QB Cam Newton
(2012 QB Rank – #4, 24.5 FPts/G)
While Newton wasn’t quite as productive last season as he was during his impressive rookie season, there is little doubt the Panthers hit a home run by making him the first overall selection in the 2011 draft. No quarterback has thrown for more yards over their first two seasons than Newton’s 7,920, and he has contributed 62 total touchdowns (40 passing, 22 running) over that time frame. That’s impressive, especially considering the Panthers scored just 16 touchdowns during the 2010 season. Did we mention the hole? Unfortunately, the Panthers have done little to fill the hole in the depth chart at receiver opposite Steve Smith and thus improve their receiving corps in 2013, and that limits Newton’s explosiveness in the passing game. With Rod Chudzinski now in Cleveland, Mike Shula takes over at offensive coordinator, which adds a little risk to Newton’s fantasy profile. However, that’s a minor issue since Newton has the talent to make any offense run well. Speaking of running, did we mention that Newton is the NFL’s preeminent rushing quarterback (sorry, RGIII fans) with 1,447 yards over the past two seasons. Last season, we questioned Newton’s ability to approach the 14 rushing touchdowns he had as a rookie, and he dropped to eight touchdowns. But we have no doubt that he can top 700 yards for the third consecutive season and score 8–10 touchdowns. To sum it up, Newton’s lack of explosive receiving options puts him behind the likes of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, but he rates as the next best option, and one that possesses amazing upside.
RB Jonathan Stewart
(2012 RB Rank – #53, 6.8 FPts/G; #50 PPR, 8.7 FPts/G)
With Stewart, it’s never been about the talent. It’s been about the injuries and having to split time with DeAngelo Williams. Last season, he missed seven games with an ankle injury and was only marginally productive in the seven games that he did play, with 493 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. Worse yet, the Panthers restructured Williams’ contract and now Stewart is the more likely back to leave town if the team decides to shed some salary cap at the running back position. To make matters worse, Stewart entered training camp on the PUP list because he is still recovering from ankle surgery and there are no indications as to when he will return. With Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton vulturing rushing touchdowns and Williams still in the picture, Stewart shapes up as a risky, low-end RB3 at best in 2013.
RB DeAngelo Williams
(2012 RB Rank – #23, 8.4 FPts/G; #27 PPR, 9.2 FPts/G)
With Jonathan Stewart out for half of the 2012 season, Williams assumed the lead back role to mixed results. His yards per carry declined to just 4.3, with at total of 737 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Since Williams hasn’t topped 20 receptions since the 2009 season, his fantasy value is solely predicated on his running abilities, and he hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark this offseason. While that shouldn’t make alarm bells go off since Williams has spent most of his career splitting duties with Jonathan Stewart, the real drag on his fantasy value is Stewart’s continued presence and the fact that Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert pilfer so many touchdowns. Even though the ankle injury that plagued Stewart remains an issue entering training camp, predicting a 1000-yard season for Williams (he hasn’t had one since 2009) is a stretch. Consider him a low-end RB3 with some upside.
RB Mike Tolbert
(2012 RB Rank – #38, 5.4 FPts/G; #37 PPR, 7.1 FPts/G)
After a pair of solid seasons with the Chargers in 2010 and 2011, Tolbert signed with the Panthers during the 2012 offseason, a move that many pundits viewed as a signal that one of DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart were heading out of town. That didn’t happen, leaving Tolbert with a marginal role as little more than a short-yardage battering ram in 2012. While he handled that role effectively with seven touchdowns in just 54 carries, Tolbert sees just enough touches to be fantasy relevant in scoring formats that are not touchdown heavy. If Williams or Stewart is lost to injury, Tolbert could have some use in leagues that utilize the flex position. Otherwise, he is best left as a potential waiver-wire pickup.
WR Steve Smith
(2012 WR Rank – #19, 9.0 FPts/G; #19 PPR, 13.6 FPts/G)
Smith has been the undisputed king of the Panthers receiving corps since the 2003 season, and that isn’t expected to change anytime soon. Although not quite as productive as during the 2011 season, he enjoyed another solid season in 2012, catching 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four touchdowns. Better yet, Smith was very consistent with double-digit fantasy points in eight games (including four of his last five) and fewer than five points just three times. The only issue with Smith is his age. At 34, the wheels will start to come off at some point, and at just 5’9” and 185 pounds, Smith relies on speed and determination to make a living. The good news is that he didn’t show much, if any, regression last season, and there are no challengers to take away his lead receiving position. That makes him a solid, low-end WR2 with a little bit of risk for the upcoming season.
