As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all Spring and Summer. This year, we also have a follow-up to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.
Despite a 6-10 record, there’s reason for excitement in Carolina. The Panthers have a new face of the franchise and Cam Newton has brought energy and buzz to a team that, arguably, hasn’t had much of either lately. Leaping onto the scene in 2011 with nothing short of an amazing rookie campaign, can Newton have a repeat performance?
In fantasy, Newton turned in a top five overall performance in 2011. His 4,051 passing yards and a 21:17 touchdown to interception ratio are better than passable numbers for a rookie quarterback, but add 706 rushing yards and another 14 touchdowns and you have a combined 35 touchdowns scored. Should your scoring format award quarterbacks equally to that of running backs for rushing touchdowns, then you have an even more prolific fantasy scoring machine.
He only recently turned 23 years old (5/11/89) and the Panthers are returning most all offensive skill position players while concentrating on free agent and rookie additions to bolster a struggling defense. One must only glance at Carolina’s total offensive production (third in rushing and thirteenth in passing), followed by their 6-10 record to understand what forces were at work. Simply put, the defense couldn’t keep opponents from scoring nearly at will in 2011.
In our recent quarterback ADP study, Newton was coming off the board second only to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and before the likes of both Matt Stafford and Drew Brees. A year following his rookie season, in which the general consensus from the fantasy community was that Cam Newton was a bust waiting to happen, dynasty coaches aren’t making the same mistake again. In some 2011 rookie drafts, Newton could be had in the second round, what turns out to be a steal of massive proportions.
Heading into 2012, there is no doubting Cam Newton’s tangibles, intangibles or predicted fantasy output. He’s more comfortable in the system, is working even harder in camp this year and the Panthers are on the rise. Newton is an easy selection for your QB1. We see no sophomore slump in store, but it wouldn’t surprise us if his rushing touchdowns decrease, to go along with an increase in passing touchdowns. Depending on your scoring format, this may result in fewer fantasy points, but don’t let that dissuade you from an early selection. Cam Newton is fantasy gold and should be for a long time.
It’s hard to not feel bad for Jimmy Clausen. The heralded rookie from Notre Dame was just never able to put it together on the field and many things were blamed, including a less-than-dynamic offensive system. But utilizing many of those same pieces, Cam Newton was drafted and immediately proved that an NFL system is often what you make of it. Now, second on the depth chart and not a free agent until 2014, Clausen will have to watch from the sidelines and get his reps when and where he can until his next opportunity arises.
Unless Newton goes down to injury, Clausen’s days in Carolina are finished. Even then, he’d only be keeping the position warm until Newton’s return. After a 3:9 touchdown to interception ratio and 1,558 yards passing in 13 games, there isn’t enough there for Carolina to further invest in the overconfident third year passer. It’s likely, as head coach Ron Rivera points out, that he’ll get another chance to start in the NFL somewhere down the line. Look for Clausen to be dealt in trade prior to his 2014 free agency year and he could make for a nice buy low candidate. Cleveland Browns anyone?
It seem like ancient history when Anderson was a second year quarterback and blew up for the Browns in 2007 by amassing 3,787 passing yards and a 29:19 touchdown to interception ratio. After returning to earth in 2008 and 2009, Anderson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals and failed to impress, ultimately landing in Carolina for the 2011 season. He’s compiled no stats since arriving in Carolina and won’t likely again in the NFL, barring a multiple injury scenario by quarterbacks ahead of him, regardless of which team he calls home.
He’s not worth a roster spot in any format, regardless of how deep.
What’s not to like about the Carolina running backs? Nothing if you’re looking at talent alone. But that’s just the problem, they’re all talented and they’re not alone on the roster.
The hearts of Stewart’s fantasy owners sunk when Carolina re-signed DeAngelo Williams, who was set to leave in free agency in 2011. What ensued was exactly what fantasy owners feared, a time-share situation that left both backs nearly unstartable and, realistically, no better than RB3 fill-ins for most weeks.
