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2012 Team Report: Carolina Panthers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Cam Newton
Backup(s): Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen

Starting QB: Cam Newton is arguably coming off the greatest season for a rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL. That immediately screams high expectations for 2012, but he won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. In fact, he will most assuredly be one of the first five quarterbacks selected in fantasy redraft leagues this year, possibly one of the first three. What makes Newton such a hot commodity is his ability to put up fantasy points as a passer and also as a rusher. He scored 14 rushing touchdowns last year to go along with 706 rushing yards, which will be very hard to duplicate, let alone come close to. He can make the biggest change by improving on his mark of 21 TD passes. Newton has a very strong work ethic, which many believe will propel him to even greater heights in 2012. The expectations are high, and don't forget, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford finished higher than Newton last year. If Newton can improve on his 21 touchdown passes and still be a legit scoring threat as a rusher, he could make a case for the best quarterback in 2012.

Backup QB: Veteran Derek Anderson remains the Panthers backup quarterback; however Jimmy Clausen is waiting in the wings for his chance to prove his worth. In Clausen's defense, he was thrown to the wolves in his rookie year of 2010. He wasn't ready to be a starter, had a poor supporting cast, and his coach was counting the games until he could move on to greener pastures. All of those factors made Clausen's first season a forgettable one. Now, with a year of experience watching Cam Newton orchestrate the offense, Clausen could possibly earn the No. 2 role before the beginning of the season. It is Anderson's job for the time being, but don't be surprised if Clausen earns the backup role before Week 1.

Running Backs

Starter: DeAngelo Williams
Backup(s): Jonathan Stewart, Josh Vaughan, Armond Smith, Tauren Poole [R]
Fullback(s): Mike Tolbert, Richie Brockel

Starting RB: DeAngelo Williams remains the Panthers starting running back, but Jonathan Stewart is chomping at the bit to earn as much playing time as the team will give him. Last year, Carolina boasted a league high 5.4 YPC as a team, much in part to the tandem of Williams and Stewart, but also with the help of Cam Newton. Interestingly enough, both Williams and Stewart averaged exactly 5.4 YPC with Williams besting Stewart by 13 carries, 155 to 142. Stewart totaled 47 receptions on 60 targets, while Williams managed just 16 receptions on 25 targets. Williams made up for it by scoring seven total touchdowns to Stewart's five. Overall, Stewart edged out Williams in fantasy production, especially in leagues that offer a point per reception. The trending thought this year is that Jonathan Stewart will earn more playing time and could surpass Williams as the primary ball carrier and go-to back when it counts. Both are very capable and productive running backs with the ability to take over a game, but Stewart gets the edge with his ability to contribute as a receiver. The presence of fullback Mike Tolbert will probably take away another slice of the overall rushing pie, but both Williams and Stewart are solid fantasy options in 2012.

Backup RBs: After DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Josh Vaughn, Armond Smith, and undrafted free agent rookie Tauren Poole have a combined 13 NFL carries. Josh Vaughn had just seven carries for 24 yards last year, all in Week 16 against Tampa Bay. Poole is intriguing and has a past very similar to fellow ex-Volunteer Arian Foster. If the Panthers need another runner, however, fullback Mike Tolbert, who was signed in the offseason, would fill in for either Williams or Stewart. Last year with the Chargers, Tolbert totaled 10 touchdowns, and 925 yards of offense, including 54 receptions out of the backfield.

Fullback: Barring injuries, Mike Tolbert is expected to be used mostly as a fullback this year, but his involvement in the receiving game should be plentiful. He brings an added threat to an offense that is gaining weapons to keep defenses guessing. Between Tolbert, Stewart, and Williams, the three backs totaled 117 receptions last year. We could see a lot of formations that include both Tolbert and one of the tailbacks, likely Stewart, on the field at the same time. From a PPR standpoint, the Carolina trio of running backs could pay big dividends and rival division mate New Orleans for the most receptions out of the backfield.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell
Backups: Louis Murphy, Kealoha Pilares, David Gettis, Joe Adams [R], Armanti Edwards, Darvin Adams, Chris Manno

