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2019 Team Report: Carolina Panthers

Offensive Philosophy

The 2019 season marks the second year with offensive NFL disciple, Norv Turner as offensive coordinator of the Panthers. Last year, Turner's offensive philosophy was to control the clock with a combination of successful rushing plays and short-intermediate ranged passes. Carolina was one of two teams to total 2,100 rushing yards and 4,000 passing yards. The only other team to accomplish this feat were the Los Angeles Rams. For Carolina to reach this statistic pinnacle is impressive, especially considering Cam Newton was dealing with a shoulder injury since Week 8. The Panthers have excellent agility, youth, and speed at their disposal from a rushing and receiving perspective. Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel all have above average speed and quickness, which plays into Turner's philosophy of moving the ball in quick, bursts down the field, rather than long-ranged deep throws. That may change in 2019, pending the health and effectiveness of Cam Newton's surgically repaired shoulder.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Cam Newton
Backup(s): Will Grier [R], Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen

Starting QB: Cam Newton will enter his ninth season in 2019. He has four Top 5 fantasy finishes and he has never finished outside of the Top 20. He has missed only five games in his career, including the last two games last year. The Panthers success begins and ends with Cam Newton's effectiveness on the field. When he's not healthy, the Panthers struggle. Newton initially suffered a rotator cuff injury in 2017 and had surgery in the offseason to repair his ailing shoulder. He appeared to injure his shoulder again in a Week 9 game last year against Tampa Bay. The Panthers were 6-2 at the time of the injury and then proceeded to lose seven consecutive games, six of which were started by Newton. There was a growing concern that Newton may miss significant time due to the injury, similar to what Andrew Luck endured missing the entire 2017 season. Newton underwent minor arthroscopic surgery in April 2019, and according to reports "the procedure didn't involve a repair to any shoulder damage - it was merely "a cleanup," likely of scar tissue remaining from his rotator cuff surgery following the 2017 season to repair a partial tear." Weeks following the surgery, Newton claims to have increased range of motion with his shoulder. At this point, he is expected to participate in OTAs in April, followed by regular practice and throwing drills heading into training camp. The Panthers' offensive weapons have improved in Newton's tenure and many consider the current stock of personnel is the best talent assembled in a Newton-led offense. If the health report continues to be positive for Newton, expect to see a level of performance indicative of the first nine games of the season - a 67.3% completion rate, 19 total touchdowns and Top 6 ranking.

Backup QB: After Newton was declared out for the remaining two games of the 2018 season, Taylor Heinicke received his first career start where he showed toughness, ability and grit en route to a 274-yard losing effort. He suffered an elbow injury in the second quarter, but returned a few plays later and failed to return to his first half form. Carolina drafted Will Grier in the third round of the draft. Grier shows promise on touch passes and accuracy, but his arm strength is not considered elite. He will have the opportunity to showcase his abilities in the preseason and possibly earn the backup role outright with a favorable showing. Next in line is Kyle Allen, who will be entering his second year in 2019. Allen's lone bright spot in a young career was a win in Week 17 against the well-rested Saints team. Interestingly enough, Allen saw the first-team Saints defense for most of the game, and he came out a victor in his first career start. Allen has shown glimpses of talent, and has shown the ability to thrive when he has clear passing lanes. With increased growth and development, he has the opportunity to battle for the backup role in 2019.

Running Backs

Starter: Christian McCaffrey
Backup(s): Cameron Artis-Payne, Jordan Scarlett [R], Elijah Hood, Reggie Bonnafon, Elijah Holyfield [R]
Fullback(s): Alex Armah

Starting RB: Christian McCaffrey dominated the Panthers offensive game plan in 2018 and set career highs in rushes (219), rushing yards (1,098), receptions (107), receiving yards (867), and total touchdowns (14, if you count a 50-yard touchdown pass in Week 15 against the Saints.) McCaffrey will enter the 2019 season as a young 23-year old who has earned his keep as one of the best offensive weapons in the game. McCaffrey's 2018 season marked only the third time a running back has reached 1,000 yards rushing and 100 receptions in the same season. What makes McCaffrey such a weapon is that defenses have to account for other versatile options, namely Cam Newton's rushing ability, but also the speed and quickness of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. If defenses stop one, the other benefits. McCaffrey has elite separation skills, above average hands, and superior elusiveness. Offensive Coordinator, Norv Turner has the knowledge of running an offense that caters to these strenghts. The end result is a productive offensive in general, not just the ground game. McCaffrey reached 1,098 yards rushing himself, but the team totaled 2,136 rushing yards which was 4th in the league. Nearly 300 of those yards came from wide receivers.

