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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
Cardinals pushing for more consistency out of WR Michael Floyd
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:11 am ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians knows wide receiver Michael Floyd is capable of big things in his offense. He also feels Floyd was the victim of the quarterback injuries last year, reports Fox Sports 910.

"I think some frustration went into his play at times," Arians said. "But he still needs to hit a consistency level. He's a thousand-yard player every year. He should have had a thousand, easily, last year."

Floyd finished with 47 catches for 841 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. He is entering the final year of his contract in 2015.


Bears defensive end Jared Allen played through herniated disc in 2014
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Bears defensive end Jared Allen still thinks he can get the job done next season. Allen claims he was slowed last season while dealing with a nagging back issue, which was diagnosed as a herniated disc, reports the Chicago Tribune.

"I just don't know how to miss games," Allen says. "It killed me that I had to miss one."

Allen totaled 55 tackles with 5 1/2 sacks in 15 games last season.


QB Sam Bradford's college coach talked him out of retiring last year
(3/29/2015) After suffering his second season-ending injury in nine months last year, quarterback Sam Bradford contemplated retiring but his former quarterbacks coach from Oklahoma talked him out of it, according to Philly.com.

Bradford, who was aquired by the Eagles in a trade in March, missed the entire 2014 season with the Rams after tearing his left ACL during a preseason game.

Josh Heupel, a former college coach, talked with Bradford after the injury and persuaded him to stay in the NFL.

"When a player goes through a big letdown, it's natural to be down," said Heupel. "I just tried to reach out to him and say, 'Hey, I still see this in you as a person and a player. I think the best is yet to come for you. You've got to get yourself healthy and get yourself back on the field and get yourself in the right environment ...'"

Heupel, who coached Bradford during his 2008 Heisman Trophy-winning season, is currently the offensive coordinator at Utah State.


Seahawks re-sign Demarcus Dobbs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) The Seahawks re-signed defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs to a one-year contract on Sunday.

Dobbs' agent, Wesley Spencer confirmed the news on Twitter.

Dobbs joined the Seahawks in November after being waived by San Francisco. He had six tackles in four games with the Seahawks. 


C.J. Anderson enters offseason as Broncos top RB
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Broncos coach Gary Kubiak declared that C.J. Anderson was the team's starting running back entering OTAs. 

"He made a big jump as a player, and I think he's earned the right to walk in to the offseason program -- the OTAs -- and line up as our starter," Kubiak said, per DenverBroncos.com. "But he's got to continue to earn it on a daily basis. I think he's shown he has all the ability to be an excellent starter in this league, so we're really looking forward to working with him."

Anderson rushed for 849 yards and eight touchdowns last season, most coming late in the season, after Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman went down to injury. 

"All those guys are young. I think all three of those guys ... have all kind of had their little spurts of success with the club when they've had their opportunity," Kubiak said. "But they're all young. Who's going to be the bell cow, who's going to play every down, who's going to be the three-down player, they've got to sort that out. C.J. has shown the flashes of doing that."


Erin Henderson will meet with Jets
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Linebacker Erin Henderson has scheduled a meeting with the Jets. Henderson is looking to reenter the NFL after sitting out last season, following his release from the Vikings.

Henderson met with the 49ers GM and coach on Thursday and also had dinner with the team's linebacker coach, his agent told the Sacramento Bee


Jared Allen tells Bears 'I'm still good, really'
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Bears defensive end Jared Allen met with coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace at last week's NFL Owners' Meetings to tell them he's not on the decline. 

"I was less anxious and so much more eager to talk to them," Allen said, per NFL.com. "Just to say, 'Hey guys. I know the film from last year only shows 5.5 sacks. But don't believe that's all I have left. I'm good still. Really."

Allen also said he was willing to play a stand-up pass rushing spot instead of the hand-in-the-dirt stance he's used most of his career. "It requires you to refocus and rekindle your energy," he said. "You can't get stuck in your same old patterns."


Saints' Brian Dixon arrested for resisting officer
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Saints cornerback Brian Dixon was arrested in Miami on Sunday morning. He's been charged with resisting an officer, per the Times-Picayune.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, Dixon was pulled over for riding a moped. He questioned the officer about why that wasn't permitted, which led to his arrest. 

Dixon was booked at 5:50 AM and was being held on $1,000 bond. The team is aware of the incident, and NFL security is investigating. 

Later in the morning, Dixon tweeted, "It hurts to know that I wasn't causing no trouble and was fully cooperating. :( "


Report: LB Desmond Bishop will visit 49ers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Linebacker Desmond Bishop will visit the 49ers on Monday, according to csnbayarea.com.

Bishop played in two games for the 49ers last season after beginning the year with the Cardinals. After losing both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to retirement, the team is looking for linebackers.

Over his eight-year NFL career, the 30-year-old has 299 total tackles, nine sacks, nine passes defensed, one interception and eight forced fumbles.


Packers want to keep RB Eddie Lacy fresh this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is working on ways to keep running back Eddie Lacy fresh this season, reports the Journal Sentinel.

McCarthy had talks with Lacy at the end of the last two seasons talking about his number of snaps and what he expected of the running back.

"I really felt that last year's conversation was more important than this year's, the ability to make a huge jump from Year One to Two, being a three-down player, that was something we stressed from Day One, and I thought he delivered," McCarthy said at the NFL owners meetings this week.

The head coach liked the way that the team used Lacy last season, limiting his snaps early in the year before increasing them as the season wore on.

"Maybe not run attempts," McCarthy said of hitting the target he set. "But I thought we were really smart the way we used him....I thought his pass protection he made a huge jump, and his ability to play out of the backfield.

"Eddie has excellent hands, and just his understand and his feel with Aaron, he definitely made a step."

In his first two seasons in the NFL, the 24-year-old has 2,317 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. He has also added 77 receptions for 684 yards and four touchdown catches. 


 
 
 
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