Starting WRs: The Panthers have long been known as a team that had virtually no strong WR2, with the exception of Keyshawn Johnson's cup of coffee in 2006. Steve Smith has been the Panthers go-to receiving threat for years, and that is not expected to change in 2012. After two down years in 2009 and 2010, Smith rebounded to a sixth-place finish among wide receivers last year, much in part to Cam Newton's emergence as one of the league's better down-field passers. One important note to point out, Smith has not reached double-digit touchdowns since 2005, the only year in his career when he accomplished that feat. He is a strong receiving threat from a yardage and receptions standpoint, however, he is not a lock to score every week, which keeps him from being a top of the line fantasy WR1. Keep in mind, Smith didn't exactly have the best quarterbacks throwing him the ball throughout his career, so if Cam Newton improves on his 21 TD passes from a year ago, Smith could catapult himself into an elite WR1 caliber player. After Steve Smith, the Panthers are led by Brandon LaFell, who will be entering his third year in the league and David Gettis, who will be coming off a torn ACL he suffered in preseason last year. The two are expected to compete for the WR2 role opposite Steve Smith. LaFell may have the upper hand, simply due to blocking ability. He is arguably the best blocking WR on the Panthers, which that alone, should command more snaps and therefor more playing time.

Backup WRs: Louis Murphy was acquired from Oakland in late July, and will be given a shot at a significant role. Murphy flashed at times, even starting a few games in Oakland, but injuries and inconsistency seemed to have relegated him to a backup role entering 2012. David Gettis is more of a deep threat, with the potential to be much more than that. His ability to return to full strength from his ACL tear will dictate how much production he shows in 2012. Rookie-fourth round pick, Joe Adams is an electric, elusive wide receiver who could see time in the slot in his first year. However he was drafted primarily for his special teams skills. Last year with Arkansas, Adams returned four punts for touchdowns and is expected to fill that same role with the Panthers, who desperately need help in that area. Rounding out the wide receiver corps are Kealoha Pilares, Armanti Edwards, Darvin Adams and Chis Manno. A very uninspiring lot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Greg Olsen
Backups: Gary Barnidge, Ben Hartsock, Joe Jon Finley, Greg Smith, Nelson Rosario

Carolina totaled 82 receptions to tight ends Greg Olsen (45) and Jeremy Shockey (37) last year. Currently, Jeremy Shockey remains unsigned, thus leaving Olsen as the team's primary and sole receiving tight end threat. If the roster stays as it is, Olsen could be in store for a dramatic improvement in production in 2012 since the remaining backup tight ends are no where near Shockey's level. When Shockey left the Saints, leaving Jimmy Graham as the team's lone tight end receiving threat, Graham went off to the tune of 99 receptions for 1310 yards and 13 TDs. Olsen will probably not see that big of a spike, but an increase should be in the cards for the Panthers' leading tight end. The presence of Mike Tolbert in the offense will lead to fewer two-TE sets, that favors Olsen, which should result in more targets. If Jeremy Shockey is not re-signed, the Panthers depth chart at tight end behind Greg Olsen will include Gary Barnidge, Ben Hartsock and potentially Richie Brockel. Barnidge is the only big receiving threat from that group. He was placed on injured reserve last year due to a broken ankle and only has stats from 2009 when he totaled 12 receptions for 242 yards. Ben Hartsock played in 15 games last year but was not targeted once. He is strictly a blocking tight end and is expected to occupy that role again in 2012 in the limited time he sees the field.

Place Kicker

Justin Medlock : Last year after some short range misses, Olindo Mare held off a surprise in-season challenge for the Panthers kicking job from Adi Kunalic. This summer he faced an even stronger challenge as the team signed Justin Medlock, who performed very well in the CFL in recent years. The holder/punter will definitely be different this year -- 6th round draft pick Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and veteran free agent acquisition Nick Harris competed for the job. Medlock and Nortman won. The re-signed J.J. Jansen will again be the long snapper. The Panthers climbed to 18th in kicker scoring opportunities in 2011 after having been in the bottom third in 4 of the 5 previous years, including 30th in 2010.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams [R], Armanti Edwards

WR Kealoha Pilares was a solid return man in 2011 when he replaced the injured Mike Goodson. Goodson is now departed to the Raiders, leaving Pilares as the incumbent, though rookie Joe Adams could push to take over both return positions.

