INSIDE THE NUMBERS
After a dismal 2010 campaign, much of which can be accredited to having Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, Steve Smith re-emerged as an elite fantasy wideout last season. He tallied 100 receiving yards and/or a touchdown in 10 of his 16 starts. The fact he played in 16 games was a feat in itself, Smith has played in at least 14 games in each of the last seven seasons. As the year progressed teams began to double and triple team him. With improved surrounding weapons, Smith should be able to find enough openings to make him a top 10 WR again this season.
The Panthers play seven teams that finished in the top 16 in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2011 which spells good news for the team’s ground weapons. Three of the team’s first four games come against divisional foes. The bye week comes in Week 6 and Carolina currently has two games schedule for prime time with at Thursday night tilt vs. the Giants and a Monday night affair at the Eagles on tap. Four of the team’s last four games are on the road. The playoff matchups against the Falcons, at the Chargers, and home with the Raiders are manageable.
Cam Newton was disregarded by most owners leading up to his rookie season, but after just one short year he’s risen to the top of fantasy football rankings across the web. Newton starts the preseason at No. 2 on the GSI Cheat Sheet on the heels of a season which he threw for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns and garnered another 706 yards and 14 scores on the ground. While it’s reasonable to expect a dip in the rushing totals, an increase in the passing stats and a cut down on the 24 turnovers is also likely.
Despite proven to be a productive fantasy commodity at times in San Diego, Mike Tolbert could be hard pressed for opportunities in his new uniform. With Newton being a vulture of touches at the goalline and a crowded backfield it remains to be seen where Tolbert will fit in the Panthers’ offense. However, the team signed him for a purpose so he’s worth keeping your eyes on. Some will stretch for him based off name recognition, but he’s nothing more than a late-round stab in deeper formats in our eyes.
A breakout season could be on tap for third-year wide receiver Brandon LaFell. With the Legedu Naanee experiment officially over in Carolina, LaFell will slide into a starting spot opposite of Steve Smith in the Panthers’ offense. Even if a limited role a year ago, LaFell managed 613 yards and three touchdowns receiving. Targets may be tough to come by, but even if he’s plagued with inconsistency 65 catches for 900 yards and 5 touchdowns are modest projections. View him as a WR4 or WR5 with some nice upside.
Not yet comfortable with its depth at receiver, the Panthers traded for Louis Murphy just before the start of training camp. The former Raider has always had the potential, but had a problem staying on the field. It’s going to take his some time to work into the mix with Carolina, so his draft value is extremely low. However, during the course of the season and beyond he could develop into a worthy option for the Panthers and fantasy owners alike.
The Carolina backfield has been a head scratcher for the past couple of seasons for fantasy owners as both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have shown flashes of brilliance at times while being non-factors on occasion as well. Williams had more touches last year, but Stewart became more a factor in the passing game as he caught 47 balls. If Williams stays healthy he’s the back to grab, but he’s high-end WR3 at best. Stewart value rises if Williams goes down, but still could be a RB3 in his own right. With Tolbert and Newton taking short-yardage touches, but players will post modest scoring numbers.
Owners can do much worse than Greg Olsen as a TE2 option. His debut season in Carolina wasn’t spectacular as he finished with 45 catches for 540 yards and five touchdowns. However, with Jeremy Shockey no longer in the equation is reasonable to expect an increase in numbers. Olsen has always had the tools and now needs to just find a bit more consistency to become a more viable fantasy option.
Fantasy Football, NFL