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Carolina Panthers fantasy football team preview

Who to target and avoid in fantasy football from the Carolina Panthers.   

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers’ 2020 schedule sets the table for fantasy gold. The defense lost foundational pieces like DL Dontari Poe, DL Gerald McCoy, EDGE Bruce Irvin, EDGE Mario Addison, EDGE Vernon Butler, All Pro LB Luke Kuechly, and CB James Bradberry. They were replaced with rookies DL Derrick Brown, EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, S Jeremy Chinn, and CB Troy Pride. No matter how talented they are, the COVID-stunted training camp makes life significantly harder than it already would’ve been. The rookie-based defense faces lights-out passing games all year long, ensuring a constant high pace for the offense.

New OC Joe Brady burned college football to the ground with his passing attack at LSU last year, making his high-octane system a perfect fit for what the Panthers have coming. QB Teddy Bridgewater holds league-winning potential. The wideout trio of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson is one of the strongest in the league. 3rd-year tight end Ian Thomas is on the precipice of a Top 12 fantasy breakout with stalwart tight end Greg Olsen finally out of the way. Christian McCaffrey is in a tier of his own as the overall RB1 across all fantasy formats.

Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule:

  • 5th overall toughest schedule
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s overall defensive efficiency
  • Mid-tier blend of pass defenses
  • 12th softest in terms of opponent’s defensive passing efficiency
  • The toughest blend of rush defenses
  • 5th toughest in terms of the opponent’s defensive rushing efficiency
  • 2nd toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive efficiency
  • 2nd toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive passing efficiency
  • 5th softest in terms of the opponent’s offensive rushing efficiency

Quarterback

Not only did Joe Brady lead the 2019 LSU team to blown up box scores via analytically-backed offensive play-calling, he also has a pair of playoff seasons in the NFL under his belt, working as an Offensive Assistant with the New Orleans Saints in 2017 and 2018. For the 2018 season, current Carolina Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater was a backup QB. With familiarity in place, Brady should be well accustomed to Bridgewater’s strengths and weaknesses and likewise, Bridgewater should be intimately familiar with Brady’s offensive preferences. As noted earlier, the Panthers look like they’ll be playing from behind for much of the 2020 season. When they aren’t playing the Bucs, Saints, and Falcons twice each, they’re facing off with the Raiders and Cards or the Chiefs and the Lions. No matter where you look, there’s either a dominant offense that will force the Panthers offense in non-stop passing action or there’s a swisscheese defense for Teddy and Co. to carve up.

Bridgewater is a lowkey candidate to be in the upper echelon of both pass attempts and fantasy scoring. In 2019, he went 5-0 as a starter while Drew Brees’ recovered from UCL surgery on his thumb. During that time, Bridgewater posted a 67.9% completion percentage, ranking 4th-highest in the league. His positive Completion Percentage Over Expected results (0.6%) showed that his 67.9% was no lie—he actually performed better than he was expected to, given the overall difficulties of the throws he was making. There’s an incorrect narrative that Bridgewater can only throw accurately in the shallow-to-mid depths of the field given his high-volume of shortfield throws last year with the Saints. If it were true, it would be a concern in Joe Brady’s high-volume downfield passing scheme. But passing short was just what the Saints offense was built to do. Their primary targets were Michael Thomas, who shredded defenses top to bottom but operated closer to the line of scrimmage than many of his counterparts, running back Alvin Kamara, and tight end Jared Cook. As noted in Sharp Football’s 2020 Football Preview, when Bridgewater did pass 20-yards or more downfield, he registered a 57.1% completion percentage—good for second-best in the NFL.

Running Back

In 2019, Christian McCaffrey scored 413.2 .5PPR points and 471.2 PPR points—tops at both RB and WR. The next closest RB was Aaron Jones (290.3 .5PPR and 314.8 PPR). The closest WR was Michael Thomas (300.1 .5PPR and 374.6 PPR). Although he’s unlikely to fully repeat that performance in 2020, it’s quite clear that his ceiling puts him in a tier of his own.

The Panthers’ 2020 schedule reinforces McCaffrey’s high-value passing game usage. As mentioned above, Carolina’s woeful defense will be routinely routed by the wave of dominant passing games they’re set to face. Add in the fact that Carolina’s opponents appear to excel at stopping the run and lacking against the pass, CMC’s passing game usage should once again pace all NFL running backs as Joe Brady opts to circumvent his opponent’s staunch front-sevens.

Christian McCaffrey is the indisputable No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football.

Wide Receiver

D.J. Moore is on track for All Pro stardom. Breakout Age has been recognized as a major predictor of future success at the wideout position. Moore is one of just 5 receivers in history, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Odell Beckham Jr., Josh Gordon, and Larry Fitzgerald, to post an 87-catch, 1,175-yard stat line in their 21-22 year-old season. His NFL success comes as no surprise though—he was downright dominant as an 18-year old at the University of Maryland. At the 2018 NFL Combine, Moore flaunted his elite athleticism with a 39.5” vertical jump, an 11’ broad jump, 4.07-second 20-yard short shuttle, 6.95-second 3-cone drill, and a 1.54-second 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash. All numbers that would place him in the top tier, regardless of position. After the catch, he’s a rich man’s Golden Tate, posterizing defenders with his run-after-catch ability. Adding that he’s built like a running back at 6’, 210lbs, one can see why tacklers in the secondary struggle to stop him. Moore’s 3.10, WR14 ADP in .5PPR is appropriately priced.

Curtis Samuel likely has the inside track to the team lead in slot routes for 2020. Samuel was billed as a WR/RB leaving college—for whatever reason, he was forced into the team’s downfield lid-lifter role post-draft. Now at home, working close to the line of scrimmage and over the middle of the field, Samuel is set to post career numbers. OC Joe Brady has emphasized the desire to get the ball to Samuel in space so he can exercise his YAC quicks. Samuel’s 14.11, WR63 ADP is a dynamite steal.

Newly acquired Robby Anderson should build on his typical boom/bust weekly results. In New York, he was able to find week-winning success even in Adam Gase’s offense. His downfield role should bring even more fantasy goodness in Joe Brady’s system. The hangup with Anderson is that he’s likely to battle TE Ian Thomas for 4th place in the target pecking order, behind D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Christian McCaffrey. Anderson will be a matchup-based play against teams lacking quality safety play. His 13.01, WR56 ADP is a fine value.

Keith Kirkwood, Seth Roberts, and Tommylee Lewis have flashed playmaking ability in year’s past, albeit oftentimes in the preseason. One could be worth an add (likely just Kirkwood or Roberts) were one of the starters to miss time.

Tight End

Highly touted as a weapon in the receiving game coming out of college, Ian Thomas has been developing behind future Hall of Fame tight end Greg Olsen for the last two years. A third-year breakout is common at the position and Thomas has the projected workload to do just that. Thomas boasts excellent burst and change-of-direction speed with 36” hops. Standing 6’3”, 259lbs, the tight end is a sight to behold. Get ready for a top 12 fantasy season across all formats. He’s going largely undrafted in most leagues—an egregious mistake.

Kicker

We want proficient kickers in high-scoring offenses. Joey Slye fits the bill.

Defense/Special Teams

The Panthers D/ST are a sneaky streaming unit. Although they’ll give up points, their projected high frequency of shootouts bodes well for their sack and interception production.