Punt Returners: Joe Adams [R], Armanti Edwards

The Panthers addressed their return game with the drafting of rookie WR Joe Adams. The SEC Special Teams Player of the Year, Adams' return skills were described as "special" by GM Marty Hurney, who drafted Adams to be the primary punt returner.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jordan Gross, LG Amini Silatolu [R], C Ryan Kalil, RG Geoff Hangartner, RT Byron Bell
Key Backups: T Bruce Campbell, C Mike Pollak, T Garry Williams, G Jeff Byers

PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Jordan Gross is an underrated force at left tackle with two Pro Bowl appearances and one All-Pro selection under his belt. Gross has shuffled between left and right tackle throughout his career, but he has settled in as one of the better left tackles in the game. Center Ryan Kalil is a dominant performer, a three time Pro Bowler, and also was an All-Pro in 2011. Prior to the 2011 season, Kalil signed a contract making him the highest paid center in league history. The Panthers will likely start second-round pick Amini Silatolu at left guard. Coming from tiny Midwestern State, Silatolu will compete with Mike Pollack but should win and be thrown into the deep end. He is a mauling run blocker but could be exploited in pass protection early in his career. (Good thing he is playing between two All-Pros.) Right guard Geoff Hangartner is a solid but sometimes limited starter. Undrafted swing tackle Byron Bell has stepped in and done a quality job replacing Jeff Otah. He'll be the starting RT with Otah out of the picture. Bruce Campbell (former Raider) is also in the mix at swing tackle. Line coach John Matsko is a gritty football lifer who helped build some of Kansas City's better lines prior to joining Carolina. Assistant offensive line coach Ray Allen is a talented former player and considered to be a rising line coach. Overall this Carolina Panthers unit is very good and could be elite if Silatolu wins the job and starts quickly.

Team Defense

The Panthers are automatically thought of as a team to stay away from when picking your Defense/ST unit for your fantasy team. Last year, their secondary was abused, both yardage and scoring wise. The Panthers pass rush did not get a lot of pressure on the QB (only 31 sacks), which made it easier to exploit a weak secondary. Before the season began, injuries hurt their interior defensive line, which forced them to start two rookies. Combine that with losing two of their best LBs in Jon Beason and Thomas Davis by week two and the defense was in for a long season. The defensive line received an upgrade after the selection of DE Frank Alexander in the fourth round of the draft. Alexander will share time with Greg Hardy and be a strong compliment to standout DE Charles Johnson. The interior line will get veteran DT Ron Edwards back, which will help the run defense. The LB corps will receive a major shot in the arm with the healthy return of Jon Beason (achilles) and Thomas Davis (knee). To further strengthen the LB corps and provide depth in the event Beason or Davis can't return to form, the Panthers drafted standout LB Luke Kuechly ninth overall. Kuechly's presence, regardless of where he plays, will improve the team's defense. If CB Brandon Hogan and/or rookie CB Josh Norman can exceed expectations, this team could be a surprise fantasy defense. Their special teams was horrendous last year, but several free agent moves brought in players with extensive experience on special teams. The draft selection of WR/PR Joe Adams could also provide a big spark for a unit that was among the league's worst in 2011. Adams, who scored four TDs on punt returns last year alone, is capable of scoring on any given play. His presence will definitely provide a much needed boost that could propel this Def/ST unit into a team that surprises. Carolina is a good late round pick as your second Def/ST taken for your squad, that has the potential to improve.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Charles Johnson, DE Greg Hardy, DT Ron Edwards, DT Sione Fua
Backups: DT Andre Neblett, DE Thomas Keiser, DE Eric Norwood, DE Antwan Applewhite, DT Frank Kearse, DE Frank Alexander

Starting DL: The Panthers defensive front has not been the same since the departures of the likes of Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker. The team did not address the DT position in free agency or the NFL Draft, a vote of confidence by coach Ron Rivera in the current group. DE Charles Johnson is the star of this line and has been a consistently good player since winning the starting job. Johnson's ten sacks last season on a team that managed very little pressure from anywhere else on the line, is very impressive. He is deserving of consideration as a DE1. Opposite Johnson is Greg Hardy, whose inconsistency has befuddled the Panthers brass since they took him in the sixth round a couple of years ago. Hardy can be a very good pass rusher and strong at the point of attack; he just needs to do it all the time. Hardy's 40 solo tackle season in 2011 is encouraging. He should be used as a DL3 in most formats. The returning Ron Edwards, a veteran DT signed by the Rivera regime last offseason, will be a welcome addition to an inexperienced defensive tackle group. Edwards will play the space-eating, 1-technique role. Sione Fua has outplayed Terrell McClain in camp and preseason. As a result, McClain was cut and Fua earns spot as a starting DT. None of these defensive tackles have value in fantasy leagues.

