Cam Newton’s running abilities as a quarterback have always tantalized
the fantasy community; however his arm failed to muster more than
pedestrian stats in an era where passing stats have exploded.
Last season, Newton and the Panthers were able to find a more
efficient balance that paved the way to the Super Bowl. His dynamic
approach allowed him to become one of the most consistent and
highest producing fantasy players on a weekly basis. Can Newton
sustain this new level of production in the passing game? Will
his rushing totals decline after posting career best in rushing
attempts and touchdowns in 2015? Yes and Yes. The receiving corps
is stronger by getting their top man back, but veteran Ted Ginn
Jr. also proved he can cut out a complementary role in the offense.
The team moved up in the 2015 draft to select Devin Funchess and
he looks ready to make a larger contribution with a year under
his belt. Additionally, Carolina has one of the best red zone
tandems in Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen. Newton will deliver
on the ground but it would be wise to factor in some regression
when forecasting his 2016 season. The absence of Benjamin likely
contributed to the approximately 30 percent increase in Newton’s
rushing attempts. Though the upside for double-digit scores on
the ground is possible Carolina will have better supporting options
available in 2016. Nonetheless, Newton figures to be a force again
this season and worthy of anchoring your team on draft day.
Last season’s injury to Kelvin Benjamin forced the team
to rely on a questionable supporting cast in the passing game.
The same might be true of the running game for Carolina in 2016.
Jonathan Stewart can be great when healthy, but lingering injury
concerns this preseason continue to cloud J-Stew’s fantasy
outlook. After missing time to a sprained foot and aggravating
the injury not once but twice during the playoff stretch, the
Panthers’ top rusher is being limited during OTAs. Most
teams take a cautious approach with injuries during the preseason
but perhaps the injury may not be fully healed or is at risk of
being an ongoing issue. In case you have forgotten, the former
first-round pick in 2008 has only played 16 games once in the
past six seasons. It can be argued that there isn’t “competition”
for carries in Carolina but options for a RBBC rotation seems
The running back depth chart may not matter much in Carolina
as the team features mediocre options that will all likely be
used behind Cam Newton. The injury risk associated with Jonathan
Stewart will likely result in the team looking to give its other
rushers more chances in 2016 but none are expected to be productive
enough to secure a traditional backup role. Mike Tolbert is used
more as a fullback but will be in the mix to vulture a few carries
each game and perhaps a touchdown or two. He hasn’t shown
much in recent years but he has had useful fantasy years while
working in a limited role in the past.
Cameron Artis-Payne fumbled in his last carry of the 2015 season
and rode the bench over the team’s final playoff games.
The lack of a clear cut number two running back on the roster
means he will still have a small chance to earn a more active
role in 2016. At this point, his only fantasy value will reside
in the deepest of leagues where he could draw one or two starting
assignments if Jonathan Stewart’s foot flares up again.
Fozzy Whitaker has never been able to hold down a more prominent
role when given the opportunity but adds another name to list
of potential committee runners Carolina can deploy to keep Stewart
fresh. Expect Carolina to be actively seeking running back help
as roster cuts are made once the preseason schedule gets underway.
Kelvin Benjamin was one of the early injury causalities of the
2015 season following a torn ACL. The team moved on without him
just fine in making the Super Bowl, yet early drafters were left
scouring the waiver wire before the first week of the season.
All reports on Benjamin’s knee since the surgery have been
positive to date. The huge six-foot five-inch receiver has been
focusing on regaining strength and conditioning early in preseason
workouts. Carolina fully expects him to be healthy and ready to
ramp up his activities once training camp opens. Cam Newton has
officially taken over as the leader of the offense as both passer
and rusher. Nonetheless, Benjamin represents a huge upgrade over
what the Panthers lined up on the outside a year ago. Newton may
need time to rediscover the chemistry the two shared in 2014 but
it shouldn’t take too long before Benjamin is seeing plenty
of work in the passing game. Carolina’s top wideout remains
outside the top ten fantasy receivers due to lower target upside
than his peers and his quarterback’s efficiency running
the ball near the goal. If he can show the knee is fully healthy,
Benjamin should reach pay dirt enough to provide his owners with
quality WR2 level production. Unfortunately, anything less would
not validate his current third round price tag. As a player carrying
unknown injury risk and limitations in a low volume passing scheme,
he may not offer investors as much room for profit unless his
value drops prior to your draft.
Ted Ginn, Jr. was considered a bust as a first-rounder by many
before he had even played a snap in the NFL. The first eight years
of his career didn’t offer much to dissuade such opinions.
The early loss of Kelvin Benjamin last season didn’t create
much buzz as most fantasy managers passed him by for Devin Funchess.
Yet the former all-purpose OSU Buckeye stepped up his play to
post career highs in touchdowns (10) and yards per catch (16.8)
in route to becoming a sound FLEX option for owners in deeper
formats. It wasn’t completely out of picture either because
Ginn had success in 2013 while with the Panthers snaring five
TDs and averaging over 15.0 yards per catch. At 31 years of age,
he has seemingly cemented a starting role in the offense. However,
his role will dissipate when Kelvin Benjamin reclaims his place
atop the depth chart and his atrocious drop percentage last season
(10.4%) is difficult to ignore. Without steady work, Ginn is destined
to be left undrafted in most shallow formats. However, he retains
some value in larger leagues, especially until training camp allows
everyone to assess the progress of Benjamin’s knee.
It is not uncommon for receivers to take a year or two before
truly grasping the offense in the NFL. Though many were hoping
to see the rookie from the University of Michigan blossom in the
wake of Kelvin Benjamin’s loss it simply was too early for
the youngster. Fortunately, this spring has offered a glimpse
of a more driven player looking to expand his role for the upcoming
year. Funchess has been a standout during team activities, gaining
praise from the coaching staff along the way. His fantasy upside
for 2016 remains cloudy but at only 22 years of age time is on
his side. He should challenge for a starting role no later than
next season and gets a bump in value for dynasty leagues as a
result. Philly Brown also returns to provide some deep play ability
but isn’t a reliable fantasy asset. Former Jet Stephen Hill
is coming off a knee injury and could be a dark horse to move
up the depth chart with a solid preseason.
The loss of Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) certainly helped Olsen accrue
career-best receiving yard numbers. The sure-handed tight end
has grown to become one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets.
He is one of the NFL’s best at converting third downs remains
one of the most consistent fantasy tight ends as he enters his
tenth year in the league. The 31-year old veteran should age gracefully
over the next few years but it would be wise to cap his ceiling
off near his three-year average. His advancing age also makes
him more likely to miss his first game since his rookie season.
Ed Dickson signed a three-year deal last off season and provides
the team with another veteran at the position. Beau Sandland was
a 2016 draftee of the Panthers. He is a project with good size
and athleticism for the position but will need to develop for
a few years before becoming fantasy relevant.