QB Cam Newton
As former San Francisco head coach and renowned offensive guru Bill Walsh liked to opine, quarterbacks that can run are nice, but ones that can pass are better. With Newton coming from a simplistic offense at Auburn, the Panthers are going to have to turn him from a thrower into a passer who is capable of reading defenses. That’s going to take some time. While Newton has special athletic gifts, he is far from a polished product and is not expected to contribute much in his rookie season. Newton may emerge as the starting quarterback early in 2011, but that will be due more to the Panthers’ lack of options at the position than to Newton’s readiness to lead a pro-style offense. If Newton is under center, look for the Panthers to protect him with a run-based offense featuring short passes and rollouts that give him the option of running. That recipe won’t result in much fantasy production. Frankly speaking, his dynasty prospects beyond this season can’t be considered great either, given the poor accuracy he displayed in college.
QB Derek Anderson
With Jimmy Clausen struggling early in training camp and the Panthers not expecting Cam Newton to be ready by opening day, they signed Anderson. He was a bust last year in Arizona despite being surrounded by some proven receiving talent. So how is he going to produce in Carolina with far less receiving talent? He’s not. And he’s not going to keep the starting gig for too long, assuming he beats out Clausen to start with.
QB Jimmy Clausen
Clausen was so bad last year that the Panthers gave up on him just one season after using a 2010 second-round pick to acquire him. He was asked to throw short and avoid turnovers, yet he completed just 52.5 percent of his passes with only three touchdowns and nine interceptions. In his ten starts, he averaged 145 passing yards a game even though the Panthers were regularly playing from behind. Despite all that, Clausen was expected to open the 2011 season as Carolina’s starter and keep the job warm until Cam Newton, the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, was ready. But Clausen was so bad that the Panthers signed Derek Anderson, who apparently will start on opening day. And we all know that Anderson’s ridiculously poor 2010 campaign basically torpedoed the Cardinals’ playoff chances. Don’t draft Clausen, and if you own him in dynasty formats, it’s time to move on.
RB DeAngelo Williams
As the most sought after free agent running back on the market, there was strong speculation that Williams would leave Carolina for greener pastures. However, he reportedly spurned offers from the Dolphins and Broncos, choosing instead to return to the Panthers despite the franchise being in a rebuilding mode. He is coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season during which he rushed for 361 yards, had 61 receiving yards, and scored just a single touchdown, all career lows. In 2011, Williams will once again split time with Jonathan Stewart, and while committee approaches often result in two running backs being productive (such as what occurred in 2008 in Carolina), it’s rare for that to happen in one of the league’s worst offenses. And that is likely in store for the Panthers this coming season. Both Carolina running backs have had a difficult time remaining healthy, and Williams has now missed 13 games over the past two seasons. It’s also worth noting that Mike Goodson played well in Williams’ absence and would likely get significant playing time if Williams or Stewart went down. Don’t expect Williams to return to his 2008 glory. He’s an RB3 with upside if Stewart goes down, but Goodson’s presence limits that upside.
RB Jonathan Stewart
Despite having a lackluster 2010 season in Carolina, Stewart was expected to ascend to the lead back role with DeAngelo Williams entering free agency. The only problem is that Williams re-upped with the Panthers, relegating Stewart to a timeshare role once again. In hindsight, Stewart has only himself to blame since he struggled mightily for the first half of 2010, failing to top 43 yards in any of the first eight games and gaining just 208 yards over that stretch on a paltry 3.0 yards per carry. Hardly lead back production, which the Panthers surely took note of. Worse yet, with Williams and Stewart out of the lineup with injuries in Weeks 10 and 11, third-string running back Mike Goodson stepped into the fray, gaining 264 total yards in those games. Stewart returned to the lineup in Week 12 and finished the season strong, gaining 580 total yards and a touchdown over the next six games. For 2011, Stewart enters the season as no better than an RB4, and his only prospect for a breakout season would come if he were traded prior to opening day.
