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2015 Team Report: Carolina Panthers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Cam Newton
Backup(s): Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

Starting QB: Though Cam Newton didn't fulfill the lofty expectations of many fantasy owners during 2013 (or 2014, for that matter), he still finished as the sixth-best fantasy quarterback in the NFL during 2013 due to his combination of passing (292/473 for 3,379 yards passing, 24 TDs and 13 interceptions thrown) and rushing (111/585/6) abilities. There was a drop-off in his frequency rushing the football, going from 126 and 127 rushes during his first two seasons to 111, and also a drop in his average yards-per-carry (to 5.3 yards per rush), and that trend continued during 2014 with just 103 carries for 539 yards and five rushing scores. Nobody complains about 5.3 yards per rush at this level, though, friends, and Newton did miss two games (the season opener and week 15) - early in the year he was still rehabbing a surgically repaired ankle and then he missed Week 15 after being injured in a spectacular accident that flipped over his truck. The two lost games along with a lack of receiving targets at wide receiver (rookie Kelvin Benjamin was the only real scoring threat last year) combined to depress Newton's fantasy scoring as a passer (262/448 for 3,127 yards, 18 TDs and 12 interceptions thrown), landing him at #17 among all fantasy starters by year's end. Newton has finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback twice during his four-year career (in 2011 and 2012), with a sixth-place finish during 2013 and his #17 showing during 2014, as noted above. The Panthers added Devin Funchess to the wide receiver stable during the 2015 NFL Draft and also picked up Jarrett Boykin in free agency (he was formerly the third wide receiver for the Packers before Davante Adams arrived in Green Bay last year) on a one-year 'prove it' contract, so there are more tools in Newton's tool box entering 2015 than there were for last season. We'll see if Funchess pans out, and whether Boykin can win a prominent role in the offense during training camp/preseason. When Steve Smith was around in Carolina, Newton was closer to 4,000 yards passing a year than 3,000 - he definitely has the ability to bounce back in the passing department this year. The personnel surrounding Newton are the big question marks. Newton is reported to be in excellent health this offseason, so we shouldn't see a delay in his appearances during 2015.

Backup QB: Derek Anderson joined the Panthers four years ago, and has seen relatively light duty since arriving as the backup/veteran mentor to Cam Newton. He threw four passes in mop-up duty during 2012, with 4/4 for 58 yards, with zero TDs, zero interceptions and zero rushes, and he had zero passes and zero rushes during the 2013 regular season. However, during the 2014 regular season Anderson proved his worth as a quality backup by starting (and winning) against the divisional-rival Buccaneers in Week One and Week 15, while throwing 65/97 for 701 yards passing, five TDs and zero interceptions during the victories. As long as Newton stays healthy, Anderson will be a fantasy non-entity, but he can be a quality fantasy (and NFL) starter when called upon to step in for Newton. Joe Webb joined Carolina after being lightly utilized as a wide receiver in Minnesota two years ago - he's a scrambling type of quarterback who is still learning his craft at the NFL level.

Running Backs

Starter: Jonathan Stewart
Backup(s): Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne [R]
Fullback(s): Mike Tolbert

Starting RB: Jonathan Stewart missed 10 games during 2013 due to ankle woes and then a torn MCL in his knee (week 14), but he bounced back to fantasy prominence for Carolina during 2014, when he led the team in rushing (175/809/3 rushing, a 4.6 yards-per-carry average) and receiving by a running back (31 for 25/181/1 receiving), just missing out on 1,000 yards combined. His long-time committee partner, DeAngelo Williams is (finally) out of the picture in Carolina, and the 28-year-old Stewart looks set to be the full-time, bell-cow back for the Panthers during 2014. We'll see if his hard luck with injuries remains at bay during 2015 (he played in 13 games for the Panthers last season). Stewart definitely showed he has lots of gas left in his tank with his 4.6 yards-per-carry average last season. The big issue with Stewart (besides his injury history) for fantasy owners is that Cam Newton routinely scores mid-single-digit rushing TDs for the Panthers, limiting the number of rushing scores we can reasonably expect to see from Stewart during 2015. Featured running backs are fairly rare in the NFL, though, which helps keep Stewart in consideration for a #2 fantasy running back role on your team (he's #19 on the Footballguys.com ranking boards for running backs as of mid-May).

