Dynasty League Football


Summer Sleeper: Carolina Panthers

sleeperseriesWith less than a month before all training camps have opened around the NFL, we begin our annual series focusing on a few sleepers from all 32 teams in the NFL.

These sleepers all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but all merit a little more talking about here in the Premium Content section. Some of these players are deep dynasty sleepers who could merit a spot on your bench in a deep league, while others are players who may contribute a little faster than the deep prospects, but deserve more attention than they may be getting. By definition, a sleeper could mean something a little different to everyone, but we’re simply doing the best job we can to unearth one player from each team who fits the category in some way, shape or form.

We’ll never insult you with a comprehensive list of “sleepers” that includes such names as Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory or Danny Amendola. You’re all too good for that.

While many of these players will undoubtedly fizzle, there’s more value in looking more closely at these deeper prospects and players. We invite you to keep an open mind and either or re-assess your value on those who may be rostered in your league or consider adding a few of these deeper prospects we focus on this Summer who are free agents in your league – after all, some are destined to pan out, too.

Feel free to add your own comments about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own!

When I decided to choose a Carolina Panthers player to spotlight this Summer, my initial focus was going to be on the wide receiver position.  Outside of Steve Smith, no one on the team has grasped the number two role, and the position seems wide open for competition.  When looking deeper at that position however, no one stands out as having a chance to be a true game-changing fantasy player in the future.  That’s why I decided to turn my focus to the one player on the team that I believe could be weekly fantasy starter if things happen to fall perfectly for him.  Obviously, the fifth running back option in the Carolina Panthers running game isn’t someone who most dynasty owners are looking to roster, but as I’ll lay out below, there is a small chance it could pay off handsomely.  Without further ado, I give you…

Tauren Poole, RB CAR

Age: 23 (10/19/89)

taurenpooleBefore we dig into what Poole brings to the table, it’s important to examine what obstacles are currently in front of him.  At the top of the list, you have Jonathan Stewart – he’s locked into a long-term deal and seems poised to take over the top spot in Carolina.  While Stewart clearly has the potential to be a RB1 for fantasy, he has yet to prove healthy enough to take over a firm grasp of the top spot. Behind him, Deangelo Williams is nearing the end of his career, but should have a role in the Carolina offense for this season.  Although he extended his contract in the off-season, most expect this to be his final year with Carolina.  Next up is Mike Tolbert, who is currently performing as the Panthers fullback.  He has a firm lock on that role and will likely be re-signed after his contract expires in the off-season, but as a fullback, it’s unlikely he’ll be used heavily in a running role, even though he has shown skills in the past.  Last on the list is the rookie Kenjon Barner.  While he is an intriguing option, he’s more of a change of pace or gadget play kind of player.

By process of elimination, we can remove Williams since he’ll likely be gone next season.  We can also remove Tolbert, since he’ll be the fullback and most likely used in a limited role.  Barner is not suited to be three down back, so he’s eliminated as well.

That leaves two men standing – Stewart and Poole.  While dynasty leagues are more about skill than opportunity, it is still important that the opportunity is available for players to take advantage of.  Now that we’ve established that he has a small window of opportunity to be in line for at least the #2 role, barring injury to Stewart, the question becomes, “Does he have the talent?”

Poole went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2012, following a senior season in which he rushed for 693 yards on 187 carries (a 3.7 yards per carry average).  Clearly, this is not the type of production NFL scouts are looking for from college running backs.  It’s important to note however, he was playing a very weak run blocking offensive line.  This is evidenced by the fact no other runners on the team had more than 280 yards.  Looking back at Poole’s junior year, he put up much more impressive stats behind a stronger line, rushing for 1,034 yards on 204 attempts (5.1 yards per carry), along with 11 touchdowns – those are solid numbers.

After being signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent last season, he suffered a small injury and was placed on IR just before the regular season, keeping him on the team.  During the preseason, he rushed for 5.1 yards per carry on 11 attempts, along with four receptions for another 37 yards.  While he didn’t get a chance to show too much, he did do enough to prove to the team he was worth hanging on to, as he was the only running back still on the team other than Stewart, Williams and Armond Smith (a 27 year old journeyman who is more likely to earn playing time on special teams).

What Poole offers that gives him a chance to succeed is his ability to run between the tackles.  He is a strong player who can take a small hole and fight his way for a few yards in a short yardage situation or break free for a big gain.  While some scouting reports mention he has small hands, it doesn’t seem to affect his ability as a receiver out of the backfield, as he’s looked good in limited exposure in that area.

Simply put, Poole has all of the physical skills to be a three down back in the NFL and if Williams or Stewart were to suffer an injury this season, it’s highly possible that he could have a chance to prove himself as soon as this season.  Otherwise, he may have to wait until next year.  Regardless, the most important combination in the NFL is skill and opportunity.  Poole has both.

During a trip to the Panthers training camp last season, I had the opportunity to pay special attention to him.  What I noticed was he was consistently the hardest worker on the field.  He fought for every yard, even during routine drills.  The coaches consistently praised him for his efforts, more so than any other running back on the field.  While hard work isn’t always a requirement to achieve NFL success, it doesn’t hurt to have the coaches on your side.  Obviously, Poole is a very deep sleeper and a huge long shot, but he’s a player worth keeping an eye on.

If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on the Panthers roster, feel free to check out my previous Carolina Panthers Deep Roster Analysis article, where I focus on Poole and a number of other players.

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9 years ago

sshh,,, i like poole also,,, my thinking is that anohter strong preseason he may end up on another team,, like maybe the chargers,, i see him as another arian foster type,, toils in the league for a bit then gets his break somewhere and never looks back,, so sshhhh dont need the rest of my league to know about him

Chris Fryer
9 years ago

I don’t think that Kenyon Barner is a 3 down back but I do believe that he will have a role. Darren Sproles is not a 3 down back and he has been at the top of the list for RB production over the last 2 years. With “catching passes out of the backfield” as Johnathon Stewart’s biggest claim to fame, Barner is going to take those plays from him. Stewart is also better in space than Williams which is why he always caught passes in the flat….but Barner will be better. If I were the Panthers I would cut Stewart and run with Williams/Barner and Poole as a backup and Tolbert as an emergency backup. Stewart is too much money for ZERO upside….we know what he is. He will not get faster or more explosive or get better vision.

Reply to  Derek Willett
9 years ago

On Stewart – yeah, but what do you make of JStew’s latest injury, double ankle surgery. So bad in fact, he can’t even play golf now and will not be available for training camp start. It’s early yet, but feels very much like he’ll minimally be hobbled at season start or worse, not even able to play. That’s got to factor heavily into JStew’s value. Honestly, I’ve been a huge Stewart fan for a long time, but I’m not sure I’d bet my job on him being my RB1 if I’m Carolina brass. Hope I’m wrong as I have both JStew & Deangelo on my best dynasty team!

On Kenjon – it smells like his role will definitely be Sproles like or even what many envision Gio Bernard’s rookie season role being this year, only with far fewer touches. His challenge will be getting enough touches to carve out even a minimal role in the Panther’s touch-starved backfield.

Mike Wendland
9 years ago

Well, he’s already on 2 of my rosters…since May 2012. About time he finally becomes an “official” sleeper and starts showing up 🙂 So I’m definitely rooting for him.

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