Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the regular season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
Regression was expected after Newton’s dominant 2015 performance, but his fall was a bit steep. Newton finished as the QB17, although he did miss one game with a concussion. Through the first four games, Newton was on track to finish as a top five fantasy quarterback, but after the concussion in week five, his production dropped precipitously. From weeks five to 16, he finished as the QB18. That is a steep drop for a player picked as the top QB in August 2016 (ADP 34), although his ADP was only slightly impacted in January 2017 (ADP 60; QB3). Newton finished with the second most interceptions of his career (14), and unlike 2015 when he had 35 passing touchdowns, he threw just 19 touchdowns in 2016. If you throw out his magical 2015 season, from 2011 to 2014 Newton has averaged 20 touchdowns passing per season.
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The difference in his productivity seems to be as a rusher, and he had the lowest number of rushing attempts (90), rushing yards (359), rushing touchdowns (5) and YPC (4.0) in his career. For anyone who owns Newton, his value stems largely from his production as a runner. Combine Newton’s advancing age (28 next season), physical abuse absorbed from his playing style, and risk of head injury, it has to be a concern how long he can maintain value as a running quarterback. If Newton’s rushing numbers drop, will his passing statistics be enough to sustain his top five fantasy value? It may sound strange, but if Newton isn’t generating fantasy points as a runner, his floor may be lower than we want to admit.
Anderson isn’t a fantasy option. He did have one decent game against Atlanta but at 33 years old, his time has come and gone. He hasn’t been on the fantasy radar since 2010 and his only good year was 2007.
I doubt the Panthers invest much in the quarterback position this off-season. Anderson will be a free agent after 2017, and Carolina may be in the market for a new back-up quarterback next year.
There are rumblings that Stewart may be a cap-casualty. Stewart managed to play 13 games and turned in a decent fantasy performance (824 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) but wasn’t much of a factor as a receiver (eight receptions for 60 yards). Cutting Stewart would save the Panthers $4.75 million but come with a $3.5 million cap hit for 2017. He becomes easier to cut after 2017.
Stewart finished as the RB32 in PPR formats, and had more value in standard-scoring leagues (RB24). He is a quality player, but will never be more than an RB2 in Carolina unless Newton dials back his rushing numbers considerably. It might be better for Stewart to get cut and a shot as a feature back elsewhere. It wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina invests in new running back talent this year. Stewart is being drafted as an RB42 in the DLF January 2017 mock, and given the landscape at running back is filled with land mines, that’s fairly cheap for a player who could function as a solid RB3 for contenders.
The Panthers got three games out of Artis-Payne in 2016, and he will be a 27 year old running back next season with a total of 327 yards, three touchdowns and six receptions in his entire career. Artis-Payne doesn’t profile as a special athlete, with small hands (8.8 inches), 29 inch arms, 4.53 40 yard dash and 7.13 3-cone. He also doesn’t have a huge cap number and could be cut anytime with minimal impact.
There isn’t much behind Artis-Payne. Mike Tolbert is a potential fantasy nuisance, vulturing touchdown opportunities from Stewart and Newton. Tolbert hasn’t had a huge impact, with one touchdown in 2016. I expect the Panthers to invest significant resources in a running back this off-season. A strong rushing attack would help Newton avoid big hits and possibly extend his career.
Benjamin is a tough player to gauge. He is the WR1 in Carolina, and yet doesn’t generate much excitement in the dynasty community. Benjamin had a similar season in 2016 (63 receptions for 941 yards, seven touchdowns) as he did in 2015 (73 receptions, 1008 yards, nine touchdowns), and he was recovering from ACL surgery. He had only one 100 yard game all year, and scored just two touchdowns between weeks five to 16. Benjamin finished as the WR35 in PPR formats last year, a sizable drop from his 2014 season (WR15). Benjamin has the size (6’5’’, 34+ inch arms, 10+ inch hands) but didn’t seem to use it well in the red zone. Benjamin might make a fine WR2, but may be miscast as a WR1 on the Panthers. For fantasy purposes, I’d be fine starting Benjamin as my WR2, but that’s his ceiling. Benjamin is being drafted as the WR27, and that seems like reasonable value.
Funchess hasn’t done much in the NFL to justify the second round pick the Panthers spent on him in 2015. He entered the NFL as a project, but doesn’t appear to be progressing as a fantasy option. Funchess generated a lot of hype in preseason, but that didn’t translate into the regular season. He is young and will be 23 years old next season. Still, youth only counts if there is reason to believe in it. Funchess looks like Benjamin in size but isn’t nearly as productive. There were high expectations for Funchess last season, but his production was mediocre (23 receptions for 371 yards, four touchdowns). The good news for believers is that he’s cheap (WR65 DLF January 2017 mock). I’m not a buyer, and he has the look of a roster-clogger.
Ginn Jr has been far more productive than Funchess and yet can be found on the waiver wire in most leagues. Ginn Jr was serviceable as a spot starter/injury replacement last season (54 receptions, 752 yards receiving, four touchdowns). He will be 32 years old next season and is an unrestricted free agent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs with Carolina again. Ginn Jr may not be appreciated in fantasy circles, but he scored more fantasy points then Randall Cobb, DeVante Parker, Tavon Austin, Tyler Lockett and Donte Moncrief last season. He doesn’t have much upside but could have sneaky value as a bye week/injury replacement. Ginn Jr is basically free in dynasty leagues (WR113 in DLF January 2017 mock).
Brown seems to have a few good games each year, he gets picked up on waivers in fantasy leagues, then fades into oblivion. Brown had a pedestrian 2016 season (27 receptions for 276 yards and one touchdown). Brown is a restricted free agent and we’ll see if Carolina brings him back.
The Panthers are more likely to invest premium resources at running back, but having a consistent vertical threat at wide receiver can’t hurt. The Funchess project isn’t going well, and consistency at wide receiver is lacking in Carolina. I could see the Panthers draft a wide receiver and/or sign a free agent. Still, I think the Panthers are likely to have Benjamin start the 2017 season as their WR1. This team has needs elsewhere (offensive line, running back, secondary).
Olsen is one of the most consistently undervalued fantasy assets in dynasty. Despite Newton having a poor season, Olsen still had a solid season (80 receptions for 1073 yards, three touchdowns), finishing as the TE2 in PPR leagues. Olsen has been a top ten TE since 2012, and hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year in 2007. Olsen is a younger version of Jason Witten in fantasy, consistently productive, doesn’t miss games and yet doesn’t generate much enthusiasm in dynasty circles. Olsen will be 32 years old next season, and should have a solid three years as a top ten tight end in fantasy. He’s a favorite of mine and I’m a strong buyer.
The tight end position has significant turnover each year. Last year, players like Kyle Rudolph, Cameron Brate, Martellus Bennett, Dennis Pitta and Jack Doyle finished as top 12 tight ends. In 2015, it was Gary Barnidge, Ben Watson and Richard Rodgers. I’ll take the consistency of Olsen, at a cheaper price (TE6 in DLF January 2017 mock), over injury risks like Jordan Reed or Rob Gronkowski all day. Olsen is signed through the 2018 season with Carolina.
There isn’t much talent behind Olsen. It wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina looks for a solid back-up to Olsen but I don’t expect them to spend premium resources on the position in the off-season. Olsen should be safe as a fantasy asset for a few more years.