Team Profiles- Carolina Panthers by Utter-Fantasy Writer & Illustrator Doug Bowles
Ron Rivera has been the head coach of the Panthers since 2011, and despite having 3 losing seasons out of 4, he has a winning record in Carolina (Thanks to 2013, where they won their NFC South division with a 12-4 regular season record.) HC Rivera successfully led the Panthers to the 2014 season playoffs, victorious over the Arizona Cardinals in Round 1. Although any victory is sweet in the playoffs, the Cardinals were starting a back-up-back-up QB due to injuries, so the real test was in week two of the playoffs, where they lost badly to the defending Superbowl champs Seattle Seahawks 17 to 31. It was never close.
2015 Team Outlook- The Panthers share the NFC South division with the Saints, the Falcons and the Buccaneers. It sounds like a tough division, but in 2014, not one of these teams ended the season over .500. Carolina won the division with 7-8-1 record. The last two years, the Saints seem like a Frank Caliendo impersonation, rather than the real Saints showing up to games. Despite all their talent, the Saints ended the 2014 season with a 7-9 record. Atlanta only won 6 games in 2014, Tampa Bay only 2 games, so they have rebuilding to do. New Orleans will right the ship, so they will be the team the Panthers fight to be the NFC South division champs in 2015.
2015 Fantasy Outlook-
QB- When Cam Newton was selected as the first overall pick by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft, he had all the tangibles to be one of the best quarterbacks that the NFL has ever had. Newton has never quite lived up the those expectations, but there are about 15+ teams in the NFL that wish that Cam was their starting QB, and the Panthers are glad that they selected him. Since being selected first round in 2011, 6 other quarterbacks have been drafted with first round picks, who currently aren’t even starting QBs. QB Newton likely won’t be in the top 10 of 2015 QBs, but he’ll be in the top 15. You can expect approximately 3800 total yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs from Cam this next season. (Despite all his injuries, Cam has only missed 2 games over the past 3 years.)
RBs- It seems like we’ve been talking about the running back combo of RB DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart for over a decade. RB Williams was drafted in 2006, and RB Stewart in 2008, so it actually has been a LONG time. They must have a bet going with the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Panthers draft a top-prospect running back, they lose the bet. If the Chiefs draft a top-prospect wide receiver, they lose the bet. (The Panthers haven’t drafted a RB in the first 3 rounds of any NFL Draft since Stewart went in the 1st -2008.) For a lot of reasons, including QB Newton’s running abilities around the goal line, Panther running backs are bad news fantasy football-wise…so just avoid them if you can. DeAngelo Williams was only available for six games in 2014, we doubt Carolina wants him back.
WRs- The Panthers drafted one of the star wide receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft, WR Kelvin Benjamin, who more than surpassed any and all expectations. WR Benjamin finished #13 among ALL NFL WRs in 2014, racking up 116 yards and 9 TDs. Next September, don’t wait to long in your drafts to get this amazing athlete for your fantasy team. In 2015 the anthers selected another big wide receiver 6’4″ Devin Funchess. UPDATE: On August 19th- WR Kelvin Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in Wednesday’s training camp practice- WRs Philly Brown, jerical Cotchery and Ted Ginn Jr will try to replace Benjamin
TEs- The Chicago Bears earned an ESPY “Bone-head” award in 2011 when they traded TE Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers for a 2012 third round draft pick. Since trading him, Olsen has ranked 6th among TEs in 2012, 8th in 2013 and 4th in 2014. Only Gronk, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham bested Olsen in 2014. He ended the season with 1008 yards and 6 TDs. I expect the same, if not better in 2015, because his chemistry with QB Newton is only growing. Olsen hasn’t missed a game in 4 years.
K- Graham Gano, Carolina’s place kicker, ranked 13th among NFL kickers in 2014. He went 29 for 35 in field goal attempts which will keep him his job. He does play well in nice weather, usually.
DEF- You can thank Ron Rivera for turning this defense around. In 2011, when he was hired as the new head coach, the Panthers ranked 30th in overall defense. In 2012, they got a little better, and ranked 21st. They got a lot better in 2013 and ranked as the 3rd best defense. 2014 was another good year for the Carolina defense, ranking #10.
HC Rivera will always put a strong defense on the field, so pencil them in as a top 10 defense for 2015.
2014 Carolina Fantasy Surprises- 1) Jonathan Stewart played 46.4 percent of snaps in 2014. He almost always is injured. 2) Carolina didn’t release WR Cotchery when they released Avant. Cotchery ended the season with 1 TD, rookie WR Benjamin had 9. 3) QB Cam Newton only missed one game, despite breaking ribs in a serious car accident in early December.
2015 Free Agents that Carolina Needs to Address- QB Joe Webb- TE Ed Dickson- OT Byron Bell- OT Garry Williams- DT Colin Cole
2015 NFL Draft- The early needs of Carolina are help on their O-Line, wide receivers (badly) , and upgrade on defense. The Panthers had a poor offensive line play all year, and need to surround QB Newton with solid blockers (OT), you already know by now the sad wide receiver situation in Carolina, other than Benjamin (WRs), and Rivera will likely get rid of Greg Hardy because of all his off-field crap, so they desperately need another edge pass rusher (DE).
Did You Know- then linebacker Ron Rivera played in the 1985 Superbowl XX, where the Bears beat the New England Patriots, 46-10? Mike Ditka was the head coach and Rivera became the first Puerto Rican to play on a Super Bowl championship team.