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This offense will go as Cam Newton goes, which might be a scary proposition. Newton has been declining ever since a magnificent rookie season, but he’s surrounded by freak athletes and has a real chance to turn it around this year. This majority of players in this offense have incredibly high ceilings with low floors (Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Devin Funchess). If you feel like gambling a bit, this is a team to target.
Bye Week: 5
Rookie Impacts: Devin Funchess and Cameron Artis-Payne
After Kelvin Benjamin became Cam Newton’s favorite target in his rookie year, the Panthers went out and got him a similarly sized weapon in Devin Funchess. Although he’s far from a burner, Funchess has the kind of size and ball-retrieval skills that can make up for Newton’s inaccuracy more often than not. He should play a substantial role in the offense right away, even if Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen soak up most of the targets. There’s late-round WR3/4 appeal here with the potential for more, especially if Newton puts it all together.
As for Artis-Payne, given Jonathan Stewart’s constant injuries, it makes sense to handcuff him with the rookie and hope for the best. Stewart has missed 13 games over the last three seasons, which might have contributed to the Panthers selecting the rookie from Auburn in the fifth round. While this would likely be a committee approach in Stewart’s absence, with Mike Tolbert potentially stealing the goal line work, Artis-Payne seems like a safe bet to receive significant touches at some point during the season.
To call Cam Newton’s fourth season disappointing would be an understatement. Newton registered career lows in total passing yards, touchdowns, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 14 games last year, finishing as fantasy’s 17th-ranked quarterback. Still, there’s plenty of QB1 potential here, mainly because Newton is such a dynamic runner. While it’s highly unlikely that he’ll score 14 touchdowns on the ground like he did in his rookie year, Newton’s prowess around the goal line makes him a great target in best-ball leagues. Don’t reach for him, but don’t write him off completely yet, either.
Running back: Jonathan Stewart
DeAngelo Williams is finally, mercifully, out of the picture, but don’t jump at Stewart just because of that. Cam still lurks as a drain on his touches and the injury risk with Stewart is as great as any back. Stewart is a capable three-down back, but it seems unlikely the Panthers will opt to give him heavy workloads given his history. He’s a back-end RB2 with a higher risk than the likely reward.
Wide receiver: Kelvin Benjamin
Benjamin racked up a whopping 145 targets as a rookie, and made his presence felt in the red zone with 9 TDs. With so little change in Carolina this offseason, save for the addition of Funchess opposite of him, Benjamin should be able to safely replicate his rookie line and perhaps add to it with a bounce-back campaign from Newton. Benjamin is a borderline WR1 who should get all the chances he needs to put up big numbers this season.
Tight end: Greg Olsen
He’s a safety blanket, both for Cam Newton and fantasy owners. Olsen provides very reliable production, as he’s made good on three straight seasons of 100-plus targets with respectable fantasy totals. After setting career-highs last season in receptions (84) and yards (1,008), Olsen is safely a top-five fantasy tight end given the climate of the position. There’s little risk involved with taking him, which you can’t say about too many other players at the position outside of Rob Gronkowski.
Placekicker: Graham Gano
Gano has a big leg, but he’s not the most accurate kicker out there. There’s concern that Carolina will be going for two more frequently with the new PAT rules, especially with Riverboat Ron coaching and Newton being so tough to stop at the goalline.
Team Defense (D/ST):
Carolina is a great defense to target in drafts on their own merits, but their early matchups are what we care about most. The Panthers get the Jags, Texans and Bucs in three of their first four games, which could lead to huge points. Keep them early, then cut them loose at the Week 5 bye and start streaming.