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Carolina Panthers – 2019 A Look Inside

Contributions from Joshua Hudson, Chris Molina, & Joe Zollo
After finishing twenty-seventh in the league in sacks, and with an aging pass rush, it was imperative to infuse youth (and talent) on the defensive line. Beginning with FSU’s Brian Burns is a great start. Burns is a monster off the edge and should provide a jolt to the Panthers defense. Greg Little in the second is a big boost to their offensive line. Will Grier is a great backup plan if Cam Newton’s shoulder doesn’t heal effectively, or they decide to move on from him after this year when his contract expires. Jordan Scarlett is a great investment as a backup to Christian McCaffrey and fell to the fifth based on character concerns. All told, with only a handful of picks in 2019, the Panthers grabbed themselves some good young talent. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
A healthy Cam Newton makes this offense hum. He has weapons all over the field and his accuracy last year was the best of his career. Last year’s first round pick, D.J. Moore, came on late to show he can be an effective receiver in the league. Their 2017 second round pick, Curtis Samuel, took a gigantic step forward. They still have Greg Olsen, but even if he can’t stay healthy — he’s missed time with a foot injury each of the last two seasons — Ian Thomas showed last year that he’s more than capable of providing top 10 production from the Tight End position. They picked up Chris Hogan from the Patriots in the offseason to team with Torrey Smith as a downfield threat. Oh, and there’s that Christian McCaffrey guy who’s pretty good too. He was only the number one running back in Fantasy last year, no big deal. The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
When looking at the Panthers wide receiver corps, it’s easy to think that because the Panthers didn’t re-sign Devin Funchess, the mantle of WR1 falls to 2018 first round pick D.J. Moore. But by all advanced metrics, the receiver with the most potential to ascend into the role is 2017 second round pick Curtis Samuel. When you watch tape of Samuel, you see a player who can get off the line quickly and has mastered the art of route-running. Per Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, Samuel had the sixth highest success rate against man coverage last season. He was in the top 15 in success against double coverage, and he was successful against press coverage almost 75% of the time. He separates well off the line, but there’s a clear lack of feel with Cam Newton, as more than 35.2% of Samuel’s targets were contested — tops in the league. Because of that, Samuel doesn’t have a ton of opportunity for yards after the catch, averaging only 3.0 YAC per reception. At only 195 pounds, he’s also not big in the broken tackle department- only nine missed tackles forced on 39 receptions. Heading into Year Three, Samuel is primed for a production jump. The question, really, is whether he takes over the number one role or the number two role. Moore is better after the catch and has an ability to break tackles, two things Samuel doesn’t excel at. Newton was on pace for 538 pass attempts last year before missing the final two games. Over his career, he averages 506 attempts over a 16 game season. Christian McCaffrey is the only guarantee on the team for more than 100 targets (around 20% market share). Because of that, Samuel is a tough receiver to predict. He could have anywhere from 45 to 70 receptions. That’s probably why his current ADP is WR49, up considerably from where it was a month ago. His talent is why people believe in him, and rightfully so. Hs 11.6% target share is sure to increase as a result. But what people aren’t seeing is that from Weeks 9-17, Samuel had 54 targets to Moore’s 52. These two are roughly the same, and yet there’s a four round difference in current ADP. As a WR5, Samuel has clear WR3 upside, maybe more if the dominoes fall the right way. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
The Carolina Panthers fell apart during the second-half of the 2018 season. They dropped seven in a row and finished a measly 7-9 on the year. Cam Newton had another operation on his shoulder. What does this mean for Carolina’s fantasy outlook? There is one prime candidate for this team’s fantasy downside – avoid D.J. Moore if you can. He finished last season with 55 receptions (55!), 788 yards, and only two touchdowns, on 82 targets. That was good for WR39 from weeks 1-16, yet he is being drafted in the seventh round this year as the WR29, in the same area as my prior upside candidates Robby Anderson and Tyler Boyd. I am confident he will disappoint in the seventh round, and let me explain why. First, Cam Newton very rarely throws more than 500 pass attempts in a single season. He threw 471 last year in 14 games. He has played a full season five times. Only twice, though, has he crossed the 500 pass attempts plateau. That’s problematic. Let’s say he does hit 500 pass attempts. Run CMC (Christian McCaffrey) will soak up at least 120 targets (124 last year). D.J. Moore only had an 18% target share last year, and that’s with Olsen missing a ton of time. Curtis Samuel also only missed three games. It’s fair to assume he will have around a 17% target share this year as well, despite Funchess’s vacated targets. 17% of 500 pass attempts is 85 targets. He had 85 targets last year. He would likely need to see a massive increase in his target share to improve here. Second, let’s say he does though. Let’s say Cam Newton targets him at a 20% clip (100 targets).  