The 2015 season didn’t come to the end that the Carolina Panthers quite had hoped for. First, they lost their hopes at an undefeated regular season in a week 16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. After capturing the NFC Championship, they were unable to go all the way as they fell short Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos. Still, they shocked everyone in the NFL community as many were quick to write them off, including myself, following star WR Kelvin Benjamin’s ACL tear in Training Camp. Most didn’t think Cam Newton could lead an offense that lacked a reliable threat in the WR corps – boy, did he prove us wrong.
By far the biggest storyline heading into the season for Carolina is the return of prized receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. After an outstanding rookie season in which Benjamin eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with 9 scores, his presence will be coveted as the Panthers look to improve a passing attack that ranked 24th in the league last season. His ADP has him as an early 3rd round pick which is fair value. The upside to produce like he did as a rookie is certainly there, although the hesitancy to take a flyer on someone returning from an ACL injury can always be worrysome. At the end of the day, I think Benjamin will be just fine. His combination of size and catch radius makes him a lethal weapon who can cash in while in the redzone as well.
In Benjamin’s absence last season, Greg Olsen stepped up and led the team in receiving with over 1,100 yards on the season to go with 7 TDs. While Benjamin’s return will take away some of Olsen’s production, he should still be among the top TEs in fantasy this season. However, I think you can hold off and get someone later on such as an Eric Ebron or Austin Seferian-Jenkins – both of whom currently have a 13th round ADP. Also, when you consider Olsen is now 31 years old, you’d have to think he’s bound for a regression at anytime – however, he should be just fine in 2016.
Looking at the rest of the receiving corps, you have guys like Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Devin Funchess, all of whom chipped in last season. Of the group Ginn was by far the biggest contributor in what turned out to be a career season as he hauled in 739 receiving yards for 16.8 yards per catch with a whopping 10 TDs which led the team. His big play ability was coveted by Newton and the Panthers offense which lacked playmakers in 2015. However, he’s currently going undrafted in standard leagues as many anticipate a breakout season from Funchess who enters his 2nd season. I wouldn’t spend a draft pick on Ginn, but based on last season’s production he could be a solid waiver wire guy. As for Funchess, he’s going in the 13th round which is pretty solid value when you consider his upside. Coming out of Michigan he was considered a bit of a project as he made the transition from tight end. His combination of size and athleticism will make him a great compliment on the outside to Benjamin. He showed great signs of flashes last season and my projection for him this year is 60/800/7 – pretty solid production in a FLEX role. As for Brown, his production should dip this season. Rookie Keyarris Garrett is a sleeper to watch for in dynasty leagues.
In the backfield, Jonathan Stewart leads the charge. The 29 year old running back enters his 10th season and comes off a year in which he ranked 16th among fantasy running backs. Currently going in the early 5th round, I don’t trust him as an RB2. He’s at that age where RBs begin to deteriorate. If you can get him a bit later, he’d be much better value in the 6th or 7th round range. I really like Cameron Artis-Payne to breakout this season. Making the list of my top fantasy sleepers this season. CAP is a power back who will see an expanded role this season and may even see his fair share of goal-line touches. Going undrafted, he’s a guy to watch out for. Well worth handcuffing him if you end up drafting Stewart.
We save the best for last here, yes, I’m talking about Cam Newton. The reigning league MVP and top scoring QB, as you’d expect, Newton is the top QB going off the board in fantasy drafts in the middle of the 3rd round. Last season he combined for 4,473 total yards and 45 TDs – this with a poor supporting cast. Just think of the possibilities with a healthy Benjamin, a breakout season from Funchess, the sturdy production from Olsen and a steady ground attack. The middle of the 3rd round is where you typically see QBs start trickling off the board, if not earlier. If he’s there, I’d definitely go with him – if you do well with your first two picks. Newton is the type of fantasy piece who can win you matchups each and every week with huge performances. Or, you can wait it out and select one of our top sleeper QBs.
The return of Kelvin Benjamin will surely provide a boost to this Panthers offense. He gives Newton a legitimate outside threat who can do a variety of things on the sideline, in the middle of the field or in the redzone. Funchess is receiving a lot of hype this season and is due for a breakout year – he very well could be worth a flyer from the 10th-12th round range, unless he stays true to his 13th round ADP which I don’t see sustaining throughout the Summer. Stewart isn’t a guy I’d trust even as an RB2, but he will still see the majority of the carries out of the backfield. Keep an eye out for Cameron Artis-Payne, he should gain some recognition as the season goes on. Olsen is a good option at tight end, but there’s more value at the position later on. Plus, his production will slip with the return of Benjamin and possible emergence of Funchess. Last but certainly not least, Newton is in line to finish as the top fantasy QB yet again this season, especially considering Tom Brady’s early suspension.
*All ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator and 12 team standard format