How quickly they fall. The NFL is known well for having parity and teams being able to crawl from the gutters to the rooftops in a matter of a few seasons. Even the Panthers themselves went from 1-15 to the 2003 Super Bowl in a matter of two seasons.
However, they just found themselves on the other side of the coin. Two years ago they went 12-4 and finished 7th in the NFL in scoring. Now they're coming off of a 2-14 season and finished dead last in the NFL in scoring and total yards. The Panthers are moving on after nine years under John Fox and the Ron Rivera era begins. However, Rivera is a defensive guy and won't be in charge of rebuilding the NFL's worst offense and developing #1 pick Cam Newton into an NFL superstar.
Rob Chudzinski is the new offensive coordinator. Previously, he helped the Browns finish 8th in the NFL in scoring as OC in 2007, their highest finished since 1987. However, they finished 30th the following year and the whole staff was let go.
The Panthers will probably be bad this year, and it's unlikely that they'll win more than 5 games, but they could have some interesting fantasy players. Such as...
Newton is getting drafted way too often this season, with owners going completely off of name recognition. He was remarkable in his one full season of division I football at Auburn, so much so that he won the Heisman trophy and was selected first overall in this years draft. Realistically, there isn't much reason for him to be drafted in any one year leagues, even though he's been named the starter for the Panthers.
Historically number one picks, whether they went on to be successful or not, have not had great rookie seasons. Add on top of that, he's going to the NFL's worst team from a year ago and he isn't surrounded by excellent talent. Expect the Panthers to run the ball and use a lot of short routes, dump-offs, and heavy utilization of the tight end spot. Cam may show some flashes of greatness, but on a week to week basis, he's going to have some really underwhelming games as he adjusts to the NFL. Just say no unless you're in a dynasty league.
Clausen started 10 games a year ago and was the worst QB in the NFL. Even if he was only a rookie, you'd hope to see some good. Not only did he never top 200 yards passing, he finished under 100 yards four times. There's not even a reason to keep an eye on Clausen if he does regain the starters job.
The Panthers spent a lot of money to retain players from last seasons team, and a large chunk of that went to Williams. No offense to Williams, but... why? He's now 28-years-old, in a ball-share with Jonathon Stewart, and played just 6 games last season, none of which did he top 100 yards. Three years ago he rushed for over 1,500 yards and 18 TDs and he topped 5 yards per carry for three straight seasons. But in the NFL, running backs come and go and they come and go quick. Very rarely do you peak twice in your career. Don't overvalue Williams just because the Panthers did. He's getting drafted 21st amongst running backs on average, ahead of Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, and teammate Jonathon Stewart. I'll take a better value pick later than risk making Williams my RB2 early.
I remember Stewarts days in high school when he was the top running back in the state of Washington. He spurned the state's universities and went to the University of Oregon where he rushed for over 1,700 yards in his junior season and then picked by the Panthers in the first round of the 2008 draft. His career in the NFL has been up and down from a fantasy-perspective because of his ball-share with Williams. But as a starter, lone back, he's been excellent. In the final 6 games of 2010 he rushed for 562 yards and 5.1 YPC. However, he's back in a sharing situation, he doesn't have much value in PPR, and he's not guaranteed to get goal-line carries. I don't love Stewart but I also don't rate him any worse than Williams. If anything happens to one or the other, then the value of each skyrockets, especially if its Stewart that gets the bulk of the workload.
Behind the top 2 names stands Goodson. He rushed for over 100 yards twice last season, which is two more times than Williams. He was also the main kick returner for the Panthers, and they had to return a lot of kicks after finishing 2-14. Goodson is a nice deep sleeper.
He may no longer even be the best Steve Smith in the NFL. Being a part of the worst passing offense in the league last year didn't help, and now he goes from Clausen to Cam, but will that help him improve? The 32 year old caught 2 TDs last year and they came in the first 2 games of the season. Smith is still getting drafted in fantasy based on what he once did, and past elite WRs did have success into their mid-30s, but how do we know how Smith will react to his worst season in years? He's getting drafted ahead of some interesting young options like Jacoby Ford and Danny Amendola, and I'd rather take a chance on one of them.
When the Chargers needed someone to step up in the absence of Vincent Jackson last season, Naanee caught 5 passes for 110 yards in week 1 of last season. That pretty much became the bulk of his 2010 final statistics. The former 5th round pick out of Boise State gets another chance in Carolina where he'll see more targets, but probably in an offense that will finish in the bottom third of the NFL again. Not much to see here.
Just want to touch a bit on Edwards, whom the Panthers traded away a 2010 2nd round pick to get in the third round of the 2009 draft. He was a quarterback for Appalachian State, and perhaps the greatest quarterback in division 2 history. But he's more of an "athlete" than anything else and could see some time in wildcat formations taking direct snaps and at WR. Steve Smith was once an "athlete project" that turned from kick return to one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, could Edwards do the same some day?
Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski is a former tight ends coach who worked at the University of Miami and molded some of the greatest tight ends in the NFL in the last decade, and he also helped turn Antonio Gates into what he is with the Chargers. Expect Olsen and the other tight ends to get a lot of work this season, especially with a rookie QB at the helm. Olsen may have a career year in Carolina, after always seeming to be on the edge of being a great fantasy tight end but never putting up great numbers. He's going 17th in drafts among tight ends and he could be a big sleeper.
Also getting looks will be Shockey, now in his tenth season. Shockey has long thought of himself as an elite NFL tight end, but over the last 5 years he's averaged 52 catches and 540 yards, which doesn't make him a good option in fantasy. But he's back with Chudzinski, who coached him at the U, so he might be a good comeback candidate in 2011.
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