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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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After going 12-4 and winning the NFC South last season, many people are counting on the Panthers to repeat. Not so fast -- even with a solid defense that might have the best front seven in the league, the Panthers have a lot of issues heading into 2014.

Pretty much all of the problems surround Cam Newton. His receiving corps has been completely turned over without much in the way of upgrades, his offensive line remains suspect and his ankle was surgically repaired in March. But other than that he had a terrific offseason!

The defense also has some problems, though it's mostly in the secondary. Pass rusher extraordinaire Greg Hardy was arrested this offseason in a domestic incident and could face league suspension. He also will play this season on the franchise tag. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (74 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions) signed with the Vikings and safety Mike Mitchell (66 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions last season) signed a deal with the Steelers in March, leaving the Panthers with some weaknesses in the defensive backfield even with the additions of safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud.

It all could lead to a challenging year for the Panthers, particularly as the NFC South's competing offenses improve and the schedule includes them, the Packers, Bears, Lions, Steelers, Bengals, Eagles and world champion Seahawks. The NFC South title has never been won by the same team in consecutive seasons. Looks like it'll stay that way.

Best Panthers pickup is ... Greg Olsen

Look, someone has to catch the ball in Carolina. For all the warts they have at receiver, the one constant over the last few seasons has been Olsen. Last year he tied for the team lead in targets with 109 and led in catches (73), yards (816) and receiving scores (six). In 2012 he was second in those categories save for touchdowns (five) behind Steve Smith, who is no longer with the Panthers. Newton has established chemistry with Olsen and should lean on him a ton. Get behind the idea of taking him with a pick in the middle of the draft.

Long-term prospect ... Kelvin Benjamin

When's the last time Newton had a tall, fast, strong receiver on his side of the field? Maybe college, if then? Benjamin has amazing size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and is very fast getting downfield but might get wedged into playing a role he's not ready for in 2014 with a quarterback who won't quite be 100 percent healthy. Benjamin is sure to have some big games but plenty of stinkers too. The best plan is to draft him with high expectations starting in 2015, though taking him with a late-round lottery ticket this summer can't be ruled out as a dumb idea.

Don't forget about ... DeAngelo Williams

2013 Touches Leaders
775 total touches
DeAngelo Williams 227 (201 car., 26 rec.) 29.3%
Mike Tolbert 128 (101 car., 27 rec.) 16.5%
Greg Olsen 73 rec. 9.4%
Steve Smith 64 rec. 8.3%
Jonathan Stewart 55 (48 car., 7 rec.) 7.1%
All others 228 29.4%

There's going to come a point in your draft when you look at the remaining running backs and get physically ill. It happens. But you could do worse than a running back who has averaged at least 4.1 yards per season since entering the NFL in 2006 and has missed one game in the last three years. Williams is that guy. Yep, he's 31 but still has gas left in the tank thanks to not being used up early on in his career. Williams had eight-plus Fantasy points in half of his games last season, not bad for a guy who will probably not start very often for you. True, Jonathan Stewart is healthy (for now) and will take work away from Williams (for now), and Williams is probably going to get shut out at the goal line by Newton and Mike Tolbert. Whatever. The point here is that Williams should get close to 1,000 total yards, provide depth for your Fantasy team and be the biggest part of the remaining strength of the Panthers offense: the run game. Aim for him when the going gets tough at running back starting in Round 8.

Schedule analysis

If the Panthers offense was going to be in trouble on its own, then the schedule does absolutely zero favors. Teams that were strong against the run last year like the Bucs, Lions and Bengals mesh with teams expected to be much improved against the run in the Steelers, Ravens and Bears -- and that's just the first six games! Things do lighten up after a home date with the Seahawks in Week 8, so maybe some Panthers players will step up in the second half. The season ends with two games against the Falcons, road tilts at Minnesota and New Orleans and homers versus the Bucs and Browns with a Week 12 bye mixed in. Maybe a good plan is to not draft Panthers players but trade for them after that Seahawks game.

Training camp battles

Might there be any changes to how the running backs are utilized? The Panthers running backs have been frustrating to deal with for a ton of reasons. There are a lot of them that are used in varying ways and when the offense is near the goal line it's the quarterback who scores the most. Last year it was pretty easy to decipher the code

Who's starting at receiver? It might be the ugliest receiving corps in football but players still have to work their way into the lineup. There will be some pressure to get Benjamin on the field as he's a first-round pick -- if he has a solid camp then he'll probably begin the year on the outside. Jerricho Cotchery has also been penciled into the slot, a role he did well with last year with the Steelers. The other outside receiver is up in the air between Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood, Tavarres King and others. Or, the Panthers could rely on two-tight end sets and put Ed Dickson on the field with Olsen and take one of those receivers off the field. Guess what? It's a mess. Cam Newton didn't have anyone great to throw to last season but somehow it's worse this season.

