The Panthers were an elite team last year, winning 12 games due to the strength of their ground game and offensive line play. Those strengths look to continue in ‘09, and most of their success hinges on those two areas carrying this team. It will be tough to replicate the type of season they had last year, but there are definitely some players on this team who will be fantasy forces again that you should know about.
QB: Jake Delhomme, Josh McCown, Matt Moore
RB: Deangelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson
WR: Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Dwayne Jarrett
TE: Jeff King, Dante Rosario
K: John Kasay
Quarterback: This position certainly isn’t a team strength for Carolina. The first thing that people remember about Jake Delhomme last year is seemingly how he imploded in their biggest game of the year, which was arguably one of the worst QB playoff performances ever. It doesn’t give you much confidence about him as a fantasy starter going into ‘09, with his six turnovers causing him to look like he might be finished as a QB. Well, Carolina rewarded him this past off-season with an extension to the surprise of many, and cleared up some cap space in the short term — honestly, they didn’t have many better options.
Delhomme is still a serviceable fantasy back-up QB, mostly due to having one of the best WRs in the NFL to throw to. If you’re in a situation where you have to rely on Delhomme at any point during your season to start, then you better hope you’re incredibly strong elsewhere. He won’t win you any games, but he could certainly lose you some. You’ll want to spot start him against easy match-ups and take advantage of that. Honestly, this year I’d rather roll the dice and gamble on a back-up QB with some upside (i.e. Matt Stafford) versus what you know you’ll get with Delhomme, I’d only look towards him in very deep leagues where QBs are scarce.
Matt Moore is a very interesting young QB who is developing and has looked solid at times. Dallas was upset he didn’t clear waivers when they released him, and he will eventually get a shot to see if he can lead this team, but as evidenced by Delhomme’s extension, he’s not ready to take over unless Delhomme bombs the season.
Running Back: As a 1-2 punch, you won’t get much better then Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Deangelo was the #1 fantasy RB last year, and you also won’t find a guy who is tougher for fantasy footballers to rank this year. Will Jonathan Stewart take over? Was his season a fluke? Can he repeat that type of season? Is he a legit first-round pick? You are likely to get an array of opinions depending on who you ask, but one thing I am certain of is that’s his starting job is not in jeopardy and he’ll still lead this team in carries, which to me equals Williams being the back to own. He may never match that great 2008 season, but the thing about Williams is he’s never gotten a chance to be fed the ball as much as he was last year. Fox kept Deshaun Foster in as a starter in the past, even though he spent a first on Williams, but he’s always performed even in limited opportunities.
Those folks who think Williams is a flash in a pan should do some research. The past two years he’s averaged over 5.0 yards per carry. Williams can run inside and outside, can break the big play or get the tough short yards — he’s as complete as you’ll see for an NFL RB. Go back even further to his Memphis days, when everyone knew he was the only legit player on that team, and in 2004 he led the nation with 22 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 rushing yards as a junior. He came back and shown he wasn’t a fluke as a senior. He’s put up gaudy stats for a long time now, so I have to question why he’s such a fluke now. Little known to most people, he set the NCAA record for career games over 100 rushing yards with 34, surpassing Archie Griffin and Tony Dorsett. Maybe he doesn’t set the league on fire in 2009 like last year, but those expecting him to fall off and hand over his job have another thing coming and are likely to miss the boat on Williams once again. Can’t get much better then him going late in the first round, and anything past that point is highway robbery.