Rushing-wise, 2011 mirrored Stewart’s 2010 campaign as he posted 761 yards on the ground with four touchdowns and a gaudy 5.4 yards per carry average. He again teased owners with the possibility of what he could accomplish if given twenty touches a game. However, 2011 saw a new side of Stewart. In the period of time from 2008-2010, Stewart amassed 34 total receptions and two receiving touchdowns. In 2011, he managed 47 receptions for 413 yards and a single touchdown. It’s obvious that new coach Ron Rivera was determined to see Stewart get more opportunities in the open field.
Heading into 2012, the hope again was that perhaps Williams could be traded and for Stewart to be the beneficiary. Once again, Carolina threw owners a curve ball, this time not through action relating to DeAngelo Williams, but by signing the very capable Mike Tolbert. Talented in his own right, the move has been a head-scratcher by the NFL and the fantasy community and serves to show that Carolina is further dedicating themselves to a power running attack in hopes of creating a more productive passing game.
For 2012, it appears to be much the same for Stewart and his owners. Barring injury or trade, Stewart’s time will be seen on third downs, spot two down duty and in some red-zone packages, likely giving way to Tolbert inside the five yard line. Until further change finds its way to the Carolina backfield, rely on Stewart as nothing more than a true RB3 with upside. Should DeAngelo Williams fall to injury, a very real possibility, Stewart’s value should immediately rise to a low-end RB1.
Don’t forget that Stewart is still a young 25 (3/21/87) and has a lot of football ahead of him.
What can or could be said about Stewart can also be said about Williams.
The 29 year-old Williams frustrated owners when he elected to re-sign in Carolina in 2011, essentially ending the fantasy community’s desire to see him ascend to a true carry the load back. But truth be told, as Williams has never shown to be a durable player, a heavy time share ensures the Panthers can continue to have a dynamic rushing attack. Much like Stewart, Williams himself managed to maintain a 5.4 yards per carry average on his way to a total rushing output of 155 attempts, 836 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Now 29 and without a ton of mileage on his tires, it’s anyone’s guess as to what may be in store for fantasy owners in 2012. All signs point to similar carries but less touchdowns due to the presence of the newly signed Tolbert.
Any way you slice it, Williams’ window is closing at a quickening pace. While he’s likely to stay productive into his thirties due to his reduced number of carries throughout his career, his best days are likely behind him. His numbers from 2011 did equate to a low-end RB2 or very high RB3, but the arrival of Tolbert pushes Williams down to a solid RB3 with upside, just like Stewart.
That giant sucking sound you’re hearing is the fantasy value of Mike Tolbert.
After scoring 19 touchdowns and rushing for more than 1,200 yards over the past two years in San Diego, Tolbert surprisingly took his talents to Carolina. Barring an injury to Stewart or Williams above him on the depth chart, he’ll not likely be a noteworthy fantasy producer in 2011. It’s unclear at this point just what role Tolbert will serve and he’s young enough to still be confidently rostered, but expectations must be kept low. However, he’s signed through 2015 so there will be plenty of time for this situation to play itself out.
What we do know about Tolbert is that he’s capable with the ball in his hands and he’s also very active in the passing game, as evidenced by his 79 receptions from 2010 to 2011. The Panthers are emphasizing a power rushing attack and there’s arguably no better power rusher than Tolbert. Should he be able to carve out a niche in between the twenties in addition to short yardage work inside the five yard line, Tolbert could flirt with RB3 numbers. But until that happens, he’ll remain just a high upside RB4 at best.
The ageless Steve Smith (now 33) continues to put up WR2 numbers, now behind the ultra-dynamic Cam Newton. Whether by coincidence, better conditioning or luck, Smith turned in his first healthy season since 2005, playing in all 16 games. Better still, he produced 1,394 receiving yards (second best in his career), to go along with seven touchdowns.
With Newton leading the offense and safeties having to play closer to the line, look for Smith to continue eating up yards on the outside or across the middle. He’s fearless in every part of his game and he’s a valuable asset for a contending team to have in dynasty leagues, especially in PPR systems. He’s only once scored double digit touchdowns (2005), but he’s a good bet to get close in 2012, if he can remain healthy.
