2019 Fantasy Football Team Previews: Panthers are going to play fast

For the second straight year, the Panthers moved on from a big-bodied WR, opting instead to build their offense around a trio of young, fast, and multidimensional offensive weapons. WRs D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel can add value on the ground, RB Christian McCaffrey led the team with over 100 catches, and the team is still quarterbacked by the dude they call Superman. Good luck, opposing defensive coordinators.   

2018 Review

Record: 7 - 9 (17th in NFL)
PPG: 23.5 (14)
YPG: 373.3 (10)
Pass YPG: 239.8 (16)
Rush YPG: 133.5 (4)
PAPG: 35.2 (15)
RAPG: 26 (12)

2018 Fantasy finishes

QB: Cam Newton - QB13
RB: Christian McCaffrey - RB2; C.J. Anderson* - RB69**; Cameron Artis-Payne - RB96
WR: D.J. Moore - WR36; Curtis Samuel - WR49; Devin Funchess* - WR58
TE: Ian Thomas - TE24; Greg Olsen - TE25
*No longer with team
**Played two games with LAR

Number to know: 100%

Christian McCaffrey played 100% of the Panthers' offensive snaps eight different times last year, obscene usage for a running back. The rest of the league's backs combined for just three such games, once each for Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley. It happened just seven times from 2015 to 2017. Excluding Week 17, McCaffrey's average weekly snap share was 97%. 

2019 Offseason

"I feel like I do have full strength right now. But me telling the doctor, that is different than, you know, whatever the clearance process may be." - Cam Newton, in early May

Head Coach: Ron Rivera (9th year)
Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner (2nd year)  

Draft Picks 

1. (16) Brian Burns, DE
2. (37) Greg Little, T
3. (100) Will Grier, QB
4. (115) Christian Miller, LB
5. (154) Jordan Scarlett, RB
6. (212) Dennis Daley, T
7. (237) Terry Godwin, WR

Additions

WR Chris Hogan, WR Aldrick Robinson, OL Matt Paradis, DL Gerald McCoy, DL Bruce Irvin

Key Departures

RB Kenjon Barner, WR Devin Funchess, WR Damiere Byrd, OL Matt Kalil, LB Thomas Davis, LB David Mayo, K Chandler Catanzaro

Rankings and Projections

Player
Cam NewtonQB8QB7QB6
Christian McCaffreyRB4RB3RB4
D.J. MooreWR25WR25WR25
Curtis SamuelWR47WR50WR47
Greg OlsenTE19TE23TE18
Ian ThomasTE25TE28TE28
Graham GanoK29K17K26
Panthers DSTDST25DST27DST21
 
Heath Cummings' projected offensive stats
QBCam Newton3,888 YD, 26 TD, 15 INT; 554 Rush YD, 5 TD
RBChristian McCaffrey217 ATT, 1,000 YD, 7 TD; 93 REC, 751 YD, 6 TD
WRD.J. Moore108 TAR, 72 REC, 962 YD, 5 TD
WRCurtis Samuel97 TAR, 57 REC, 688 YD, 5 TD
WRChris Hogan70 TAR, 51 REC, 564 YD, 4 TD
TEGreg Olsen76 TAR, 51 REC, 583 YD, 4 TD
TEIan Thomas43 TAR, 30 REC, 287 YD, 2 TD

Biggest Question

Can Ian Thomas outperform Greg Olsen?  

"Significant foot injuries have forced Olsen to miss 16 games over the past two seasons. In the games he has played in, he's exceeded 50 yards three times and scored five times. Thomas' athleticism was on full display in 2018 when he scored and averaged 12.0 yards per catch in his final two games. He's younger and faster but must prove worthy of unseating a legend in camp. Until then, Fantasy bosses should watch Thomas, not draft him." - Dave Richard 

One sleeper, one breakout, and one bust

Sleeper: Curtis Samuel

Samuel didn't play more than 50% of the team's snaps in any game last year until the final six weeks, though by that point he'd already caught three touchdowns and scored twice more on rushes. In those final six games, he posted double-digit PPR points five times despite scoring only two more touchdowns, instead averaging seven targets and just under 60 total yards per game. With Devin Funchess no longer in town, Samuel looks primed to see starter's usage from Week 1 in 2019. The Panthers have shown a willingness to utilize his 4.31 speed in creative ways, both with downfield shots and by getting the ball in his hands in space on end arounds or quick throws. A strong play in best ball formats, Samuel also makes for a solid reserve in weekly lineup leagues. 

Breakout: D.J. Moore

Like Samuel, Moore's playing time ramped up throughout last season. He played just 25% of the snaps in Weeks 1 and 2, first went over 50% in Week 8, and broke 90% in Week 12, staying above that mark for five weeks before dipping to 82% in Week 17. Despite that, Moore put up 960 yards from scrimmage as a 21-year-old, displaying his impressive ability with the ball in his hands by averaging 7.6 yards after the catch and more than 13 yards per carry on his 13 rush attempts. Apart from early-season snaps, the only thing keeping Moore from a bigger end-of-year Fantasy total was touchdowns, as he found the end zone just twice last year. Moore will probably give back some of that per-touch yardage efficiency, but betting on players that are this good, this young is a winning long-term strategy. Plus, he should offset any per-touch yardage losses with more volume as the presumed No. 1 and by finding the end zone at a higher per-touch rate. He's a great get in Round 4. 

Bust: No one

I'm bullish on this Panthers offense as a whole, and see no issue with Christian McCaffrey at the top of drafts or targeting Cam Newton after about five quarterbacks have gone. Greg Olsen has had some injury woes and shouldn't be counted on as the Fantasy stud he once was, but that's more than baked into his cost as he's virtually free in drafts. No other Panther is even consistently drafted, reinforcing the opportunity available for guys like Samuel and Moore behind McCaffrey's likely massive touch share.

So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which RB2 can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Andrew Luck's huge season, and find out.

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