Backup RBs: FB Mike Tolbert is really one of the Panthers' backup running backs (see FB writeup below), but recent arrival Fozzy Whittaker (he was once a backup for the Browns) did show some flashes of skill during 2014 with 32/145/1 rushing and 5/60/1 receiving while playing with Carolina last year (appeared in 10 games, started one). He is 26 and provides a combination of youth and veteran experience behind Stewart entering the fray here in 2015. Rookie Cameron Artis-Payne gained ground during preseason and finds himself as the backup running back as of Week One of the regular season.

Fullback: Mike Tolbert, who was a valuable role player for the San Diego Chargers before joining the Panthers, and has been an important player for the Panthers as well. In his second season with the team during 2013, Tolbert handled 101 carries for 361 yards and five touchdowns, while snagging 27/184/2 receiving. He had 37/78/0 rushing and 17 targets for 12/93/0 receiving during last season's campaigns. Tolbert is one of the team's backup running backs as well as a powerful goal-line option for the Panthers.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Funchess [R]
Backups: Jarrett Boykin, Philly Brown, Ted Ginn Jr.

Starting WRs: Huge News on 8/19/15 - Benjamin was carted off the practice field with a non-contact knee injury that looks quite serious. The MRI revealed a worst-case scenario, with a torn ACL that will end Benjamin's season. Devin Funchess likely moves up to starter status with this news. Ancient Jerricho Cotchery (he'll be 33 when regular season starts) is currently still one of the starters for Carolina. Cotchery managed only one TD for the Panthers last season (78 targets for 48/580/1) after he grabbed a career-high 10 TDs for Pittsburgh during 2013 (76 targets for 46/602/10) but he had a grand total of two receiving TDs during his prior two seasons with the Steelers. Entering his 12th NFL season, Cotchery has amassed more than 1,000 yards receiving exactly once (way back in 2007 when he handled 127 targets for 82/1,130/2 receiving), and his career high in receptions is 82, achieved twice (during 2006 and 2007). As you can see, Cotchery's best seasons are far behind him, for the most part. New rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess (6'4, 232) is seen as a sort of hybrid tight end/wide receiver (he was Big Ten tight end of the year in 2013 before switching to wide receiver for Michigan during 2014) who can go up to haul in passes that sail too high for most other receivers. Funchess is said to have good skills gaining separation from press coverage and while running routes - however, he needs to catch more contested balls. His wide wing span may help him reel in passes from Newton that are less-than-perfectly-on-target.

Backup WRs: The Panthers remade their backup wide receiver corps during the offseason/through the NFL Draft, bringing in Jarrett Boykin (he was formerly the third wide receiver for the Packers before Davante Adams arrived in Green Bay last year) on a one-year 'prove it' contract. Boykin amassed 49/681/3 catching passes for the Packers during 2013, and could be a candidate to move past Jerricho Cotchery for the #2 job during training camp. Philly Brown showed some promise as a receiver last season during his inaugural NFL season (36 targets for 21/296/2 receiving), and will be in the mix as a backup option for Carolina during 2015. Ted Ginn Jr., brought in to be a returner, may see extensive action at wide receiver in the wake of Kelvin Benjamin's season-ending knee injury. The depth chart at wide receiver has been jumbled due to the 8/19/15 injury to Benjamin. There is a lot to sort out during preseason, all of a sudden.

Tight Ends

Starters: Greg Olsen
Backups: Ed Dickson

Greg Olsen enjoyed a stellar 2014 season with a career-high 123 targets translating to 84/1,008/6 receiving (Olsen caught more passes than anyone else on the team last year, again), and wound up fourth among all fantasy tight ends last year. He set a then-career-high 111 targets for 73/816/6 receiving during 2013 - Olsen is a linchpin of the Panthers' passing attack and Cam Newton's most trusted receiver. Since Newton arrived in Carolina, Olsen has seen over 100 targets for three straight seasons (he had 104 targets for 69/843/5 receiving during 2012) and has been a top-ten tight end all three of those years. In fact, Olsen caught more passes than any other Panther during 2013 and 2014. With Kelvin Benjamin now out for the 2015 season, Olsen will be even more central to the passing attack in Carolina. Ed Dickson joined the Panthers from Baltimore back in 2014 to provide an experienced #2 tight end. Dickson's best season in the pros, with Baltimore during 2011, saw him convert 54/528/5 receiving out of 97 targets. He handled 17 targets for 10/115/1 receiving in a hybrid full back/tight end role for the Panthers last season.

