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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
LOOK: Brandon LaFell scores first touchdown of Super Bowl 49
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:22 pm ET)

The Patriots methodically matriculated their way down the field to grab a 7-0 lead over the Seahawks with 9:47 left in the second quarter.

Picking on replacement cornerback Tharold Simon, Tom Brady threw an 11-yard slant to Brandon LaFell for his 50th career postseason touchdown pass. It was Brady's 10th Super Bowl scoring toss, second only to Joe Montana's 11.

Simon was playing for Jeremy Lane, who hurt his arm after intercepting Brady in the end zone. Simon also gave up Julian Edelman's 23-yard gainer on the drive.

LaFell, by the way, was a 12-to-1 long shot at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook to score the game's first touchdown.


Seahawks' Jeremy Lane grabs interception, injures left arm
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Seahawks defensive back Jeremy Lane intercepted quarterback Tom Brady on the goal line, but suffered a left arm injury trying to get out of bounds. It was Lane's first career interception, but he paid the price, as the third-year player was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.

Lane is doubtful to return to the game.


Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas all set to play in Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:57 pm ET) The Seahawks secondary starters are all active for Sunday's Super Bowl, the team announced. Cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safeties Earl Thomas (shoulder) and Kam Chancellor (knee) are all active for Sunday after being listed as probable for the contest throughout the week.

Running back Marshawn Lynch (back) is also set to play after being listed as probable.

The game is currently pick'em between Seattle and New England.


Seahawks unveil inactives for Super Bowl 49
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) The Seahawks have listed the following players as inactive for Sunday's Super Bowl: B.J. Daniels, Marcus Burley, Patrick Lewis, Keavon Milton, David King, Garry Gilliam and Kevin Norwood, the team announced.

Gilliam caught a fake field goal touchdown during the NFC Championship Game for Seattle.

The game is currently pick'em between Seattle and New England.


Tom Brady, Akeem Ayers get the green light for Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) and linebackers Akeem Ayers (knee) and Dont'a Hightower (shoulder) are active and set to play in the Super Bowl Sunday against the Seahawks, the team announced.

All three were considered probable and in no real danger of missing the game Sunday. Brady threw for 4,109 yards with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2014.

Patriots center Bryan Stork is also active after being upgraded to probable for the game Saturday.

The game is currently pick'em between New England and Seattle Sunday.


Jonas Gray among Patriots' inactives for Super Bowl 49
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:41 pm ET) Patriots running back Jonas Gray will be inactive for Super Bowl 49 along with Zach Moore, Josh Boyce, Brian Tyms, Joe Vellano, Jordan Devey and James White, the team announced.

Gray, who ran for 412 yards on 89 carries in eight games this season, had four carries for four yards in the AFC Championship game for New England. It was his first action in a game since Dec. 21 againt the Jets when he had six carries for five yards.

The game is currently pick'em between Seattle and New England Sunday.


Report: Peyton Manning could decide on playing future this week
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:55 pm ET) Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning may be making his decision sooner rather than later. The soon to be 39-year-old Manning is reportedly set to make his decision as early as this week, according to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen.

Manning, who has already met with new coach Gary Kubiak, said last week he was waiting to meet with John Elway when he got back from vacation before making up his mind.

Manning, who threw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2014, is due $19 million guaranteed if he is still on the team March 9.


Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will play Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is indeed playing in Sunday's Super Bowl. With his girlfriend preparing to have their son very soon, but it will not be happening Sunday.

"I'm playing today," Sherman texted Peter King before the game Sunday.

Sherman totaled 57 tackles and four interceptions in 2014 with one forced fumble.


Lions' president optimistic team will re-sign Ndamukong Suh
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:47 pm ET) Lions team president Tom Lewand is expecting the team to be able to re-sign defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

"I really do believe he's got a lot invested in here, in himself and the community and the football team," Lewand said Sunday morning during an interview on WDIV-TV's Flashpoint. "He wants to have success in the NFL, obviously, but he wants to do that with us.

"I think there's a very, very good chance that we can get something done with him in the next few weeks."

Suh can become a free agent if the team does not use their franchise tag on him by March 2. 

"We've had a good chunk of our salary cap tied up in three players over the last few years," Lewand told WDIV. "Matthew, Calvin and Ndamukong have all had very lucrative contracts under the old rookie system, and even as Matthew and Calvin have done their extensions. So we've done that, we've lived in that environment. There's no reason we can't continue to live in that environment."


Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant expects to remain with team
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:50 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant said Saturday he is expecting to be back in Dallas in 2015 and have fans excited for a long time.

"Regardless, I’m a Cowboy," Bryant said to NBC Dallas. "But it is what it is. It’s business. I am a free agent. I’m very confident that something is going to happen, something is going to get done, and have these Cowboys fans excited for a long time."

Bryant is set to become a free agent this offseason if he and the Cowboys cannot agree to a deal or Dallas uses the franchise tag on him.

"I’m a Cowboy at heart. It’s Cowboys forever," Bryant said.


 
 
 
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