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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Fantasy owners want to know only one thing about Cam Newton this year: Can he do it again?

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As a rookie last season, Newton was a star. He owned the NFL from the minute he stepped on the field, passing for 400-plus yards in his first two games. He would go on to have a record-breaking year with 4,051 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions on 60 percent completions with 706 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He easily won rookie of the year honors.

Newton had five games with at least 30 Fantasy points in a standard league and 11 games with at least 22 points. He finished the season as the No. 5 Fantasy quarterback at 394 points, and he averaged 24.6 points a week. Only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford were better.

In looking at Newton this year, you can expect some changes in his production. He should improve on his passing touchdowns. Unheralded quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez (26) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (24) threw more touchdowns, and Newton will get better at passing in the red zone as his knowledge of the game improves. He also vows to cut down on his 17 interceptions.

But Newton should also see his rushing touchdowns decline, especially with the addition of fullback Mike Tolbert. The Panthers likely don't want to see Newton forcing his way through piles at the goal line if they can avoid it, and he will lose production there. He should still run at a quality clip, but the touchdown total should drop.

Overall, his stats should equal out to some degree, and he will remain an elite Fantasy quarterback. We would draft Newton as early as Round 2 once Rodgers, Brees and Brady come off the board.

One thing to note with Newton is his production against teams from the NFC South. He averaged 25 Fantasy points a game against his division opponents, including a whopping 38 points against Tampa Bay.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Cam Newton 2
Running Backs
Jonathan Stewart 7
DeAngelo Williams 8
Mike Tolbert 10
Wide Receivers
Steve Smith 4
Brandon LaFell 11
David Gettis ND
Armanti Edwards ND
Tight Ends
Greg Olsen 13
Kickers/Defense
Olindo Mare ND
Panthers DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Sleeper ... Brandon LaFell, wide receiver
This could be the year LaFell breaks out for the Panthers. His yardage and touchdown production rose in his second year (613 yards, three touchdowns), as did his playing time. With his reps and workload expected to increase again this year, which is his third year in the NFL, his numbers should follow. Here's the best part: LaFell will work in the same offense as last season with a dynamic quarterback in Newton and opposite stud receiver Steve Smith. We could see the 6-foot-2 receiver take advantage of single coverage quite a bit as he progresses, and he could be a star with a late-round pick. He's one to watch this preseason -- if he gets a lot of reps with the first-team offense, he'll be a candidate to play well. We wouldn't argue with owners who take LaFell with a late-round pick, as this could be his best year in the NFL.

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Bust ... All the Panthers running backs
I don't want any of Carolina's running backs on my Fantasy team in 2012. The addition of Tolbert makes this backfield even more of a headache, especially when you factor in Newton and his rushing prowess. Jonathan Stewart is the best of the bunch, and he would have plenty of upside in a contract year on any other team. But with DeAngelo Williams and Stewart sharing the majority of carries, Tolbert likely working at the goal line and also catching passes with Stewart, only an injury could save this backfield. I would only settle for Stewart with a late-round pick, and I would try to avoid drafting Williams and Tolbert altogether.

Late-round flier ... Greg Olsen, tight end
Olsen's first season with the Panthers in 2011 was met with mixed reviews. He started off the season playing well with at least seven Fantasy points in five of his first eight games. But he limped to the finish line with only one game with more than two Fantasy points after Week 9. Jeremy Shockey cut into much of Olsen's production in the second half along with injuries, but Shockey is not expected to return to the Panthers. That should allow Olsen to see a spike in targets from the 89 he had last year (Shockey had 62). Keep in mind that when Shockey left the Saints Jimmy Graham had a breakout year with 99 catches, 1,310 yards and 13 touchdowns. We don't expect Olsen to come close to those stats, but if he can stay healthy he has the chance to produce at a high level. He is worth drafting with a late-round pick in deeper leagues, and he is definitely someone to monitor as a waiver-wire addition.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@TB NO NYG @ATL SEA bye DAL @CHI @WAS DEN TB @PHI @KC ATL @SD OAK @NO
We're not sure if the Panthers can compete for a playoff berth, but the schedule should be favorable for Newton. No more than two road games will result in big pass pressure on the big quarterback, and several home games against dynamite offenses should force him to throw and run and not hand off. There are some challenging matchups for the Panthers' run game over the course of the year but the bigger worry remains how they'll split reps, not who they'll play.

Training camp topics

I got the chance to talk to Smith in April and he told me that he's using boxing to train this offseason. "To stay in shape, it's always tough," Smith, 32, said. "You always have to come up with new, creative ways to engage your mind and also your body. Your body gets used to the same routine over and over and over, so you have to adjust. This year, I've started doing some boxing. Me and my wife box together."

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Jonathan Stewart 142 carries, 47 catches
DeAngelo Williams 155 carries, 16 catches
Steve Smith 79 catches, 6 carries
Greg Olsen 45 catches
Legedu Naanee 44 catches

Smith said his goal is to play three or four more years. Based on his production in 2011, he should continue to be a consistent threat. In his first year with Newton, Smith had 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. He hopes to improve in 2012.

"I can improve on everything," Smith said. "There's probably about 15 receptions that I think I should have had either by allowing a guy to tip it or not getting my feet down. As an individual, I left a lot of real estate on the field. That's what I think I can improve on."

Smith remains a solid No. 2 receiver worth drafting in Round 4. He is the featured option in this passing game no matter what else happens on the field.

Fantasy owners should monitor the No. 2 receiver battle with LaFell and David Gettis. LaFell is expected to win the job, but Gettis could make it interesting with a strong preseason. Gettis is someone to keep on your radar as well.