Backup RBs: The backup running back role in Carolina is wide open. Last year's playoff savior for the Rams, C.J. Anderson, started the season with Carolina. Outside of Cam Newton, Anderson was 2nd on team in rushes with only 24 carries. McCaffrey was such a vital piece of the offensive game plan that Anderson barely saw the field. Anderson was signed by the Detroit Lions in the offseason and is no longer an option for Carolina. Cameron Artis-Payne has scored at least one touchdown in all four years he's been in the league and he has a career 4.2 yards per carry, all with Carolina. He enters his fifth year in 2019 and remains the top option to backup McCaffrey as the team's number two running back. The team signed Carolina-born Elijah Hood in the offseason. Hood thrived with North Carolina in college and has shown enough ability and talent to the coaching staff to warrant a contract extension. A move for a formidable running back in the draft may shake up the depth chart behind McCaffrey. A bigger back, who can be used for short-ranged plays may be the target.

Fullback: Alex Armah is turning into quite a pawn on the Panthers' offensive chessboard. His ability to open holes for McCaffrey and be a seldom, but effective tool as a rusher and receiver make him an asset to the team. His fantasy value is virtually non-existent but his role is growing, along with his knowledge of improving others around him.

Wide Receivers

Starters: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel
Backups: Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, Torrey Smith, Rashad Ross, Terry Godwin [R], DeAndrew White, Mose Frazier

Starting WRs: The Panthers don't have a known All Star, elite wide receiver option on their team, unless you count Christian McCaffrey, who fills that role nicely. They do have an above average cast of wide receivers who have the talent and ability to move the ball as a receiver or as a rusher. Carolina totaled 295 yards rushing from their wide receiver corps last year on only 24 attempts where they averaged a league high 12.2 yards per carry. The next best of any team with 20+ rushes from wide receivers totaled 7.4 yards per carry (Kansas City). Carolina spent a first round pick D.J. Moore in last year's draft, and so far his presence on the team is paying dividends. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore finished 2018 as the top ranked rookie wide receiver. Between Weeks 5 and 11, Moore led the NFL in yards after catch per reception, led the NFL in yards after contact per reception, and ranked fourth in forced missed tackles per reception. He also added 172 yards rushing on 13 carries in 2018. His game is still being defined and refined, including his route running, but from a talent perspective there are few wide receivers who can make plays the way Moore does. He is a candidate to breakout in 2019 after finishing 36th in his rookie season. The departure of Devin Funchess to Indianapolis in the offseason, has opened the door for Curtis Samuel to move up the depth chart and be more of a contributor on Norv Turner's quick-strike offense. Samuel had 7 touchdowns on 51 touches in 2018, or a score on every 7 touches. His speed and quickness has always been a strength, but now he's starting to improve as a receiver, as evidenced by 5 receiving touchdowns in 2018. Like Christian McCaffrey, Samuel will enter the 2019 season as a young 23-year old. Moore won't be 23 until April 2020. The core of Carolina's receiving corps is young, fast, quick, and talented. If speed is the name of the game, Carolina has a leg up on their competition. If other tangible and intangible metrics continue to develop, the Panthers receivers may turn some heads in 2019.

Backup WRs: The Panthers are a more run-oriented team, but when they do pass, the main targets will be Christian McCaffrey, their two main wide receivers (D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel), and Greg Olsen. That doesn't leave a lot of room for others to share the target volume. Last season, Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith combined for 60 receptions and 3 touchdowns on 91 targets. Both veterans are returning for the 2019 season. Wright has always been a key contributor on third downs during his time with Minnesota, as well as Carolina (both under the guidance of Norv Turner). There is no indication that his involvement will change in 2019. Neither Wright nor Smith offer much in terms of fantasy value, but there is some hope for Chris Hogan, who was signed late in the free agency period. Hogan played three years in Buffalo and three more in New England before signing with Carolina. At 6'1, 215 pounds, Hogan is the tallest and biggest wide receiver on the Panthers since the departure of Devin Funchess. His ability to run clean routes and create separation make him a viable red zone target for Cam Newton. While he has never exceeded 41 receptions in a season, he has contributed an average of 4 touchdowns per year in his last five years. Hogan has marginal fantasy value heading into 2019, but depending on how the Panthers offense responds, he could find himself in an increased role, especially in the red zone.

