|By Matt De Lima, Saturday, August 17, 2013|
QB Cam Newton - Stud (low risk)
Entering his third season, Cam Newton is poised as one of the premiere young talents in the league. Despite a slight statistical regression in 2012, Newton still dominated as Carolina's signal-caller. Not only is he a threat to eclipse 4,000 passing yards, Newton has the ability to throw 30 TDs and add 10 TDs on the ground. The Panthers may be thin on playmakers, but this fact forces him to take on more responsibilty of the offense as evidenced by his propensity to simply run it in himself near the goal-line. All fantasy owners need to know is that Newton puts this offense on his back. Among the many young and emerging "dual-threat" quarterbacks out there, the former Auburn star has the bulk and frame to handle far more punishment than Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III or even Colin Kaepernick. In keeper and dynasty leagues, his value is certainly in the Top 5 at his position and he can be the cornerstone of your fantasy franchise in any league format.
UPDATE (11/4): The former Heisman Memorial Trophy winner is having another excellent season, but consistency issues have him underperforming his average draft position coming into the year. Newton currently ranks as fantasy's No. 8 QB. He's on pace for his worst rushing numbers while simultaneously staying on track for a career year as a passer. If he could somehow combine his now improved pass stats with his old rushing totals, especially rushing touchdowns, he could easily catapult himself into the Top 3 at his position. For the moment though, Newton is a mid-QB1 who should stay in starting lineups just about every week.
RB DeAngelo Williams - Gamble (high risk)
It seems every season DeAngelo Williams will put together one fantastic game that injects a tiny amount of hope back into the fantasy community. This spurs a handful of owners to believe that someone in the Panthers' backfield can be relied upon to tote the rock. Wise fantasy owners should know better though. Williams rushed for a paltry 737 yards on 173 carries. 210 of those yards came in the regular season finale, long after most owners had moved on from the former Memphis runner. Unless you have a crystal ball that can foresee when he will have that one great game, it would be best to let someone else try their luck with Williams.
UPDATE (11/4): Williams' first half of the season has enjoyed some positives. His yardage totals have exceeded expectations as evidenced by his Top 20 RB status enjoyed up until Week 9. The concerns moving forward regard how his role will take shape with a healthy Jonathan Stewart back in the mix. A healthy Stewart will only eat into Williams' touch totals and Mike Tolbert continues to poach red zone and goal-line opportunities. The Panthers' offense will need to produce more points and more yards in order for Williams to stay off the bench in most formats.
RB Jonathan Stewart - Bust (overvalued)
The Panthers finished 2012 just outside the Top 10 in rushing attempts, an obvious by-product of having Cam Newton under center. Even so, Carolina does lean toward the run, which provides Jonathan Stewart some silver lining. Predicting how the team will divvy out touches and the tenuous and often injury-prone nature of Stewart should be your chief concerns. It is possible though that your fellow league-mates think so little of him that he can provide some value as a bench player. Counting on him as a RB2 or flex is a very risky proposition. He only played in nine games last season and seems to be really struggling with reoccuring foot and ankle injuries.
UPDATE (11/4): Stewart's return finally came in Week 9. The former Oregon back can now be relied upon to see about 10 to 12 touches per game. In deeper leagues where RBs are a true premium, Stewart should be snatched up immediately off the waiver wire.
RB Mike Tolbert - Deep-league Only
In really deep TD-only league, Mike Tolbert probably has some good value. After all, he has scored 28 touchdowns over his last three seasons. The quintessential goal-line back, Tolbert is a godsend for Carolina, a team that likes to pound it between the tackles inside the five-yard line. Unfortunately, Tolbert is a fantasy vulture, stealing away points from guys like Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. In most leagues, he has minimal value barring an injury ahead of him on the depth chart.
UPDATE (11/4): A healthy Jonathan Stewart will likely decrease the number of Tolbert's change-of-pace carries. He is a sneaky play in TD-only leagues since even Cam Newton is seeing fewer QB draw opportunities near the goal-line. Tolbert is a boom-or-bust play with no real upside though so exercise caution if you decide to add him.
RB Kenjon Barner - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Dynasty owners should definitely keep an eye on former Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner. He rushed for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns in his senior season. That kind of production in a BCS conference is noteworthy, even for a team that loved to run the ball. Barner is currently buried on the depth chart, so he isn't likely to emerge in the next year or two. On the other hand, the competition in front of him has been shaky in recent years and incapable of carving out a niche for themselves. Be prepared to stash Barner for at least one season.
UPDATE (11/4): The rookie experienced a failure to launch this year. He retains his dynasty value, but since he has been unable to contribute anything meaningful to the Panthers. Give him another year in order to more accurately judge his future potential.
