When fantasy owners speak of the Carolina Panthers, there are two major topics of discussion. The first is the long-standing frustration with the running game and Carolina’s inability to produce a consistent fantasy option. The second typically revolves around who will take over as the second receiving option behind Steve Smith, and for the long-term, who will eventually take his place.
As most dynasty owners are aware, Cam Newton is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. As a result, the opportunity is there for other offensive players to step up. The question is, who will eventually take a role of fantasy relevance on the team. With this article, I will attempt to outline some of the sleepers in Carolina who have a chance to take one of the available roles and eventually become fantasy options.
At running back, the Panthers will likely start this season with a committee of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. While Williams is aging and likely to be out of Carolina within a year or two at the latest, Stewart is currently going into the second year of a five year contract
Mike Tolbert – While Tolbert is currently a fullback with the Panthers, he is the most likely option to take over as the second running back when Williams is no longer with the team. Last season, in his first year with Carolina, he was used occasionally in short-yardage situations and received a handful of short passes. If the opportunity is presented, either through injury or a job opening becoming available as a result of the release of Williams, Tolbert has the potential to be a solid flex option on fantasy teams. It’s unlikely however that he’ll ever have an opportunity to be more than that. Tolbert is a solid handcuff and should be owned in most dynasty leagues
Kenjon Barner – Drafted out of Oregon in the sixth round of this year’s draft, Barner is an intriguing sleeper. While early reports are he didn’t make much of an impression in off-season workouts, he has a unique skill set that could enable him to carve out a role in Carolina. While I don’t see him ever being more than a third down back, he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and could be a favorite of Newton in the short passing game. I believe he will earn a role on Carolina through his special teams play. In time, I expect him to earn a spot as the second running back with the Panthers. Most likely his value will be limited in 2013, but he should have a legitimate shot to compete for playing time in 2014. He is a player that I am targeting in the fourth round of many rookie drafts that I’m participating in. Barner should be owned in dynasty leagues with average to larger rosters.
Tauren Poole – While Barner is better suited as an outside runner and third down option, Poole is solid between the tackles and could potentially be a three down NFL back. While he was undrafted out of Tennessee last year, he was one of the more impressive young players on the team during last year’s training camp. He was placed on injured reserve last season following a minor injury after the team couldn’t find a spot for him. He’ll almost surely make the squad this season and he has an outside shot at picking up significant playing time if either Stewart or Williams suffers an injury. If a number of injuries hit and the opportunity presented itself, he would be a better bet to win the lead back role over Barner. While he is a long-shot, Poole has the potential to be a breakout player if a door is left open for him. Poole is a deep sleeper and should only be considered as a flier in leagues with large rosters.
Armond Smith – Outside of the players mentioned, Smith is the only other running back option on the Panthers. He has a chance to make the team as a special teams player, but he doesn’t have any fantasy value.
Steve Smith is obviously the top option at wide receiver in Carolina at this time, but he is reaching the end of his career. There is a prime opportunity for someone to step up in as the future #1 option with the team. While Brandon LaFell is currently locked in as the #2 option, he is not a significant threat to ever be more than a complementary player.
Domenik Hixon – When Hixon originally signed with the Panthers in the off-season, it was assumed he would compete with LaFell for the second receiver spot. At this point however, he’s been injured and hasn’t had a chance to work heavily with the team. While Hixon has the physical skills to be a solid receiver in the NFL, injuries and missed opportunities limited him from ever reaching his potential in his previous stint with the New York Giants. If Hixon can stay healthy, he has the chance to be a heavy part of the Panthers offense this season. It’s unlikely that he’ll be a long-term option, as he’ll be turning 29 during this season and he’s working on a one year “prove it” contract. While he should be owned in most league types, his potential long-term upside is likely limited.
Armanti Edwards – After playing quarterback for Appalachian State, Edwards was drafted in 2010 with the idea to switch him to wide receiver. In his first three years in the NFL, he has struggled to learn the game and has been unimpressive during his limited chances to prove himself. Mainly limited to special teams, he hasn’t performed very well in that area either. With all that said, the reviews out of Carolina during the off-season workout program say Edwards has been the single-most improved player on the team. It has been said he is catching nearly every ball within his general area. Cam Newton and Steve Smith, along with the coaching staff, have raved about his performances. Once thought to be a guaranteed cut, it’s looking like he has a legitimate shot at winning a role with the team this season. He is thought by many to be the favorite to win the #3 job behind Smith and LaFell, something that was unheard of just a few months ago. I wouldn’t recommend him as an option for anything other the largest of leagues, but keep an eye on the news out of Carolina’s training camp. If he continues to impress, he could be worth a pickup as a flier.