Backup DL: The Panthers have several bodies as backups on the defensive line, but none of particularly good quality. Thomas Keiser, a second year player out of Stanford, is a player to keep a close eye on. Keiser flashed some of his potential in the Detroit game in 2011, when he registered two sacks and a few hurries. Draft pick Frank Alexander has been given the famed #90 jersey and as a former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, he will be expected to be a rotational player on this line immediately. Antwan Applewhite was re-signed to a one-year contract, but should only be a third-down pass rusher.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Jon Beason, WOLB Luke Kuechly [R], SOLB James Anderson
Backups: OLB Thomas Davis, MLB Jason Phillips, OLB Jordan Senn, OLB Jason Williams, OLB Kenny Onatolu

Starting LBs: The Panthers linebacker corps is a very strong one, indeed. Although not considered a pressing need prior to the Draft, GM Marty Hurney invested the ninth pick overall in LB Luke Kuechly. The selection means that Jon Beason, who is still on the path to recovery from a torn Achilles tendon, will slide to weakside linebacker. LB Thomas Davis' health is up in the air, but admirably, he is returning from his third ACL tear. He may start the season at WLB for the team, but Beason is the favourite. Kuechly should be an immediate contributor with his great skills in pass coverage and sound tackling ability. Kuechly is the first defensive player off the board in IDP rookie drafts and should be treated as a high-end LB2 in all other leagues. Beason's production will suffer a little bit with Kuechly present, but Beason will play all three downs and should be back to his normal self. James Anderson, a criminally underrated player on this defense, will man the SLB position. Anderson topped 100 solo tackles last season, putting him in the elite LB tier. A repeat of this is unlikely with Kuechly and Beason injecting some more speed and vitality in the LB corps, but a 75+ solo tackle season can be counted upon.

Backup LBs: Thomas Davis' injury makes him a tough bet to trust in fantasy leagues, but when healthy he can be a dominant player. The Panthers were forced to sign new linebackers last year because of the many injuries at the position. Jordan Senn is the primary backup to both Beason and Kuechly and looked decent, if limited, in the snaps he played last season. Jason Williams and new signing Kenny Onatolu are specials teams players.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Chris Gamble, CB Captain Munnerlyn, SS Charles Godfrey, FS Sherrod Martin
Backups: CB Josh Norman, S Haruki Nakamura, S Reggie Smith, S Jordan Pugh

Starting DBs: Chris Gamble is a number one cornerback in the NFL. He routinely shuts down the receiver he is up against and quarterbacks rarely throw his way. On sixty targets last season, Gamble gave up only 27 receptions. His tackle numbers are nothing to rave about, but he will be a solid CB2 and average about 35-40 tackles. Captain Munnerlyn is better suited to playing the slot CB position. Even as a slot CB, however, Munnerlyn can be productive. The NFC South has become a pass-first division, so he should be a good depth CB. At safety, Charles Godfrey is the lone bright spot. Godfrey has been a solid player for the team since being drafted in 2008. With Carolina's run defense looking to still be their weakness, Godfrey should reach a 65+ tackle number in 2012. The other safety position, last season held by the mistake-prone Sherrod Martin, is up for grabs. The team signed Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith to push Martin this offseason. Nakamura seems likely to take over the FS position if Martin struggles, but in terms of value, it is not worth considering in fantasy leagues.

Backup DBs: Rookie CB Josh Norman has impressed his coaches with his on-field play and should steal some snaps from Captain Munnerlyn in nickel and dime packages. Norman, out of Coastal Carolina is a favorite of the coaching staff and could be a factor before too long.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 15:20:45

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