D.J. Moore was not a good route runner last year. He only had a 52.7% success rate against man-to-man coverage. To put that in perspective, that success rate was worse than 90% of the NFL’s route runners. The story is the same with his 47.7% success rate against press coverage. Curtis Samuel, his counterpart, had a contrasting 74.6% success rate against man (top 10% in all of football). It’s still early as Moore was a rookie last season. However, there will be growing pains this year, and it will likely cap his potential upside on targets. Therefore, D.J. Moore’s targets are likely going to remain stagnant this year. It is unreasonable to think he has more than 100 targets, especially if Cam throws his usual >500 pass attempts. D.J. Moore is also capped as a terrible route runner at this point in time. With as great of a route runner as Samuel is, and with Olsen and Run CMC on the field, there is stiff competition to vie for Cam’s >500 pass attempts. Remember, he was the WR39 last year. Numbers do not point to much upside. Yet, he is being taken as the WR29 this year in the seven round. Look elsewhere (Robby Anderson!). Heck, Curtis Samuel has a similar target share, is more of a threat in the red zone, and is being taken four rounds later than D.J. Moore. Let that sink in. – Chris Molina
If you have listened to No Punt Intended on Die Hard Sports Radio, you understand that I believe Christian McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL. He does it all, and does it more than anyone else in the league. He was on the field for over 91% of his team’s snaps, while the next closest was Todd Gurley with near 80% (and no, those numbers are not skewed because McCaffrey did not play in Week 17 either). I was big on McCaffrey in 2017 during his rookie year because the value he gave at the position he was being drafted was too good. I wasn’t too sure how he would perform in his sophomore campaign and didn’t want to overvalue him, but he proved me completely wrong- finishing first among RBs in fantasy football last season. This season, there is no overvaluing him. He is incredibly consistent and loves to heat up during the latter parts of the season to help you during your playoff push. I only have one thing to mention about McCaffrey that should make him the uninamous number one- he had over 1,000 rushing yards and over 100 receptions last season. Yup. 1,098 rushing yards and 107 receptions, not to mention he almost eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards as he racked up 867 through the air. I don’t believe he will have another repeat season of over 100 catches, but I am not going to rule anything out at this point. Newton loves finding his guy short and padding his passing statistics, as McCaffrey led the team in receiving yards with the next closest being D.J Moore. McCaffrey also led the team in carries with 219, and the next closest guy was Cam Newton at 101. If you are looking at running backs, the next closest was C.J Anderson. Yes, that same C.J Anderson that was cut after nine games. It goes to show that McCaffrey is the first, second, and third option in this offense, and that should undoubtedly make him the unanimous number one overall pick. – Joe Zollo
As a seventh round pick, most people aren’t going to give two blinks at the thought of Terry Godwin breaking into the starting lineup. Coming out of Georgia, where they’re more known for their running backs than their wide receivers as of late, Godwin had only 133 receptions in four years in college. 59% of his receptions came from the slot, and his QBs had a 145.4 passer rating when throwing to him. He has solid hands and ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine. The Panthers depth chart has several players with a history of missing games, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Godwin to contribute this season. Don’t expect a ton of production, a game here or there, but he could have an impact if guys like Curtis Samuel, Torrey Smith, and/or Chris Hogan miss some time. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Due to the recent injury history of the aging Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas is almost a must have but is being overlooked by so many. His current ADP is TE28 and 273 overall, which essentially means he is going undrafted in virtually every league. With Greg Olsen being 34 heading into the season, he can no longer be relied on as a stud fantasy football Tight End, so it is time for the new regime to take the throne and Thomas fits the bill. Thomas finished TE31 last season, but really only received playing time when Olsen was injured. He didn’t record anything miraculous when Olsen was injured between weeks two through four, but he played extremely well from week 13 on. From week 13-16, Thomas finished TE6, which was higher than Evan Engram and Eric Ebron. A lot of what Thomas will produce does depend on Greg Olsen’s health, but I believe the rapport that Thomas and Newton created last season will grant him more targets, even with Olsen in the lineup. – Joe Zollo
The current defensive line for Carolina includes rookie Brian Burns and the 2013 Pro Bowl roster of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. Sadly, none of them are fantasy worthy, but there is one guy (and one guy only) on this team that is consistently the best LB in the league. Coming out of Boston College in 2012 as the ninth overall pick, Luke Kuechly has been arguably the best Linebacker in the league since his rookie season. This guy can legitimately do everything, and that is not an over-exaggeration. He has been a Pro-Bowler every season besides his rookie year, and he has been voted All-Pro five times. Kuechly finished seventh last season, and has consistently finished as an LB1. And should be treated as such. Kuechly is to Linebackers in fantasy football as Christian McCaffrey is to running backs in fantasy football- a top guy that you do not want to miss out on. – Joe Zollo