We won't be in the air long, as make the short flight north from Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina. This is the hometown of the Carolina Panthers, who much like the Falcons of our last stop finished with a less than desirable record of 7-9. Coach Ron Rivera looks to right the ship for a team that looked like a playoff contender for the first half of the 2018 campaign, but lost a dismal seven straight games down the stretch. Breakout stars, emerging rookies, concerning injuries – a riveting narrative that carries over into the world of fantasy football. Let's look at the fantasy fortunes for a few key players in the Carolina offense.
Cam Newton – QB Cam has been a major cause for concern within the Panthers' organization due to an injury to his throwing shoulder suffered in a Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. From that point on, Cam wasn't the same, struggling to throw the ball down the field, and was finally shut down with two games to play. Since then, he's gone under the knife in January to repair the damages, and other than Kemba's free agency, is the biggest topic of concern for Carolina sports fans. The team even featured Newton during mini camp with the “Cam cam” so fans and analysts alike could see his new and improved throwing motion.
“What if Cam has trouble passing the ball? I don't know if I can trust a quarterback who had to change his throwing motion mid-career!” If you've been feeling this way, go ahead and raise your hand. Now, use that hand to slap yourself, take a deep look in the mirror and say, “I commit to being better!”. Okay, don't really do that.. but the point is Cam has never been known to be a prolific passer. He's only eclipsed 4,000 passing yards once in his career (his rookie season). No, we draft Superman because of his running ability, and – love it or hate it – fantasy football rewards the running quarterbacks. As long as Cam's legs weren't cramped as much as his style on his recent flight, he should be good to go.
Cam is still one of the best play makers in the game who'll average 225 passing yards and 40 rushing yards a game – which in most scoring systems is more valuable than a QB who throws for 300 and doesn't run. He's currently being drafted as the 11th QB in mock drafts (9.01) and often is going as late as the mid 10th. I really like Cam at this draft price, and you should draft him with confidence if you can grab him at that point of your draft.
D.J. Moore – WR The second year receiver out of Maryland showed some flashes in his rookie season. He finished with 788 yards on 55 receptions and two touchdowns, and is expected to be the WR #1 with Devin Funchess out of town. If you look deeper at the numbers, you'll also see that he was great in space after the catch. He was the top wideout in the NFL in yards after the catch per reception (7.9). It's not difficult to see why many are expecting Moore from D.J. In year two (sorry, that was pretty bad), but I just can't get on board.
First of all, let's keep in mind that Cam hasn't really supported a dominate wide receiver since Steve Smith. D.J. May be good, but I'm not ready to place him on that pedestal. Saying he's the top WR in Carolina doesn't necessarily make him the top offensive weapon on this team. As my friend Michael Voyu recently pointed out, he's still the “3rd passing option” for Cam behind running back Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen (more on the latter in a minute). I'd take that a step further and, say he may be the fourth option to Cam's rushing ability.
While I'm not going to say Moore is guaranteed to have a poor season, what I will say is I'm not getting excited anytime soon over his draft cost. He's currently going as the 28th WR in mock drafts in the mid-sixth round, and I'd prefer most of the receivers currently being drafted around him. If he begins to fall in drafts, I may raise an eyebrow. If I have to choose a wide receiver from this squad, after I swallow my vomit, I'd probably rather choose Curtis Samuel in the 11th round.
Greg Olsen – TE The veteran tight end is entering his 13th professional season and has been plagued by foot injuries the past couple of seasons. What is often forgotten is prior to the injury-shortened seasons, Olsen had 3 straight years of over 1,000 receiving yards. He's been a perennial favorite target for Newton, and if the 34-year-old can go week one I find it hard to believe that will change.
I've said it before: we can't predict who's going to get injured. At this point all reports lead to Olsen heading into mini camp as a healthy participant. He's currently being drafted as the TE 14 in mock drafts – 12.09 overall – posing little risk if you decide to draft him in later rounds. A worse case scenario would be he gets injured and you stream the position, but didn't give up a high pick in your draft. At best, while he won't reach the pinnacle of the position with Kelce, Kittle, and Ertz, there's certainly potential that he could finish the TE 5 or 6 if he can play 16 games.
I chose not to write about Christian McCaffrey in this article, not because I don't think he will be great, but because he should be a top five pick in most drafts. He'll be great; draft him if you can. For more on last year's breakout RB, check out William Spencer's fantasy outlook featuring CMC here.
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