RB Mike Goodson
With both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart injured in Weeks 10 and 11 last year, Goodson shined in his two starts, the first significant playing time of his career. He gained a surprising 264 total yards in games against the Bucs and Ravens and had a nice five-game stretch during which he averaged a healthy 13.5 fantasy points per game. Unfortunately—and unjustifiably—the Panthers handed the starting job back to the disappointing Stewart, who went on to finish the season strongly. With both Williams and Stewart back for 2011, Goodson will once again be relegated to just a handful of touches per game, if that. His fantasy prospects hinge on either a trade to a new team or the Panthers’ deciding to move Stewart. Goodson is a deep sleeper for dynasty leagues but not recommended in redraft formats.
WR Steve Smith
Offseason speculation had Smith being traded to a contender as the Panthers begin the rebuilding process with rookie quarterback Cam Newton. That didn’t happen—whether because of the Panthers’ decision to keep Smith to help ease Newton’s transition to the NFL or because the market for Smith’s services never heating up, courtesy of his poor outing in 2010. Accumulating only 554 yards and two touchdowns on 46 receptions, the 32-year old suffered through his worst season (other than his injury-shortened 2004 campaign) since his rookie season in 2001. The issue now is whether he can bounce back in 2011—but what has changed in Carolina to help make that happen? He’s a year older, the quarterback situation figures to improve only marginally, and the team’s duo of running backs may actually remain healthy for 16 games. Smith ranks as a backup fantasy wideout for this season, but it’s almost assured that somebody will draft him as a starter. Make sure it’s now you.
WR David Gettis
The Panthers used a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft to acquire Gettis and he put up solid production as a rookie, gaining 508 yards and three touchdowns on 37 receptions. A closer look reveals, however, that most of his production came in two games against the 49ers and Ravens, where he caught 10 passes for 217 yards and all three of his touchdowns. This year he will battle fellow second-year receiver Bandon LaFell for the opportunity to start opposite Steve Smith. Unfortunately, the Panthers will likely suffer from poor quarterback play once again, and the team has added talented pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen, who figures to get plenty of targets. Gettis is worth taking a flyer on in larger leagues, but that’s about it.
WR Brandon LaFell
LaFell was expected to start as a rookie last season, but the third-round pick struggled mightily in that role, losing the job to fellow rookie David Gettis. Of his 23 targets over the first four games, LaFell caught just five for 72 yards. That was all the Panthers needed to see, and LaFell quickly found his way to the bench. He finished the season with only 38 receptions for 468 yards and a touchdown. LaFell has good size and better-than-average speed but doesn’t figure to produce much even if he beats out Gettis for a starting spot. You can do better.
WR Legedu Naanee
Naanee showed big-play potential out of the gates last season, accumulating 110 receiving yards in his first game, which included a 59-yard touchdown reception. Plagued by injury and inconsistency, however, he mustered just 261 yards the rest of the way. With 2010 rookies David Gettis and Brandon LaFell showing signs of promise, Naanee will likely have to settle for fourth on the Panthers’ wide receiver depth chart.
TE Greg Olsen
Entering 2010, the line of thinking on Olsen was that he would suffer with the addition of Mike Martz as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. While Martz and the Bears told anyone who would listen that Olsen would be an integral part of the offense, history suggested otherwise, with no tight end ever topping 380 receiving yards in a Martz offense. Right on cue, Olsen’s targets plummeted from a career-high 108 in 2009 to just 69 last season. His production dropped from 60 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns to 41 receptions for 404 yards and five touchdowns. Olsen gets a new lease on life with his trade to Carolina, but he goes from a nominal role in Chicago to a team that had the worst passing attack in the league in 2010. And they will challenge for that dubious distinction once again this season. He is waiver wire material for 2011.
TE Jeremy Shockey
It’s all about opportunity in fantasy football, and Shockey’s move from the powerful Saints offense to a weak Panthers passing game appeared to actually improve his fantasy stock, since he was going to lose his starting job to talented youngster Jimmy Graham anyway. Oops. Then the Panthers acquired Greg Olsen, and Shockey now figures to be a glorified blocker in Carolina in 2011.