Fantasy Football Instant Reaction: Kelvin Benjamin's Week 3 knee injury leaves Cam Newton, Panthers even more shallow
Kelvin Benjamin's injury puts a hurt on his Fantasy value as well as Cam Newton's, but there's more excitement than ever for rookie Christian McCaffrey.
It didn't look good when Kelvin Benjamin was tackled from behind by Saints cornerback Kenny Crawley on the last play of the first quarter, and it looked downright scary when Benjamin was spotted on the sideline with a giant ice wrap on his left knee (the same one he tore his ACL in 2015).
For the second week in a row, the Panthers saw one of Cam Newton's primary targets leave with a significant injury, but this week they couldn't overcome it. Newton was intercepted on the series after Benjamin's departure, then picked off twice in the fourth quarter. All by a Saints defense ranked 32nd in the league heading into Week 3.
Benjamin's status moving forward isn't known, but the optics suggest he's suffered some sort of significant injury. The timing couldn't be worse -- he had two targets in the first quarter (catching both for eight yards) and was in line for a big dose from Newton not just in Week 3 but every week.
Without Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, who broke his foot in Week 2, Newton will play minus his top two targets from 2016. The duo combined for 143 receptions, 2,014 yards and 10 touchdowns -- more than half of Newton's completions, yards and touchdowns from a year ago.
Newton was remorseful after the game, admitting he couldn't be "lackluster" with the football and promising changes moving forward. Funny thing is, the Panthers offense was expected to change this season with the addition of rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. Perhaps the time for those changes has come.
Although one could argue they've already begun.
In the three quarters after Benjamin's injury, McCaffrey and Samuel had some exciting moments. McCaffrey had four catches of 11-plus yards, including a 37-yard haul on a bomb from Newton that was nearly a 66-yard completion if not for a Saints player tagging McCaffrey just before he popped up and weaved his way downfield. Samuel got most of his yardage on an end-around where he ate up open space in a jiffy and then put Saints safety Marcus Williams on skates with a sweet juke before getting tackled.
These two, along with Devin Funchess (10 targets, four grabs for 58 yards), are going to be the primary guys for Newton moving forward. They have to be -- the likes of Russell Shepard and Ed Dickson have never been consistently reliable. That's all the Panthers have left.
Samuel and Funchess will have their moments, but McCaffrey's value is going to get a boost after he picked up 100 yards receiving against the Saints. He's the only Panther with 100 yards rushing or receiving in a game this season, and now that he'll become one of the team's primary offensive weapons, he's got a shot to get 100 total yards every week. Once he proves to the coaching staff that he's a better option than Jonathan Stewart -- who has averaged 15 carries per game and just 3.6 yards per carry -- McCaffrey should exceed 15 total touches per game and become a reliable Fantasy starter.
But we can't say the same for Newton. Save for a pair of touchdowns in Week 1, he's been a major disappointment. His completion percentage is pretty good considering his career numbers, but still pretty bad compared to other quarterbacks, and it's been helped by a bunch of short-yardage completions. He's averaging 6.8 yards per pass attempt, and clearly is thin on red-zone threats. Worst of all, and as predicted before the season, he's just not running as much as he once did.
Newton is too risky to start against the Patriots in Week 4. We know the Pats defense hasn't lived up to expectations -- Deshaun Watson threw for over 300 yards against them -- but Newton hasn't put together a big game for Fantasy owners yet and has never been the type of passer to be a garbage-time hero (his game against the Saints is an example of why). He should sit on the bench until further notice and could even be cut in smaller 10-team leagues.
The Panthers have a lot of work to do in the next week, but the only guy Fantasy owners will be excited about is McCaffrey.
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