Tight Ends

Starters: Greg Olsen
Backups: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Temarrick Hemingway

The 2019 season may wind up being Greg Olsen's final season in the league. After five straight elite seasons from 2012-2016, Olsen has succumbed to foot injuries in each of the last two years, limiting him to 16 games in that span. A healthy Olsen improves the offense simply due to his presence on the field and in the huddle. There is some concern that he will not be able to perform at the level he was prior to 2017, but others believe a finally healthy Olsen will at least yield an increase in production in 2019 that could result in a Top 10 finish. In 12 years in the league, Olsen has finished in the top 10 seven times. Carolina drafted Ian Thomas in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He flashed promise at times last year, especially when Olsen was out of the lineup. On average, 1.8 tight ends since 2010 have 35 receptions or more in their rookie season. Two accomplished that feat in 2018. One was Chris Herndon (39 receptions) and the other was Ian Thomas (36). Other notable rookie tight ends who hold this distinction include Evan Engram, George Kittle, Hunter Henry, Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Jordan Reed, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. That's pretty decent company for Thomas, who may see his role increase even more in 2019. He finished the year with 25 receptions in the last five games, with a score in each of the last two. Thomas is a decent target in redraft leagues as your TE2. If he hits in year two, he can be elevated into your lineup. If not, he can be swapped out for an adequate replacement.

Place Kicker

Graham Gano: The Panthers chose Graham Gano over now Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker in 2017, but it's not clear that they made the right choice. He missed four games with a knee injury and his replacement, Chandler Catanzaro (now back with the Jets) made all five of his field goal attempts, including two from 50 or more yards. Gano went 14-for-16 on field goal attempts before his injury, which was a paltry number of attempts that left him in the bottom tier of fantasy kickers after being a top tier option in 2015 and viable option in 2016 and 2017. He's best left off of your draft kicker target list this year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore

With Kenjon Barner and Damiere Byrd-- Carolina's two most prolific returners in 2018-- off to new teams, the Panthers are left without any obvious options to handle returns in 2019. Curtis Samuel and rookie D.J. Moore both saw time on special teams last year, but the team would like Moore in particular to see his role grow, which could result in a loss of return responsibilities.

Punt Returners: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel

With Kenjon Barner and Damiere Byrd-- Carolina's two most prolific returners in 2018-- off to new teams, the Panthers are left without any obvious options to handle returns in 2019. D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey both have experience returning punts, but are integral on offense. Curtis Samuel, on the other hand, has experience on kickoff returns but has never fielded a punt in live action.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Taylor Moton, Greg Van Roten, Matt Paradis, Trai Turner, Daryl Williams
Key Backups: Tyler Larsen, Greg Little [R], Ian Silberman, Dennis Daley [R]

Notes: Right guard Trai Turner made the Pro Bowl as a reserve last season and he is the mauler of this offensive line. Turner should have more help from the center position this season as Matt Paradis joined the roster from Denver. Paradis, who has recovered from a broken leg, can solidify the interior of the lineup. Left tackle Taylor Morton and left guard Greg Van Roten both won starting jobs last season and still have untapped upside. Their development is a testament to the job OL Coach John Matsko (and assistant Travelle Wharton) are doing. Right tackle Daryl Williams returns on a one year "show me" deal after MCL surgery, and the team drafted Greg Little in the second round from Ole Miss to be the swing tackle behind him. The team also drafted Dennis Daley to provide interior depth. With one new starter affecting cohesion, this is a mid-tier line that has quickly rebuilt multiple positions. If they all stay healthy, the line has the potential for top-tier status this season.

