The Panthers offense benefited from improved QB play last season, but it clearly wasn't enough -- Carolina actually fell from 20th in scoring to 24th. There's plenty of talent at the skill positions with Christian McCaffrey leading the way, but it's an open question as to whether Sam Darnold has enough juice to power a breakout.
Record: 5 - 11 (25)
PPG: 21.9 (24)
YPG: 349.5 (21)
Pass YPG: 243.0 (18)
Rush YPG: 106.5 (21)
PAPG: 34.4 (22)
RAPG: 25.4 (21)
2020 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 7.2
That's how many yards Sam Darnold averaged per deep attempt -- defined as a pass that traveled further than 20 yards down the field -- in 2020. He didn't have much talent around him, of course, but even Joe Flacco averaged 9.96 on his deep attempts, so Darnold simply wasn't very good. Teddy Bridgewater isn't typically praised for his deep ball throwing -- and his limitations were clearly seen in his abnormally low 5.6% touchdown rate on deep passes -- but he was good enough to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers often enough. With McCaffrey, Moore and Anderson, there are going to be plenty of easy throws in this offense, and it shouldn't be hard for Darnold to have his best season ever. The question is whether he's good enough to make the harder throws, and whether this offense lives up to its full potential will rest on the answer to that question.
1. (8) Jaycee Horn, CB
2. (59) Terrace Marshall Jr., WR
3. (70) Brady Christensen, OT
3. (83) Tommy Tremble, TE
4. (126) Chuba Hubbard, RB
5. (158) Daviyon Nixon, DT
5. (166) Keith Taylor, CB
6. (193) Deonte Brown, G
6. (204) Shi Smith, WR
6. (222) Thomas Fletcher, LS
7. (232) Phil Hoskins, DT
171 carries, 69 RB targets, 117 WR targets, 10 TE targets
Rankings and projections
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Sam Darnold||PA: 572, YD: 4066, TD: 22, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 55, YD: 222, TD: 2|
|RB||Christian McCaffrey||CAR: 282, YD: 1324, TD: 10; TAR: 115, REC: 91, YD: 742, TD: 4|
|RB||Chuba Hubbard||CAR: 72, YD: 304, TD: 2; TAR: 23, REC: 15, YD: 97, TD: 0|
|WR||D.J. Moore||TAR: 135, REC: 82, YD: 1149, TD: 6|
|WR||Robby Anderson||TAR: 129, REC: 81, YD: 974, TD: 5 |
|WR||Terrace Marshall||TAR: 86, REC: 52, YD: 619, TD: 4|
|TE||Dan Arnold||TAR: 52, REC: 31, YD: 377, TD: 2|
Can Sam Darnold make the post-Adam Gase leap?
Darnold has given only fleeting glimpses of the potential that made him so intriguing as a prospect. How much of that was on him, and how much was on the miserable situation he found himself in New York? And then, of course, there's the question of how much that situation might have hindered his development. This is a great situation for a young quarterback, with a lot of receiving talent around him, but he'll still need to improve. If he can't, it could drag the whole thing down.
One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
This is less about Hubbard -- who I'm sure is a fine player -- than it is about the role. Mike Davis was a No. 1 RB with Christian McCaffrey out last season, and Davis was pretty much the platonic ideal of "Just A Guy" at running back before that. If Hubbard is the primary backup to McCaffrey, Hubbard is one sprained ankle away from potentially being a must-start Fantasy RB. I'm targeting him in the later rounds of all of my drafts for that reason alone.
I'm just going to make the case for Moore as a breakout every season, it seems. He's one of just seven WR ever to have 3,000 plus receiving yards before his age-24 season, and he's done that with what can charitably be described as subpar QB play. Moore feels like he's where Stefon Diggs was last season, having shown he can be productive in any kind of role -- as a short-area playmaker or in the intermediate and deeper parts of the field, as an occasional rusher, etc -- and now it's on him to take the kind of leap Diggs did. I don't think he will do all that, in part because I don't trust Darnold. On the other hand, most didn't trust Josh Allen to let Diggs break out the way he did. Moore has a high floor -- he was WR15 with Will Grier and Kyle Allen -- and if Darnold shows signs of life, he could be a legitimate, do-it-all, No. 1 WR.
I suppose you could make a case for Christian McCaffrey as a bust, actually, but I won't. Sure, he's coming off an injury-plagued year with a new QB in an offensive system that he only played three games in, so there's some risk there -- probably more than you want for a consensus No. 1 overall pick. On the other hand, he scored 90.3 points in those three games and combined for 298.3 with Mike Davis, which would have been fourth overall in points leagues. That feels like a floor if he stays healthy. So I'll go with Anderson, who faded badly in the second half of 2020 and now has a likely downgrade at QB to deal with. Anderson's pace over the final nine games of the season? 87 catches (good!) for 811 yards and four touchdowns (not so good). He does have familiarity with Darnold, but I think he's also clearly the second-best WR on his own team, and a healthy McCaffrey may not be great for his numbers either. Anderson is a decent No. 3 WR with some weekly upside, but don't expect a repeat of last season's early production.