regular season ranked third in rushing yardage with 401, according to NFL.com. He maintained a 5.3 yards-per-carry pace against the stingy Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks in Carolina’s two playoff games as well.

    Stewart makes a greater value pick the further he drops toward the bottom of the top-15 running backs in 2015. Be aware of his injury risks if you take him, making sure to draft a strong complement or two if needed.

Greg Olsen, TE

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Olsen just gets better with age, which the Panthers acknowledged through a three-year extension signed in early March. Olsen somewhat broke the news himself on his Twitter page.

    Im blessed to announce Ive signed a 3yr extension! I'm honored to call this home pic.twitter.com/9KQBwNMLKk

    — Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) March 5, 2015

    An ironman at an injury-prone position, the eight-year veteran missed just two games in his rookie year and none since. He’s logged five top-10 finishes in fantasy scoring among tight ends, culminating in making his first top five in 2014.

    Olsen (1,008) and Rob Gronkowski (1,124) were the only tight ends to surpass 1,000 yards receiving last season.

    It’s impossible to imagine he will slow down in 2015 given the shortage of other receiving weapons—besides Kelvin Benjamin—in Carolina’s passing offense.

    Slate Olsen as a top-tier tight end in this year’s redraft. He should be the second off the board but could fall behind sexier names like Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce.

    Make the value play and take Olsen.

Cam Newton, QB

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    Newton finished outside the top five in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks for the first time in his career in 2014. He missed two games due to rib, back and ankle injuries, which clearly nagged him in the rest of his 14 starts.

    Ron Rivera said those injuries are in the rear view, according to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser.

    He said for the first time in a long time he feels very, very good. His ankle, the one that he had surgically repaired, he feels really good about that. The ribs don't bother him. The back doesn't seem to bother him.

    Newton’s struggles also coincided with Steve Smith’s departure to the Baltimore Ravens via free agency last offseason. All five wide receivers who caught passes from Newton in 2014—Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Philly Brown, Jason Avant and Brenton Bersin—hadn’t previously done so in a Panthers uniform.

    With the four-year veteran’s health intact, contract negotiations are the main concern at this point in the offseason.

    Dave Gettleman already professed his desire to sign Newton, according to Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer.

    We want him here. I want him here. The contract, in its time, will take place. I’m not going to get into the when, where, why and how of the contract. But we believe in Cam. He’s our franchise quarterback.

    What I feel confident of is, in time, something will happen. He’s our franchise quarterback. I want him here.

    Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer reports that sources say Newton is content to wait for other marquee quarterbacks to re-sign before he makes his deal.

    With Seattle’s Russell Wilson and IndianapolisAndrew Luck in line for record-breaking deals, Newton is content to let those negotiations reset the market for quarterbacks, according to two league sources.

    Then, sources say, if the Panthers’ offer meets Newton’s expectations, he is interested in remaining with Carolina for the long-term.

    Count on Newton to bounce back in 2015 with or without another wide receiver. He should rate a QB1 in all formats.

    NFL statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, fantasy stats courtesy of ESPN.com, contract and salary-cap information provided by Over the Cap, and thanks to Rotoworld for tweets and quotes unless otherwise noted.

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