The Carolina Panthers will enter the 2015 season without wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who suffered a torn ACL in training camp. The Panthers already lacked big time playmakers and this will only make matters worse. The injury to Benjamin will put even more pressure on quarterback Cam Newton to carry the team back to the postseason. However the Panthers still have a few players worth drafting and a couple late rounders that could produce solid numbers before the season ends.
That means, despite every instinct suggesting otherwise, you can’t totally ignore Carolina Panthers players in fantasy football.
Cam Newton has QB1 status this year and his ability to gain yards on the ground only enhances his fantasy upside. Newton did take a little hit losing Kelvin Benjamin for the season, but should still provide enough running and passing to be a stable QB this season. Cam threw for 3,127 yards with 18 touchdowns, while adding 539 yards rushing and 5 more touchdowns in 2014, yet he wasn’t close to full strength. If anything, the loss of Benjamin could make fantasy owners look elsewhere for their QB, allowing Cam to fall you later in the draft than previously expected. Right now that’s around round 10 or later, and if that’s not value, I don’t know what is.
Newton’s go-to target will be tight end Greg Olsen this year, as Olsen should easily lead the Panthers in targets and receiving yards. Olsen drew 123 targets last season, made good on 84 receptions while racking up 1,008 yards and 6 touchdowns and overall is just one of the more reliable tight ends (and players) around. Greg Olsen will be a top five tight end this year and will be hard to draft after the fifth round. Olsen has elite tight end upside this year and should be the first guy to target if you miss out on Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.
Jonathan Stewart is a dice roll player and that will remain the same this season. Injuries have often limited Stewart’s fantasy potential. Last season in 13 games, Stewart rushed for 809 yards and 3 touchdowns. It would be nice to see Stewart healthy for the whole season, but as fantasy owners we must be aware, he is a very injury prone tailback. Add in Carolina’s general propensity to have someone share the backfield with J-Stew, and there’s reason to dislike him as a high-end rusher.
A couple rookie players in wide out Devin Funchess and tailback Cameron Artis-Payne are definitely worth a late round flier. Devin Funchess will have ample opportunity to replicate some of the production Kelvin Benjamin had a season ago. As for Cameron Artis-Payne being the backup to injury prone Jonathan Stewart, he makes for a nice handcuff if you do draft Stewart, and probably even if you don’t. The later rounds in the draft are all about upside and opportunity, and both of these Panthers rookies have the qualities to look for as your fantasy draft comes to a close.
Carolina’s defense is one more interesting fantasy option, as they have one of the best linebackers in the league and when a healthy Star Lotulelei is up front on the defensive line, they could have a nasty run defense. They need to improve their pass rush, but this could be a stingy scoring defense again after a down year overall in 2014. They’re still a minor risk, though, so like all team defenses, only take them if you can get them in the second to last round in your fantasy football draft.
Outside of Cam Newton, the Panthers won’t have any flashy players and will most likely have to grind out wins this season. Greg Olsen is about as reliable as it gets when looking at tight ends and has the most upside of any Panthers player to exceed his totals from a season ago. This will be a very overlooked team for fantasy appeal, but still have players who can produce for your fantasy roster this season.