WR Brandon LaFell
(2012 WR Rank – #49, 7.3 FPts/G; #54 PPR, 10.7 FPts/G)
This figures to be LaFell’s last chance to lock down a starting position at wide receiver for the Panthers. Although he has solid size at 6’2” and 211 pounds to go along with decent speed, LaFell has failed to develop much during his first three years in the league. After a respectable rookie season in which he caught 38 passes for 468 yards and a touchdown, he has accumulated just 80 receptions for 1,280 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two years. Spending plenty of time in the slot last season, LaFell was targeted just 76 times in 13 games—a pretty light workload for a starting receiver. While he had at least 62 receiving yards in four of his last seven games, we don’t expect LaFell will post a breakout season in 2013. Carolina added Domenik Hixon in the offseason, David Gettis is now two years removed from his torn ACL, and Armanti Edwards has had an impressive offseason. Look for the Panthers to once again limit LaFell’s targets in 2013. Consider him a low-end WR5.
WR Domenik Hixon
(2012 WR Rank – #65, 5.3 FPts/G; #70 PPR, 8.3 FPts/G)
It’s been a long time since Hixon warranted potential breakout status after a solid run at the conclusion of the 2008 season in the Giants starting lineup. Since then, he has been a disappointment, failing to build on that momentum in the 2009 season and suffering a pair of torn ACLs. In 2012, Hixon caught 39 passes for 567 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a backup role. In 2013, the six-year veteran brings his talents to the Panthers offense, where he will compete with a pile of journeymen and unproven younger players to start opposite Steve Smith. While Brandon LaFell has done little to excite anyone during his four years in Carolina, he is expected to retain his starting position, with Hixon the most likely candidate to assume the top backup spot. If Hixon can develop some chemistry with quarterback Cam Newton, he could emerge as a decent flex option in larger leagues, but we’re not holding our breath. Hixon is waiver-wire material in most leagues.
WR David Gettis
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
While other players have made miraculous recoveries from torn ACLs, Gettis is following the old school route to ACL recovery. After suffering the injury during the Panthers’ 2011 training camp, he missed all of that season and then was placed on the PUP list to open the 2012 season. Although he was added to the roster in mid-November, he failed to register a single catch. A sixth-round pick in 2010, Gettis had a solid rookie season with 37 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns, but it now seems like the promise he displayed that season will not be fulfilled.
WR Ted Ginn Jr.
(2012 WR Rank – #180, 0.2 FPts/G; #177 PPR, 0.7 FPts/G)
Ginn is generating some buzz in training camp this season, but it seems like every potential starter opposite Steve Smith is getting some healthy publicity. Maybe that’s because they all look solid standing beside each other. With Ginn, we can be pretty certain that he is not going to emerge and become the game-breaking receiving talent the Dolphins expected when they chose him with the ninth pick in the 2007 draft. Remember, this is a player that has 33 receptions over the past three years.
WR Joe Adams
(2012 WR Rank – #173, 0.5 FPts/G; #175 PPR, 0.8 FPts/G)
Looking to add some punch to their receiving corps and in the return game, the Panthers grabbed Joe Adams in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. So much for that. Despite the Panthers’ legendary issues trying to find someone to play opposite Steve Smith and with injuries at the wide receiver position, Adams finished the season with just one reception. Barring some major improvement, he won’t be worth owning in 2013. In fact, he may have difficulty even landing a roster spot.
WR Armanti Edwards
(2012 WR Rank – #141, 2.0 FPts/G; #142 PPR, 2.9 FPts/G)
It has been a rough ride for the 2010 third-round pick. Converted from a college quarterback to a wide receiver in the pros, Edwards has struggled mightily with the transition, failing to catch a single pass during his first two years in the league and hauling in just five receptions for 121 yards last season. While reports indicate that he has had a solid offseason, it is worth noting that there are several more proven receivers ahead of Edwards on the depth chart. With injuries ravaging the position, he needed to make his move last season and that failed to happen.
TE Greg Olsen
(2012 TE Rank – #6, 7.1 FPts/G; #7 PPR, 11.5 FPts/G)
Olsen spent his first year in Carolina having to cede targets to Jeremy Shockey, but with Shockey out of the picture in 2012, Olsen put together the finest season of his six-year career. It was a long time coming for the Bears’ 2007 first-round pick. With no proven threat opposite Steve Smith, Olsen emerged as the Panthers’ second best receiving option, hauling in 69 receptions for 843 yards and five touchdowns. Better yet, he was fairly consistent especially over the latter part of the season. The good news for Olsen is that Carolina once again is unsure of what it has opposite Smith, with Brandon LaFell and Domenik the front-runners to win the second and third receiving jobs. That bodes well for Olsen’s fantasy prospects in 2013. He should be considered a mid-tier TE1.