Ted Ginn Jr. – Another player who has been impressive during offseason workouts is Ted Ginn Jr. While most assumed he was brought into Carolina to be used in the return game, he is going to be given the chance to compete for a job on the offense. A speedy receiving option, he has failed to impress as an offensive option after being selected in the first round of the 2007 by the Dolphins, and during his later stint with the 49ers. Although there is significant competition in the return game, he is the early favorite to win that role over Joe Adams. As a result, he should be on the final 53 man roster, but will have to beat out a number of players to earn the chance to play on offense. I wouldn’t recommend him as a fantasy option at this point (other than in return yardage leagues), but he is another player to watch.
David Gettis – Gettis is a player who has the skill set to be an elite NFL receiver. At 6’3 and with a 40-yard dash time of 4.4, he has a great combination of size and speed. He has good hands and runs smooth routes. So what’s the problem? In short, he simply can’t stay healthy. In his rookie season, he outplayed Brandon Lafell and looked poised to be the future of the receiver position in Carolina. While his numbers weren’t gaudy (37 catches for 508 yards and three touchdowns), he put up those statistics with Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, and Brian St. Pierre as his quarterbacks. Unfortunately, he missed the entire next season with an ACL injury and battled hamstring issues throughout last year. If Gettis can return healthy and earn a spot on the team, he has the potential to be an every week fantasy starter. If you have an open spot on your roster and can afford to let the situation play out a bit, Gettis is worth a stash.
Joe Adams – When Joe Adams was drafted last year, it was assumed he’d immediately be the top returner for the Panthers and he would have a chance to play on offense. Early in the year, he lost two fumbles in a game against the New Yorks Giants and spent a majority of the season in the doghouse. While he has elite level return skills, he’ll have to beat out Ginn, Barner, and Kealoha Pilares to win that role. As a fan of him in college, I hope that he’ll find a way to stick on the team, but the cards seem to be stacked against him. He’ll need to prove to the coaching staff that he can be trusted with the ball in his hands if he is going to make the roster this season. He’s worth a stash at the bottom of your roster if your league rewards return yardage, but otherwise, he should remain on the waiver wire.
Kealoha Pilares – In case you’re missing the trend in Carolina, it should be noted that Pilares is yet another player who was originally drafted to be a returner for the team. After a relatively uneventful rookie season in 2011, the Panthers decided to draft Joe Adams to replace him at that position last year. With Adams’ fumbling issues however, Pilares won the kickoff return job back early in the season last year and performed adequately in that role. While it’s unlikely he’ll beat out the Ginn or Barner for that spot this season, Pilares does have better receiving skills than Joe Adams at this point in their career. It’s likely that only one of the two will make the team. If Pilares beats out Adams for that spot, he could have a chance to some minor work in the passing game, but he’s not worth a dynasty roster spot at this point.
Lamont Bryant – Of the remaining options at wide receiver, the only one who has a decent shot of making the team is Lamont Bryant. At 6’5 and weighing 225 pounds, he has the perfect build for a wide receiver. He has shown flashes in previous preseasons, but it will be an uphill battle for him to make the team. He may be worth keeping an eye on in leagues with extremely deep rosters.
Ben Hartsock – The Panthers staff has said they would like to employ more multiple tight end sets this year and Hartsock is the option most likely the be the second tight end alongside Greg Olsen. While Hartsock has been known traditionally as a blocking tight end, he’s been working quite a bit as a receiver in the off-season camps. He doesn’t have much fantasy value currently, but in the event of an injury to Olsen at some point, he would likely put up solid TE2 numbers.
While the situation is right for a breakout option in Carolina, it will a difficult proposition to try to determine the specific players who will eventually become legitimate fantasy options. Of the group I’ve listed, the two that I’m most interested in owning are Kenjon Barner and David Gettis. I’m also keeping my eye on Domenik Hixon and Armanti Edwards.
Comment below and tell us what Carolina players you’re investing in.