Fantasy Football: Joe Brady's spread scheme will benefit Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel
The Panthers have some questions at quarterback and offensive line, but the team's star running back and receivers could be in for big years.
Brady's career is also very young. Seven years ago he got his start as a linebackers coach at William & Mary. Five years ago he was a graduate assistant at Penn State. Two years ago he was an offensive assistant (not a position coach or coordinator) with the Saints. Last year he was the passing-game coordinator (not exactly the offensive coordinator) at LSU. Now he's in charge of the Panthers offense.
How'd he do it? By helping turn LSU into a college football powerhouse in one offseason, that's how. Under Brady and the rest of the staff, LSU morphed into the FBS leader in total offense and points per game, and second in passing yards per game. Quarterback Joe Burrow set FBS records for yards from scrimmage (6,040) and passing touchdowns (60). They beat seven top-10 teams en route to the National Championship.
But Brady didn't do it alone. LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger shared before the title game against Clemson that he and Brady took turns calling plays based on game circumstances and what kind of formation they wanted to use. Brady has received heaps of praise for implementing spread-offense concepts at LSU, and Ensminger said Brady typically called plays for that formation as well as bunch formations, both of which yielded a lot of passing.
Brady used a lot of coach-speak when interviewed by the Panthers' website about what his offense will be, but he mentioned getting "speed in space," which is what LSU's offense did in 2019. He also figures he'll be able to get more creative with his spread concepts in the pros. Putting it another way, it would be a major shock if Brady walked into the Panthers' offices, looked at Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel and said, "yeah, we're gonna bang it between the tackles 40 times per game."
So even though the Tigers' 2019 offensive data isn't all from Brady's brain, we can recognize that much of it will be at least the backbone for how he'll run things in Carolina.
There's no surprise here that the LSU offense leaned toward the pass. It's not that rushers like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Tyrion Davis-Prince aren't good — you'll see them on Sundays — it's that Burrow and the Tigers' receivers were amazing, almost like cheat codes. Brady would have been foolish to not use them.
But in Carolina, he won't have Burrow at quarterback. As of late February, Cam Newton was slated to be the starter, but the team can save a bunch of cap space by letting him loose. That's still a possibility since there's no guarantee his foot will be fully back to normal come August. For Brady's offense to run similarly to what he had last year, he'll need an accurate quarterback. Newton completed 68% of his passes in 2018 in an offense that called for a lot of short- and mid-range throws. That's evidence he can be successful in Brady's system, which would mean if he's healthy he could be a top-12 Fantasy quarterback.
RB rushes per game
We're coming off a season where the Panthers running backs averaged 19.8 carries per game; McCaffrey himself averaged 17.9 rushes per outing. The Panthers are known for using McCaffrey as a receiver plenty, which explains the lack of carries but not the lack of receptions. Believe it or not, that could change a little.
The Panthers offensive line and the Panthers defense figure to be restocked with younger players who will have to learn a new system. Neither area figures to be dominant in 2020, and the quarterback situation might also be iffy with or without Newton. It might behoove Brady and new head coach Matt Rhule to slow the game down a little to try hiding their defensive shortcomings while also giving the quarterback and offensive line a pace where they're not running extra plays. It might mean more rushing, or at the very least more putting the ball in McCaffrey's hands without rushing to snap the next play.
McCaffrey's potential is known the world over and has him in position to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick in Fantasy drafts this fall. Hopefully he doesn't hold out of training camp and cause a panic among our community.
LSU made good on using their top playmakers in 2019. Edwards-Helaire is not just a good rusher but he made a bunch of plays out of the backfield too. Brady's willingness to lean on his running backs' versatility will only keep McCaffrey's potential sky-high.
The tight end numbers aren't great, and Brady did have two good tight ends at his disposal last year with Thaddeus Moss and Stephen Sullivan. Is this a legit tendency or was Brady making good use out of the other offensive weapons he had? My hunch is the latter, which probably doesn't spell good things for third-year tight end Ian Thomas. No doubt, Thomas is a good receiver with a 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame, but he could get lost in the offense considering the Panthers' primary receivers. It would take a strong training camp and preseason for Thomas to trend into consistent late-round Fantasy consideration.
I saved the best for last. Moore and Samuel give Brady a receiving tandem that fit very nicely into what he looks for offensively: catch-and-run receivers who can exploit soft-zone defenses. Granted, the Panthers will use more than two receivers each week if they're going to line up four- and five-wide, but these two will be involved from play to play. Though I project a sub-60% pass rate from the Panthers in 2020, I do think there should be enough targets for both to be usable Fantasy options. LSU's top two receivers from last year, Ja'Marr Chase (84-1,780-20) and Justin Jefferson (111-1,540-18), had eye-popping campaigns. It's unlikely Moore and Samuel will be THAT good, but the potential is there. Moore will end up being a top-15 Fantasy receiver in PPR especially, while Samuel will get taken between 75th and 100th overall depending on format.
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