This team-based draft strategy aims to identify which Carolina Panthers are primed for opportunities. The series serves as an assessment of each offense and its prospects heading into next season. The stats used for this research are based on a half-PPR scoring format. Redraft rankings are listed for each player in parentheses (not that I like using parentheses).
Carolina Panthers: No. 13 fantasy offense in 2018 (15th in passing, 6th in rushing)
The outcome of the 2019 Panthers season hinges on one thing: the health of Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder. That may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s impossible to overstate the impact his injury had on the team last year. Carolina was 6-2 and well on their way to a wild card spot before a TNF beatdown by the Steelers left a lasting impression on Cam. He suffered cartilage damage in his shoulder, which affected his range of motion and progressively limited his throwing velocity throughout the season.
Newton had his shoulder operated on in the offseason and the surgeon announced he has arthritis, which isn’t nearly as bad as the labrum injury that impacted Andrew Luck for several years. The expectation is that Cam will return in time for training camp in July, which should ease the concerns of many fantasy players. Despite suffering multiple injuries throughout his career, Newton has remained remarkably durable, never missing more than two games in a season.
Cam Newton has been a dominant fantasy performer every year that he’s been healthy. He has five top-4 finishes under his belt and was on track to be the QB2 before his injury last year. That level of consistency is made possible by his massive rushing production. Cam has averaged 630 yards and 7.6 TDs/year on the ground since he came into the league.
Carolina has postured about limiting his usage as a runner after signing him to a contract worth $60 million guaranteed, but his attempts have remained steady ever since. Newton’s scrambling ability is what makes him a borderline-elite QB, so I don’t see his rushing attempts evaporating at any point. Newton (QB8) is an elite fantasy quarterback when healthy, but his accompanying injury risk needs to be accounted for.
With Newton struggling to throw the ball 20 yards downfield, Christian McCaffrey was the engine of the Panthers offense last year. He had a 97% snap share, which is absolutely unheard of for a running back. He was also the team’s leading receiver in targets, yards, and touchdowns. That volume in the passing game made him the RB1 in PPR leagues and he could be found on 37.8% of championship-winning fantasy rosters last year, according to ESPN.
McCaffrey is no longer a third-round steal, he’s a bona fide top-4 fantasy player who could take another leap this year. He added a ton of muscle this offseason as he looks to improve his rushing between the tackles. McCaffrey has struggled in that area
since he came into the league, but he should be tougher to bring down next year. He probably won’t lead the team in receiving again, but McCaffrey (RB3) is guaranteed 300 touches in an up-and-coming offense.
Casual fans may be unfamiliar with D.J. Moore after his ho-hum rookie season, but it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out. Moore is treated like fantasy gold in the dynasty community, currently going WR16 in startups and nearly impossible to trade for. I liken him to a more-athletic version of Golden Tate, a short-yardage receiver who becomes a running back with the ball in his hands. He has the size and short-area quickness to evade tackles and break big plays.
Moore is also the top candidate to lead the Panthers in targets next year with the departure of Devin Funchess. Once he cracked the starting lineup, Moore was the WR23 with Cam throwing him the ball (a seven-game sample size). That’s about where he belongs in fantasy drafts, as he lacks the proven production to be a high-confidence WR2. Moore (WR22) has all the talent to break out next year, but it could take him another season to fully realize his potential.
While the fantasy community fixates on D.J. Moore, third-year receiver Curtis Samuel is flying under the radar as another potential breakout candidate in Carolina. Samuel was efficient near the line of scrimmage last year, producing 1.8 fantasy points per target, but he’s also perfectly-tailored to be a deep threat. His 4.31 speed went to waste last year in a limited downfield passing game, which led many to miscast Samuel as a short-yardage receiver. With a healthy Cam and plenty of targets opening up in the offense, Samuel (WR36) should get an opportunity to showcase his versatility next season.