The Panthers had a very impressive start in 2018, going 6–2. However, everything came crashing down as the team lost seven games in the second half of the season, finishing the year 7–9 and coming in third in the NFC South. A very disappointing season for a good team who started off the year incredibly hot.
Carolina is one of the few teams in the NFL who didn’t have any real excitement in the off-season. There are no real coaching changes, no high profile free agent signings and no guys in the draft that captured the attention of NFL media. I will say that, even though the media’s attention is on other teams, the Panthers did select some solid pieces that will really help solidify the team (specifically the two offensive linemen Greg Little and Dennis Daley). Despite the disappointing season this was a very good team that suffered mostly due to Cam Newton’s injury and the same crew will be back for 2019.
Despite the rough way the season ended in 2018, there were still some useful pieces for fantasy. Newton was shut down for the last two games of the season after playing through a major injury to his shoulder since their sixth game, didn’t have his security blanket tight end for most of his season AND didn’t have a single pass catcher with 900 yards. Despite all of that, Newton still finished as the 12th QB in fantasy. Even with his injury and missing two games Newton still had 488 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, making him the fourth QB in terms of rushing. Reports are good for Newton in terms of his recovery this summer with beat reporters being pleasantly surprised with his deep ball. He is going to be great again, and is going in a perfect spot at the end of the eighth round. That’s great value for a guy with Top 5 upside and is about where I think about my taking my first QB anyway.
Part of the reason I’m so high on Newton is the emergence of his weapons. Yes, Greg Olsen is back, but I’m honestly not that interested in him for fantasy. He’s been Top 5 before numerous times and is going in the 13th. He could be amazing value if you wanted to wait until the last minute to pick up a tight end. The guys I am excited about, however, are DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. Moore is getting a ton of pre-season hype, and for good reason. He really came into his own in the second half of his rookie year starting with his 157 yards against the Lions. He showed great route running, concentration and explosion for a rookie on a team that was trending in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the public has caught on to the explosive second year wide out and as a result he’s going in the fifth round.
The value guy that I love on this team is Samuel. Not only is he going two rounds later in the seventh, but I think he’s the best wide receiver on the team. No, he didn’t finish as flashy as the rookie Moore. And, yes, he finished with less yards and catches than Moore. So why the love? His route running. Samuel isn’t some random guy off the street, he’s a second round pick a few years ago from Ohio State. He’s a high profile recruit who just had some issues with injuries in his first couple of years. You can see that in his games on the field. Per Matt Harmon’s reception perception, Samuel beat man coverage 76 percent of the time and beat press coverage 74 percent of the time. He’s truly gifted at getting off the line and creating separation. Samuel is someone I am going out of my way to target in the mid rounds because, as much as I (and everyone else for that matter) love Moore, I think Samuel will be the number one wide receiver on the team and not Moore.
Of course, despite my adoration for Samuel and Moore, neither of these guys will be the No. 1 target. That role is securely held by running back Christian McCaffrey. CMC was an animal finishing third in both standard and half PPR leagues and second in full PPR leagues. He led the team in receiving yards (867) to go along with his 1,098 rushing yards. He is super human playing over 90 percent of all offensive snaps last year. He’s amazing. You don’t need me to tell you that. He’s also a stand out to me in the first round. We still don’t have clarity on either Ezekiel Elliot or Melvin Gordon’s hold out situations, and Saquon Barkley is on what I think will be the worst offense in the NFL this year. I really have no problem with anyone who wants to take McCaffrey as the No. 1 overall pick.
Again, I think the Panthers are a great team. They have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations this year and have the team and coaching to get back there despite being in a division known for offensive juggernauts. If Newton is healthy, and again all signs are pointing to that being the case, this team could easily upset the Saints and win the division and make a deep run into the playoffs. They have a well coached and disciplined defense, a great quarterback with young electric play-makers to support him and a coaching staff that knows how to keep them in games. I like this team a lot and couldn’t be more excited to watch this young offense explode in 2019.
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