We also want to see how the Panthers will use Tolbert. Will he get touches as a tailback or strictly line up at fullback? Our expectation is he will be on the field a lot with either Stewart or Williams, and Tolbert's main role will be in short-yardage situations and in the passing game.

Injury update

Charles Johnson (knee; questionable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Browns OL Michael Bowie itching to compete for starting spot
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Browns offensive lineman Michael Bowie is not required to report to training camp until the end of July. But never mind that - he's heading out after the last Independence Day firework explodes in the sky.

Bowie is itching to get started. He missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury after starting for Seattle on its Super Bowl title team in 2013. He is seeking to stay in tip-top shape in an attempt to land a starting spot on a Cleveland line that is the strength of the team.

"It's up to them to decide who is the best five," Bowie told the team website. "All I can do is take care of my business. Hopefully I can get a shot. That's what I'm working for."

Bowie participated fully in the offseason program, working mostly with the second team at right tackle. That will likely be the spot at which he competes for a starting job. Incumbent Mitchell Schwartz has not performed particularly well there and Mike Pettine has vowed there will be competition all over the field in camp.


Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan nearly recovered from knee surgery
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan appears to be on target to join the team for training camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery that prevented him from participating in earlier offseason activities.

Kerrigan, who registered a career-high 13 1/2 sacks a year ago, had the operation to alleviate pain in the area.

"My leg feels really good and I'm glad I got the surgery - not just for football but it makes my everyday life feel better so I'm glad I got it done," he told CSN Washington. "Now it's just a matter of getting stronger and getting into shape."

Kerrigan added that he's been running and now only needs to regain strength to insure his place at training camp.


Texans waive DT Brandon Ivory
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) The Texans waived rookie defensive tackle Brandon Ivory on Thursday, according to ESPN.com

Ivory was arrested on first degree burglary charges in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just one day ago. Ivory's agent Jeff Guerriero said Ivory is not guilty of the charge. 

"I spoke to Brandon he is not guilty and his name will be cleared of all charges," Guerriero said. 


Chargers TE Antonio Gates suspended 4 games for PED use
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy, the team announced. 

It's unknown at this time what drug Gates tested positive for. Gates, in a statement, said he was unaware that he took a banned substance

"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them.

"As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me."

With Gates out for four games, the Chargers will turn to Ladarius Green as the team's top tight end, though it was expected for Green to continue getting more looks in the passing game. Green is entering the final season of his rookie contract. 

The Chargers expressed disappointment in Gates for his suspension but plans to stick with the longtime veteran through the suspension. 

"We are tremendously disappointed for our team and our fans as well as Antonio, but no more disappointed than Antonio is with himself," the Chargers stated. "Antonio is a member of the Chargers' family and we will continue to support him 100-percent. We have the utmost confidence he will stay in excellent shape for the season and be ready to go when he returns in Week 5. While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the season, we have complete confidence our tight end group will continue to play at a high level."  


Packers' Datone Jones out 1 game for substance-abuse violation
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones will be suspended for one game for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to NFL.com. 

Jones will miss Green Bay's season-opener against the Bears. In 2014, Jones totaled 22 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 13 games played. 


Cowboys LB Rolando McClain suspended four games for 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) The Cowboys announced that linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

McClain hasn't been able to participate much in offseason workouts due to going under offseason knee surgery. McClain will be eligible to practice in training camp and is expected to be healthy by then. 

"I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake. I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error," McClain said in a statement, via CSN Bay Area. "I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.

In 2014, McClain, who had previously retired twice before being traded from the Ravens to the Cowboys, totaled 81 tackles and a sack in 13 games played.


Jets DL Sheldon Richardson suspended four games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the NFL announced Thursday.

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans," Richardson said in a statement via the Jets, per Fox Sports. "However, words aren't enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don't want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won't be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I'm able to return to the field.”

Richardson, who was a 2013 first-round pick, is entering his third season in the NFL. He was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2014.

He has totaled 84 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks in 32 career games. He also has one safety.


Texans DT Brandon Ivory arrested on burglary charge
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Texans defensive tackle Brandon Ivory was arrested Wednesday morning in Alabama and charged with first-degree burglary, according to a Tuscaloosa Police Department report obtained by SportingNews.com.

Ivory and another man were allegedly involved in a home burglary when the two entered the residence by kicking open the back door and then demanding money from the residents. The two stole money and two Ipads from the residence. Ivory and the other suspect were arrested at their apartment shortly after the incident with the stolen money and property.


Embattled Brandon Spikes pleads guilty to leaving scene of crash
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Former Patriots and Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes has pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a recent car crash and has received a fine and year of probation, per WBZ, which is further reporting that he has lost his license and will be forced to attend a driver's safety class.

Spikes has lost far more than his license. He has lost his livelihood, having been cut by New England for hitting another car and abandoning his vehicle on the highway. He later told the police that he had hit a deer.

No other teams have been rumored to be targeting Spikes for the coming season.


Terrelle Pryor ready to embrace new role with Browns
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Terrelle Pryor once declared that he could not play football if he could not play quarterback.

Reality has since set in.

Pryor has been cut twice and is now playing on a Cleveland Browns team desperate for a quarterback, but apparently not desperate enough to give him a shot. He is instead embracing what he is calling a "slash-player" role.

"I'm going to give (it) a chance," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I just want to play football. I'm a playmaker, and I believe if I can touch the ball, I can go to the house, especially if I have space. This should definitely open up some opportunities."

Pryor has already taken the first step by contacting Steelers receiving stud Antonio Brown and making plans to work out with him and Randy Moss so they can teach him the nuances of the position.

He also figures there's another reason he's ahead of the game.

"The thing that helps me is that I played quarterback, and I know what the quarterback wants," Pryor said.


 
 
 
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