That’s not to sell the ultra-talented Jonathan Stewart short. Stewart is blessed with an amazing blend of speed and power, and has all the tools you look for to be a top-five RB in fantasy football for a long time if given the carries. He had a great rookie season and reached double digit touchdowns, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think he can increase his numbers across the board, but his value ties into Deangelo Williams and how much each guy will get the ball. Just like Williams had to wait his turn behind Foster, I think the same rings true for Stewart. Yes he’s extremely talented, but he’ll likely be a goal-line vulture and a part-time back, getting most of his work that way until Deangelo leaves or he takes over completely as the lead back in this offense. Fox is typically loyal to his veterans, and in this situation his veteran is 10 times more talented than Foster ever was. I think the situation plays out the same here, which could be good for both backs. Stewart is a great RB3 or flex back this year and could be very consistent for you. Expecting him to lead this team in carries or take over completely is a bit pre-mature I think; he’s certainly capable, but he can only do so much with the carries he’s given. Even with slight increases he’s a great back to own, just risky relying on him as a RB2. His time to shine will definitely come though, and I expect him to take the league by storm once Fox fully unleashes him, but don’t expect that to happen this year.
Wide Receiver: This position starts, and ends, with Steve Smith. He’s arguably the best WR in the NFL right now; unfortunately, that’s not the same as fantasy value because his value is tied to Jake Delhomme. If were talking truly elite seasons, Smith has only visited that territory once back in 2005 with over 1,500 receiving yards and 12 TDs. That was the only season of his career he’s reached double digit TDs. Now that’s not the only mark that shows how good a WR is, but for fantasy leagues TDs trump all, so you want to know what type of upside a player presents. Last year was a dominant season, but the 78 receptions and 6 TDs stick out, stopping 2008 from being considered an elite season. You should still expect him to produce like a WR1, but he’s not in the class of Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, or Andre Johnson in terms of fantasy. If Delhomme has a drop off in play it will be even tougher for him to repeat his yardage totals of last year, and that’s before you factor in his injury.
After Smith, there isn’t much to be relied on with this core. Muhsin Muhammad is a savvy veteran that is still a reliable pass-catcher and could fill in on bye weeks if you’re in a jam, but you shouldn’t feel comfortable starting him more then a few times a this year, if that. Dwayne Jarrett is the highly-touted USC WR who hasn’t put it all together on the field yet, but he’s shown flashes recently of finally being able to be counted on by Carolina. He’s a great dynasty stash, and in redrafts not a bad guy to pick up late with some upside, but honestly with Muhammad around for another year, and Delhomme likely to have a drop off, I don’t see him being worth starting this year. He’s someone interesting to monitor going into 2010 though.
Tight End: Dante Rosario was everyone’s favorite waiver-wire pick-up last year after Week 1. He had a big training camp and had some praise about him after catching the game winning TD against the Chargers, but he went back to being an afterthought once Steve Smith returned, and wasn’t very useful after that. Jeff King is more of a blocker, and hewas never a viable fantasy option to begin with. You should avoid this position for Carolina, as there will likely be better options available in your draft.
IDP: Jon Beason is the guy to know here. He’s been an IDP darling for a few years now, and looks like a legit talent at the LB position who you should target in your IDP leagues. What you should keep in mind before drafting Beason is that the Panthers lost starting DT Maake Kemoeatu for the season with a torn Achilles. He was the anchor on that D-line with very little depth behind him. Losing a big guy like him can make things tough for the play-making LBers behind him, as he sucks up the blockers so guys like Beason can roam free and rack up tackles; now, you can expect his job to be that much tougher. Don’t let this news make you avoid draft him, but you should certainly have knowledge of this. Don’t overpay, because I expect it to affect his numbers just a bit.
Julius Peppers is still a stud for DL play, and while he wants out of Carolina, he’s got to have another big year to get the payday he wants, so he can’t afford to slack off and miss out on free agency next year. Draft him on your D-line with confidence.
Overall, Carolina has some key contributors to fantasy teams. Expect guys like Deangelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, Jon Beason, and Julius Peppers to produce at their respective positions, making them all guys you should target if the price is right. Their schedule is much tougher this year, so expecting 12 wins seems like a stretch, but their team strength is running the ball and playing good defense and I don’t expect that trend to change.
Todd Ransom is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Todd in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of LS2throwed.
Questions or comments for Todd? Post them in the Cafe Forums!
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!