WR Steve Smith - Solid/Safe Pick
Before the arrival of Cam Newton, it appeared that Steve Smith would go gently into that good night. Now, even at age 34, he is a reliable and relatively safe choice as a WR2. Carolina and most fantasy owners for that matter are waiting on Brandon LaFell to emerge as more than just an afterthought. This allows Smith to receive a ton of targets from Newton with only Greg Olsen as a direct competitor for production. Smith makes for an even better WR3 or possibly a flex option if he falls far enough. Given fantasy owners' propensity to seek out the next best thing, this former Utah alum is a safe bet.
UPDATE (11/4): Smith has seem to hit the wall. His numbers haven't dramatically declined; however, he has not yet tallied 100-plus yards or even more than six receptions in a single game. Fantasy owners can plug him in just about every week as a WR3 without hesitation despite the lack of any big games. It seems Smith's age has finally caught up to him, even if only slightly.
WR Brandon LaFell - Sleeper (undervalued)
When the Panthers selected Brandon LaFell in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, they likely knew then that he was a possession receiver with the frame and length to potentially blossom into an Anquan Boldin type player. So far, LaFell hasn't lived up to those expectations, but the talent is there. This will be his fourth season and year after year, many fantasy analysts will suggest that LaFell has breakout potential. That might be a stretch as the window of bigger upside appears to have nearly closed. The former LSU receiver does not see enough targets (76 a year ago) to have a realistic opportunity at fantasy stardom. If that number at least approaches 100, which would be a significant increase in a single year, then LaFell would be worth more than a late flier. For now, he is best left untouched except for very deep leagues.
UPDATE (11/4): As one might expect, there have been brief shimmers of talent. The majority of his playing time has been spent underwhelming the fantasy masses. With the season now half over, LaFell is on pace to slightly improve upon his season-bests which is great for him. It just doesn't offer much to our fantasy contests. He is a bench player on his good days.
WR Domenik Hixon - Not Draft Worthy
When the New York Giants added Rueben Randle in the 2012 NFL Draft, the writing was on the wall for Domenick Hixon. The eighth year veteran will now be competing to secure the No. 3 spot in Carolina. Hixon did show some signs of promise when injuries beset guys like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Unfortunately, Carolina doesn't have the same history of producing more than one productive fantasy wide receiver. Hixon shouldn't be under consideration for a fantasy spot.
WR Ted Ginn - Not Draft Worthy
The former No. 9 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft says he can still play wide receiver. Well the 49ers were paper thin at receiver even before Michael Crabtree's injury and felt differently about that. Ted Ginn hasn't caught more than 20 passes since 2009. The speed and straight line speed are still relatively intact, but the fluidity and grace to be a full-time route runner appear to be long gone. Cam Newton will probably connect with Ginn on a couple deep routes, but there have been no recent signs that this seven-year vet can contribute to your fantasy squad.
UPDATE (11/4): Your likely extremely low expectations of Ginn have already been outpaced. With Carlina, he is producing his best receiving totals since he left Miami back in 2009. With perfect lineup management, Ginn can fit in as a WR3 or flex. Beyond that kind of clairvoyance, the former Ohio State receiver isn't a regular fantasy contributor.
TE Greg Olsen - Stud (low risk)
If you missed out on Jimmy Graham, it may be best to wait for Greg Olsen. The former Miami Hurricanes stud is essentially the No. 2 wide receiver in Charlotte. He should finish close behind Steve Smith in targets, receptions and most of the other receiving stats. A year ago he caught a career-high 69 receptions on 104 targets for 843 yards and five TDs. Assuming Cam Newton continues to develop and grow as a quarterback, Olsen's numbers should continue to trend upward.
UPDATE (11/4): Olsen's strong grip on the No. 2 fantasy receiver role in Carolina is tenuous at best. He's been missing out on targets typically designated for him as they head to DeAngelo Williams, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn. He has scored two TDs in his last two games though and this has helped his point totals recover. Olsen is a low TE1, so use him as such.
TE Ben Hartsock - Not Draft Worthy
Who is Ben Hartsock, you ask? You mean, THE Ben Hartsock. This former Ohio State wunderkind has two touchdowns in his ten-year career. He even caught two receptions last season. If you need to remain completely anonymous, assume Hartsock's identity. No one will know the difference!
PK Graham Gano - Bye Week Fill-in
Graham Gano joined the Panthers late in the 2012 season. He converted nine of his 11 field goal attempts. He made four of six 50-plus yard field goals two seasons ago, so there is some power to his game. Gano must re-establish his career. He missed 10 field goals two years ago, which led to his release from the Washington Redskins. Carolina gave him a shot and he'll need to impress to keep this job long-term. Currently, he is not reliable enough to be a starting fantasy kicker.
Carolina Defense - Bye Week Fill-in
Carolina finished tenth in the NFL in yardage allowed. They also finished 13th in passing yards allowed and 14th in rushing yards allowed. These numbers should not come as a surprise since the Panthers defense was far from a fantasy contributor. There are some quality pieces in place though. Defensive end Charles Johnson, linebacker Luke Kuechly and recent first round pick DT Star Lotululei are great players. Carolina isn't a full-blown sleeper, but they could slowly emerge as a decent backup or mid-season replacement.