Bold prediction

Cam Newton is going to have the worst year of his career. Not only are the top four wide receivers he threw to last year no longer on the team, but he himself is still working his way back from March surgery on his left ankle. He is at risk for missing the start of training camp (he was still limping as of late May) but should be ready for Week 1, albeit not necessarily 100 percent. Getting the timing down with his entirely new receiving corps will be one thing, but how he and his coaches will feel about running the ball will be another. Newton's rushing numbers have been huge for Fantasy -- hopefully the ankle doesn't impact how often or productive he'll be. And hopefully the ankle doesn't change anything about his passing mechanics.

But on top of all this is the fact that Newton's offensive line seems like it will be a problem. Left tackle Jordan Gross retired. Nate Chandler is penciled in as his replacement but he had just 40 snaps at left tackle last season. Chandler and right tackle Byron Bell both had negative grades from ProFootballFocus.com in 2013. Guard Amini Silatolu is coming back from an ACL injury and still isn't quite 100 percent. The only certainty is at center with Ryan Kalil, a very good lineman. But if the Panthers put Newton and his ankle behind a suspect offensive line, defensive coordinators will smell blood in the water and come after him, especially since his receiving corps isn't anything special. Each of the Panthers first eight games are against teams with either at least one premier pass rusher or a legendary defensive coordinator -- or both. Newton's track record suggests success (28 games with 20-plus Fantasy points over 48 regular-season games) and he remains a freak athlete, but there's a lot riding against him this season.

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Player News
Report: Saints' Mark Ingram could earn '18 to 22' touches Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) In an interview on CBS Sports Radio Saturday, Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic indicated that injuries to running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson could potentially mean "18 to 22" touches for Mark Ingram Sunday night against the Packers, per CBS Senior Fantasy Writer Dave Richard.

The Packers rank 31st against the run, allowing 147.9 yards per game on the ground this season. Ingram has rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt.


Report: Saints Jimmy Graham primed for bigger role Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) In an interview on CBS Sports Radio Saturday, Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic indicated that tight end Jimmy Graham will have a "little bit more of a bigger role" Sunday night against the Packers, per CBS Senior Fantasy Writer Dave Richard.

Because of a nagging shoulder injury, Graham was limited to only 41 percent of the team's snaps in Week 7 at Detroit and was held without a grab. He was a limited participant in practice all week and was labeled questionable for Week 8.

Graham has 34 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns this season.


NFLPA to review how Chargers handled Addae's concussion
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) The NFL Players Association is formally reviewing the handling of Chargers safety Jahleel Addae's concussion, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora on Saturday.

Addae kept playing despite taking a couple brutal shots to the neck and head area, and even came up wobbling in one instance, in Week 8 against the Broncos. The team initially called his injury a stinger on Thursday and he wasn't diagnosed with a concussion until Friday.


Saints promote Edwin Baker from practice squad
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) With Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson sidelined for Week 8 against Green Bay, the Saints have signed running back Edwin Baker from the practice Saturday, according to the NFL Network. Baker has yet to play a game this season. He will likely serve as the team's third option at running back, behind Mark Ingram and Travaris Cadet.

Chiefs re-sign Jerel Worthy to practice squad
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) Just a few days after being waived from the practice squad, the Chiefs have added defensive lineman Jerel Worthy back to the practice squad on Saturday, per ESPN. Worthy, who suffered a torn ACL in 2012 and spent most of the 2013 season on the PUP list, has yet to take a snap this season.

Saints part ways with Tom Crabtree Saturday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) The Saints waived tight end Tom Crabtree Saturday, just a day before Sunday's matchup against his former team, the Packers, ESPN reports. Crabtree has yet to appear in a game this season.

Raiders place LaMarr Woodley, Usama Young on IR
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) The Raiders placed defensive end LaMarr Woodley (bicep) and safety Usama Young (knee) on the season-ending injured reserve list Saturday.

Woodley suffered a torn bicep muscle in Week 7 against the Cardinals. Young tore his ACL and MCL in the same game.


Raiders activate D.J. Hayden, sign Denico Autry
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) The Raiders activated cornerback D.J. Hayden from the PUP list Saturday and added defensive end Denico Autry to the active roster from the practice squad.

Hayden missed the first seven weeks of the season while recovering from a foot injury, but he's ready to roll for Sunday's Week 8 matchup with the Browns. Autry was signed to the team's practice squad on Sept. 1.


Rams place Brandon McGee on IR, sign Jamea Thomas
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) The Rams placed cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) on injured reserve Saturday. He hasn't played since Week 2 and will miss the remainder of the season with the injury.

The team promoted defensive back Jemea Thomas from the practice squad to fill the open roster spot. He has yet to play in a regular-season game this season.


Seahawks send Derrick Coleman to IR, sign Phil Bates
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/25/2014) The Seahawks have placed Derrick Coleman (foot) on injured reserve, ending his season. He fractured his foot during pregame warmups in Week 7.

To replace Coleman on the active roster, the team signed wide receiver Phil Bates off the practice squad.


 
 
 
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