Summer Sleeper: Carolina Panthers

Dan Meylor


We continue our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series where DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.

To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:

  • Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
  • Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
  • Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.

Because we aren’t going give you the likes of mainstream sleepers like Allen Robinson or C.J. Anderson, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Alfred Morris is going to spring up.  Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.

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On the surface, the Panthers’ main offensive contributors seem to be pretty clear. The entire offense will once again revolve around Cam Newton and Carolina will rely heavily on Kelvin Benjamin as well as Greg Olson to be his main pass catchers while they bring along Devin Funchess to be a complement to the pair. Along with Newton’s contributions as a runner, it appears Jonathan Stewart will be trusted to handle a majority of the running responsibilities.

There’s one more name out of Carolina that fantasy owners should keep in mind as a potential contributor going into training camp however.

Cameron Artis-Payne, RB CAR
(Category: Sleeper)

To most dynasty players, Artis-Payne is a relatively well known fantasy asset at this point. It’s difficult not to be after leading what most consider to be the toughest conference in the NCAA (SEC) in rushing. Nevertheless, he still qualifies as a sleeper because 14 other tailbacks heard they’re names called before the former Auburn standout on draft day and because he’s currently being valued in the dynasty community as one of cheapest second string runners in the league.

There are a lot of reasons Artis-Payne has been overlooked throughout the last year. He has a reputation as a stiff-hipped inside runner who lacks the speed and shiftiness to get to the perimeter as well as the hands to contribute in the passing game. While there’s at least some truth to everything listed there, Artis-Payne also brings an exciting mix of burst and power at the line of scrimmage.

The most impressive part of Artis-Payne’s game, particularly between the tackles, is his vision. Throughout his time at Auburn, he displayed the patience to set up blocks while looking for cutback lanes and an incredible burst to blast through even the slimmest crease to daylight.

Once he hits the second level, Artis-Payne is a load to take down. At 5’-10” tall and 212 pounds, he’s a bowling ball running downhill at the defense. Breaking 62 tackles in 251 touches against the power conferences as a senior made him one of the most elusive ball carriers in college football according to Pro Football Focus last year.

Despite his lack of polish as an outside runner or contributor in the passing game, each of those skills as a power runner should make Artis-Payne a perfect fit in Carolina.

At this point, the Panthers’ running back depth chart is pretty bare after Stewart. With only Fozzy Whittaker, Darrin Reaves and Jordan Todman (as well as Mike Tolbert to some extent) to compete with, Artis-Payne is the favorite to be the primary backup to Stewart starting in week one of his rookie season. If that’s the case, the only question is how much the Panthers will rely on the backup.

Over the past handful of seasons, Carolina has depended mostly on a backfield by committee approach with DeAngelo Williams and Stewart splitting lead back duties. After Stewart finished the 2014 season strong with five 20-plus carry games over the last month of the season including playoffs and Williams signed as a free agent in Pittsburgh, most have anointed Stewart as the workhorse in the Panthers’ backfield. Expecting lead-back production out of Stewart over an entire season may be asking for too much, however.

In Stewart’s seven year NFL career, he’s played an entire 16-game schedule just three times and hasn’t accomplished the task once over the last three seasons. Struggling with injuries throughout his time in the league and more as his career has gone on, he’s only played 28 of a possible 48 games over the last three years. The fact that he’s missed that much time is even more alarming when you consider he’s suffered the injuries without handling the workload of a true number one tailback.

Although many dynasty owners have been burned by Stewart in the past and have chosen to ignore his most recent spike in value, there are many other owners looking at Stewart’s surge in production late last year and seeing a solid RB2 with top-10 upside. While the potential exists for him to post those kinds of numbers if he gets the touches he got down the stretch last season, dynasty owners should keep in mind Stewart has touched the ball 20-plus times in a game just ten times in his 93-game career. Needless to say, another tailback will likely get significant carries in Carolina in 2015.

Enter Artis-Payne.

Despite having the stigma as just a pounder between the tackles, Artis-Payne possesses many of the qualities found in lead tailbacks. With excellent vision, good burst through the hole and great power and size to break tackles, he has everything needed to be an excellent complement to Stewart and the upside to handle a full workload in the event that Stewart misses time which, let’s face it, is more likely than not.

At this point, because he was drafted in the third round of most rookie drafts Artis-Payne is looked at by many as an end of the roster player with limited upside so he’s most likely a tradeable asset to most that own him. He’s an excellent trade target as an insurance policy for Stewart owners or for any dynasty owner looking for a cheap, young tailback with a clear path to carries and the potential to find his way into a sizable role as early as his rookie season.

And if you happen to be one of the owners who have been burned in the past by Stewart and are convinced he’ll do it again to all the suckers out there hoping he’ll finally realize his potential, you should absolutely inquire about Artis-Payne’s availability. After all, what’s the point of being right about a player if you can’t score points because of it?


dan meylor