There’s not a lot to guess about Smith. He’s a team leader, he’s fiery and he has the ability to be a difference maker on the field. He also has a tendency to disappear from games when not involved early, but by the same token, also has the ability to take over a game when his confidence is running high. For the most part, Smith is a dependable receiver in fantasy and is best as a WR3 on roster with two bigger names as he has the ability to score big on occasion. Draft him if in dire need for a quality WR2 or eagerly as a WR3, especially in a PPR system.
Will it be another 36 reception season for LaFell or will he finally meet the expectations of his coaches and the fantasy community?
The 6’2″ product out of LSU is now entering his third year and few excuses remain on the table for LaFell to have another sub-par campaign. The Panthers now possess one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the game, have perhaps the most talented trio of runners in the backfield and have Steve Smith to draw coverage. It’s time for LaFell to use his size and speed combination to pull in more than 2.5 receptions per game.
LaFell has all the characteristics of a superb buy-low candidate, but also comes with a tremendous amount of risk as well. Too many receivers have talent but never develop into consistent fantasy scorers, instead slowly fading into positional insignificance. Whether you are a believer in the third year rule, in which a receiver is said to have his greatest chance to emerge, or whether you believe it’s more of a situational argument, all signs point to 2012 as being LaFell’s make or break year.
At this point, LaFell is no more than a WR4 with upside until he proves otherwise, but we’d suggest more upside than downside from his current value.
The third year speedster from Appalachian State is having a good camp. Does it matter?
Youth is being served in Carolina and Edwards is likely in a fight for his football career as he attempts to make good on the expectations put upon him by the coaching staff. He’s been a regular name on the lips of coaches now in his third camp, but injuries and poor play have limited his opportunities to date.
If he can stick on the roster, Edwards has a chance to see time in the slot and should be able to learn from veteran receiver Steve Smith. As of yet, this hasn’t happened, but thus far he’s healthy and playing well. He’s not a player to roster in all but the deepest of leagues, but as a deep sleeper, continue to watch for his name in camp reports.
A third receiver has a shot to be a fantasy producer in Carolina’s system and Edwards has a chance.
Returning from injury, Gettis again looks to hold down a roster spot toward being the big threat that the Panthers desperately need in their offense.
He’s at full speed in camp and is said to be looking quick and catching everything. At 6’3″, and in his third year, he’s more of a pure Z receiver than LaFell and seems to have more raw athleticism as well. He flirted with dynasty rosters in 2010 but has fallen from view in the past year. He makes for a desperation play in later rounds, but has the skill set to be a low end WR3 if he can find his way into a rotation.
Besides having one of the best names in the game, “Tutu” just doesn’t project to anything more than he is now … a sleeper of the deepest variety. He, too, is also in his third year and the Panthers are anything but established in their receiving corps. This provides opportunity, but he’s had opportunities in the past and hasn’t produced. We’ll believe it when we see it.
The good sized Pilares, 5’10 and 201 pounds, will vie for return duties with Joe Adams. He’s a slot style receiver with good speed but may be a long shot to make the active roster.
We’ll feature Joe Adams as our sleeper to follow, stay tuned ….
Flying under the radar this off-season is the steady Greg Olson. In 2011, he shared the tight end role with the enigmatic Jeremy Shockey, but still produced well enough to place in the top 20 of tight ends. Through week eight, he was on pace for his best year as a pro.
Looking to 2012, Shockey has departed (although he could be re-signed), leaving with the Panthers without any quality receivers other than Olsen at the position. Durable and only 27 years of age, he managed to haul in 45 receptions with five touchdowns last year as a part time player. As a full time contributor, he should easily eclipse both of those statistics.
It’s hard to get excited about tight ends outside of the top ten, but Olsen strikes us as an unappreciated player with upside heading into the season. He’s a quality TE2 to keep stashed with flashes of TE1 ability on occasion.
Five catches over the past three years. He’s best as an in-line blocker and likely won’t produce to any degree in the passing game.
We’ll continue our team-by-team capsules with the Chicago Bears up next.