Team Defense

The Panthers team defense was drafted in a lot of fantasy leagues last year and started hot with six sacks, a defensive score and total shutdown game against the Cowboys, interception fest against the Bengals and another defensive score along with three takeaways against the Giants in the first four games of the season. They only had three takeaways in a game once more in the season, and fell into a defensive slump in the second half of the season. This year the team moved on from all-time Panther Thomas Davis, but added Bruce Irvin and first-round pick Brian Burns in a big infusion of edge rush talent. They open with the Rams, but will get on our streamer radar right with the Bucs coming to town, trips to face the league worst Cardinals and Texans lines, and a home game against Nick Foles in Weeks 2-5.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Mario Addison, DE Bruce Irvin, NT Dontari Poe, DT Kawann Short
Backups: DE Brian Burns [R], DT Vernon Butler, DT Kyle Love, DL Woodrow Hamilton, DL Destiny Vaeao, DL Elijah Qualls, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DE Efe Obada, DE Marquis Haynes

Starting DL: Carolina's defensive front sustained a blow with the loss of Julius Peppers to retirement, but in truth this unit has haemorrhaged talent for the past couple of seasons. The interior remains stout, with Dontari Poe putting in a good shift in the heavy rotation that Ron Rivera is so fond of. Kawann Short is the most recognisable player of this foursome; he failed to reach the heights of previous seasons in 2018 but proved a consistent threat. New signing Bruce Irvin, inked to a one-year contract this offseason, figures to be a rotational rusher - albeit an important veteran presence. Mario Addison played the most snaps among Carolina defensive linemen last season (666) and has a starting berth locked down.

Backup DL: With Panthers head coach Ron Rivera favouring a heavy rotation along the line, depth is more important for this unit. The most established options are Kyle Love, resigned this offseason to provide depth, and Vernon Butler, the former first round pick whose career has failed to take off. This season will be critical for his future in the league, especially after the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Bryan Cox Jr. and Efe Obada, the latter of whom produced an NFC Defensive Player of the Week performance last year, profile as developmental players. The Panthers selected Florida State's lanky edge player Brian Burns with the 16th pick of the NFL Draft. Burns' explosiveness and get-off was a big selling point for the team's top brass, who intend to deploy him both as a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 end.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Luke Kuechly, SLB Jermaine Carter, WLB Shaq Thompson
Backups: LB Andre Smith, LB Brandon Chubb, LB Jared Norris, LB Antwione Williams, LB/DE Christian Miller [R]

Starting LBs: Luke Kuechly produced another All-Pro calibre season in 2018, eclipsing his peers even as Carolina struggled defensively. He remains the heart and soul of the defense, outsmarting quarterbacks with his drops in pass coverage and smothering backs and receivers when they enter his zone. This season will be the first he plays without Thomas Davis, one of his best friends off the field, as the veteran heads to Los Angeles. Kuechly will line up alongside Shaq Thompson, who will be expected to take a step forward in his development. Thompson is the ideal run-and-hit weakside linebacker. Focusing on this role should be a boon for his prospects. Jermaine Carter, a second-year pro, is slated to play the strong side.

Backup LBs: The Panthers have very few experienced bodies among their backup linebackers, with Jared Norris the standout. Andre Smith, a seventh round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, will be groomed as Luke Kuechly's backup, while Antwione Williams provides some more depth. Christian Miller, an Alabama product with a rash of injuries on his record, was drafted in the fourth round as a designated pass rusher capable of playing 3-4 edge rusher or 4-3 end.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Donte Jackson, CB James Bradberry, SS Eric Reid, FS Rashaan Gaulden
Backups: CB Ross Cockrell, CB Corn Elder, S Cole Luke, S Kai Nacua, S Colin Jones, S Quin Blanding, S Damian Parms

Starting DBs: Carolina's secondary was an average unit overall last season, with starting cornerback duo James Bradberry and Donte Jackson playing at an average level. Jackson, for his part, was a rookie and performed well above expectations, registering four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Bradberry could be on the hot seat with veteran option Ross Cockrell in the wings. Eric Reid will man the strong safety position after signing a new contract this offseason, though notably it includes no guaranteed money past 2019. At free safety, it appears Rashaan Gaulden will have a decent shot at it after the team parted ways with Da'Norris Searcy. Gaulden was name dropped by Ron Rivera in the Panthers' pre-draft press conference, the coach indicating he could try Gaulden at free safety.

Backup DBs: The return of Ross Cockrell from a devastating leg injury is a boost for the secondary, especially after the release of Captain Munnerlyn. Corn Elder could play some snaps as the nickel or dime cornerback. Colin Jones, a jack of all trades, is a favourite of the coaching staff and should be a special teams maven as well as a rotational safety in certain packages.

Last modified: 2019-05-24 15:14:17