Place Kicker

Graham Gano: The Panthers set Gano up with 35 field goal attempts last year, and he made 29 of them, so his job is pretty secure heading into 2015. He did only have three 50+ yard attempts and made only one of them after making 6-of-6 from long distance in 2013. Gano has leveled off as a consistent, but not great kicker in Carolina after a rocky start to his career in Washington. He's only bye-week fodder in fantasy leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Fozzy Whittaker, Ted Ginn, Philly Brown

After a season of middling results in the return game, the Panthers sought a familiar face and signed Ted Ginn back to the team after he spent the 2014 season in Arizona. Ginn had a down year in the return game but survived camp while his main competition Jordan Todman was released. Ginn is better on punts than on kickoffs, leading to Fozzy Whittaker handling kickoffs this season.

Punt Returners: Ted Ginn, Philly Brown

With Ted Ginn back in the fold, the competition for punt returner should largely be for the backup position. Philly Brown has served as the punt returner in the past and should back up Ginn.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Michael Oher, LG Andrew Norwell, C Ryan Kalil, RG Trai Turner, RT Mike Remmers
Key Backups: T Daryl Williams [R], T Jonathan Martin, G Amini Silatolu, C Fernando Velasco, T Nate Chandler, G Brian Folkerts, G Chris Scott

The Panthers' best lineman continues to be center Ryan Kalil. Kalil is a balanced player who is effective in both phases of the game. Other than Kalil however there are many questions up and down the lineup. The team signed Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin to compete for the left tackle spot, sending Nate Chandler over to the right side to compete with Mike Remmers and fourth round pick Daryl Williams. Of this group it's like picking out of a hat to call this lineup but Oher and Remmers should win these jobs at least initially. The team hopes Williams wins the right tackle job and he profiles like a poor man's Phil Loadholt. Right guard Trai Turner is a young player who showed rookie flashes as an excellent pass protector, however left guard Andrew Norwell is barely a starter quality player at this point in his career. Norwell will see competition from Amini Silatolu and Tyronne Green for that left guard spot and no matter who wins, it's probably the weakest of all the positions. Overall this line has a ton of uncertainty, other than at the center position, and for the Panthers to improve in the rankings several starters have to emerge and play solidly for a decent period of time.

Team Defense

The Panthers were a surprise elite fantasy D/ST in 2013, but they came back to earth for a long stretch of 2014 while they were mired in a six-game losing streak. Bookending that was a solid start and finish, and the team added a dynamic linebacker/safety tweener a la Thomas Davis in the first round of the draft when they took Shaq Thompson. The young secondary started to gel last year, and veteran pickup Charles Tillman should have a thing or two to teach them this offseason. While they won't return to 2013 form without Greg Hardy, if 2014 second-round pick Kony Ealy can show development this year, the defensive line should benefit from improvements in the back seven and make the Panthers a strong matchup play for DFS/streamer and a darkhorse to return to everyweek starter status in redraft leagues.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Star Lotulelei (inj), DT Kawann Short, LDE Charles Johnson, RDE Kony Ealy
Backups: NT Colin Cole, DE Mario Addison, DE Wes Horton, DT Dwan Edwards, DT Kyle Love

Starting DL: After spelling veteran Dwan Edwards for his first two seasons, it seems year three will be Kawann Short’s time to get the starting nod at 3-technique. Short has been an incredibly productive pass rusher in 500-600 snap doses. His ability to beat guards with a variety of moves has seen him rack up tackles and sacks. Third-year pro Star Lotulelei has been a model of consistency at nose tackle since being drafted. After suffering a reaggravation of the foot injury he sustained at the end of the 2014 season, Rivera believes he will be good to go for Week 1. On the edge, veteran Charles Johnson will continue in his role as the Panthers’ top run defender and pass rushing threat. The loss of Greg Hardy hit this defense hard from a pass rush perspective. After the devastating blow of losing Frank Alexander to a torn Achilles in preseason, the Panthers named second-year pro Kony Ealy the starting right defensive end. A second-round selection last year, Ealy had to endure a steep learning curve in his rookie year, but showed greater understanding and comfort in his role as the season went on. A breakout season will be expected from him.

