Fantasy Football Dilemmas: The fallout after Kelvin Benjamin's injury

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There's no replacing Kelvin Benjamin. Strictly speaking to physical size, he's right up there as one of the league's most imposing pass catchers. That's what made him the Panthers top receiver.

With that size came a ton of attention from Cam Newton last year -- 146 targets, sixth most in football. The stats followed -- 73 grabs for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. He was expected to improve on those rookie stats in 2015 and open things up otherwise for the Panthers.

That's why losing him is brutal for the Panthers' offense, the same way it was brutal for the Lions to play without Megatron or the Falcons without Julio Jones. There's just no way anyone could or should expect the Panthers offense to be just as good without Benjamin.

In 2013, Newton had a solid year without a 1,000-yard receiver. He totaled 30 touchdowns (24 passing) and had a modest (for him) 585 rush yards and 3,379 passing yards. With those numbers in 2014 he would have wound up as a Top 10 quarterback. So the big question is whether or not he can match those 2013 stats in 2015 and still finish in the Top 10.

His most reliable target will be the one he's thrown to his entire career: Greg Olsen. A year ago this time, Newton was still getting to know his wide receivers but knew Olsen was his best set of hands. He targeted his tight end 122 times in the regular season, pushing Olsen to career-highs with 84 receptions and 1,008 yards. With Benjamin out, Newton is right back to figuring out what he's got at receiver all over again, but Olsen is still his guy. It wouldn't be a surprise at all if Olsen came close to his career-best stats again in 2015. That's enough to make him a priority pick on Draft Day, more so in PPR than standard formats. Travis Kelce still has more upside but Olsen should be taken soon after Kelce. Pencil him in for 75 catches, 950 yards and six touchdowns.

So who's next best for Newton? That's a good question. Rookie Devin Funchess, who is a big receiver with a big catching radius like Benjamin, figures to have a golden opportunity. With the second-string offense he played exclusively as an outside receiver at Buffalo just like Benjamin. His size is good and his speed is good, but he's raw. On his first play he looked lost when he missed a blocking assignment and tripped on another play (still made a catch). Maybe his best spot was on a deep lob down the right sideline from Derek Anderson, catching the ball with both feet in bounds and a Bills defender pretty much on his hip. The bad news is Funchess doesn't quite look ready for prime-time, but the good news is that Benjamin didn't either last preseason and look how he turned out.

I doubt Funchess will get to 1,000 yards and nine scores as a rookie like Benjamin but no one should rule out 800 yards and six touchdowns. His situation will obviously be dictated on how much playing time he gets. If the Panthers add a veteran receiver to play on the outside, it'll tell you exactly what the Panthers coaching staff thinks of Funchess' progress. Until then he's a target around Round 11 in PPR leagues, Round 12 or 13 in standard. 

The rest of the Panthers receiving corps offers little hope for Fantasy purposes but plenty of hope for Cam Newton's stat line. Corey Brown, who lined up outside and in the slot with the first- and second-string units last week, is an interesting prospect. He's got some quicks but is pretty unproven (21-296-2 last year). Ted Ginn is back with the Panthers -- he had a decent five-touchdown season in 2013 with them but contributed less than 600 yards. In their most recent preseason game he played sparingly. He's no better than a third or fourth receiver for them. Jerricho Cotchery, Brenton Bersin and tight end Ed Dickson round out the rest of the receiving corps.

So if Newton gets 1,750 yards and 12 touchdowns from Olsen and Funchess and another 400 to 600 yards and two touchdowns each from Brown, Cotchery and Ginn, he's real close to the 3,379 yards he had in 2013. That doesn't include what he gets out of his running backs. It's the 24 passing touchdowns that are tough to envision. It feels like he'll get closer to 20.

That means if Newton's going to be really useful in Fantasy, he'll have to make up for it rushing the ball. There's a shot he does exactly that -- the Panthers let him run late last season when he was healthy and will have no problem letting him make plays with his feet this season. Matching the 585 yards and six scores from 2013 should be a piece of cake.

Just to play it safe, I'm taking quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Eli Manning -- legitimate 30-touchdown and 4,000-yard passers -- ahead of Newton. In fact, Cam is now in the range of quarterbacks who Fantasy owners can play the matchups with. Newton is fine to pair with Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Palmer, even Sam Bradford. That also makes him more of a back-half of draft quarterback play. Think Round 9.

Don't expect things to get easier for the Panthers run game. Maybe this means more work for them, but I wasn't too high on Jonathan Stewart to begin with. I doubt this opens the door for him to pick up closer to 20 touches per week. 

It's going to be a fluid situation in Carolina. The more Funchess (or anyone) shows us improvement in the preseason, the more we'll like taking Newton again in Fantasy.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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