Backup DL: Interior linemen Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards were re-signed by the team this offseason, but their advancing years and the one-year deals they were given indicate they are likely in their final season in Charlotte. Frank Alexander's return was cut short after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in preseason. Mario Addison showed some flashes in spot duty last year but is more of a pass rusher than a run defender. Wes Horton will be a valuable depth option should the Panthers lose one of their starters; Horton played meaningful snaps last year to gain experience. Kyle Love will provide decent depth and experience at DT.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Luke Kuechly, WLB A.J. Klein, SLB Thomas Davis
Backups: LB Shaq Thompson [R], LB Ben Jacobs, LB David Mayo [R]

Starting LBs: The Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on star linebacker Luke Kuechly's contract, meaning he will remain in Carolina for the next couple of seasons – and most likely beyond that. Kuechly is the consummate pro and a team captain, a player the Panthers won't let get away. His consistency play to play has made him one of the top linebackers in the league. Thomas Davis has not lost any of his sideline to sideline mobility even after three ACL tears. He and Kuechly form a formidable duo and make Carolina's pass coverage very effective in the underneath zones. The addition of athletic 'jack of all trades' Shaq Thompson gives the Panthers a further boost in the pass coverage department, but it is the speed and playmaking ability of Thompson that excites the front office. Veteran A.J. Klein has been taking first-team reps at weakside linebacker, but Thompson has seen his fair share of work in the preseason - perhaps a sign that Klein will be ousted from the weakside job sooner rather than later.

Backup LBs: A.J. Klein is slated to be the primary backup option but has been taking the majority of first-team reps at weakside linebacker with Shaq Thompson sidelined due to a hamstring injury. Not the most athletic player, Klein won't contribute in subpackages but has age (23) on his side for a long-term role as a key backup. Fifth round selection David Mayo was described as a 'hitter' by Gettleman. Mayo will contribute mostly on special teams but could earn a backup role in time. After an offseason spent emphasizing special teams, the Panthers opted to keep special teams ace Ben Jacobs.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Josh Norman, CB Charles Tillman, SS Roman Harper, FS Kurt Coleman
Backups: CB Bene Benwikere, CB Teddy Williams, S Tre Boston, S Colin Jones, S Dean Marlowe

Starting DBs: Josh Norman was a pleasant surprise for the Panthers last season, stepping in from Week 8 onwards and performing admirably. Norman is still a bit of a freewheeler in the secondary, but his length gives him a chance against even the tallest wideouts. The left cornerback job is his to lose. A concussion suffered in the final preseason game is not expected to keep him out of the opener. Charles Tillman, who had a good relationship with head coach Ron Rivera when he was in Chicago, joined the team on a short-term deal. Despite missing the majority of the past two seasons with injury, the hope is that Tillman will be able to replicate some of his penchant for turnovers and be a solid veteran presence in the back end, something he has shown capable of already in preseason. The free safety position belongs to veteran Roman Harper, and free agent acquisition Kurt Coleman appears to have done enough in preseason to earn the strong safety berth. The Panthers interchange their safeties often, so both Harper and Coleman will see time in the box and in a deep coverage role.

Backup DBs: Bene Benwikere, who so ably performed for the team at outside cornerback in 2014, will move to his more familiar and preferred nickel position in 2015 after the signing of Charles Tillman. Benwikere, a feisty player entering his second season, is a favorite of the coaching staff and has earned the nickname 'Big Play Bené' for his ability to attack the football in the air. New arrival Teddy Williams was signed with special teams in mind. Tre Boston had the starting free safety role taken from him in camp by Kurt Coleman, but Boston will rotate in and out in certain subpackage groups. Colin Jones is a chess piece the team used in nickel situations last year. The team love his versatility and special teams ability.

Last modified: 2015-09-15 22:49:13