2014 Team Outlook: Carolina Panthers
WR Jerricho Cotchery, CAR - Deep-league Only
Last year as a third option in Pittsburgh, Cotchery put together a very solid year. Cotchery caught 46 passes for 602 yards and 10 TDs. It's still early, but reports out of Panthers camp are that Cotchery is expected to win a starting spot at receiver along with rookie Kelvin Benjamin. Former Eagles receiver Jason Avant is Cotchery's only stiff competition and that's not saying much. Now in his 11th season, Cotchery is a serviceable weapon and a viable red zone target. We are not yet sure exactly what his role will be in the Panthers offense, but it has a chance to be his biggest opportunity since leaving the Jets in 2010. Cotchery is a guy to keep an eye on this preseason; he may have a lot more fantasy value than he's currently getting credit for in all formats. It is always possible he develops great chemistry with Newton. Let Cotchery prove that first before investing a pick on this former North Carolina State alumnus.
Editor's note: The receivers to own on this team are either tight end Greg Olsen or the aforementioned rookie Benjamin. Cotchery's 10 TDs last season were as many as he had over his last four seasons. Add to that the fact that he is 32 years old and if you see an opportunity here instead of a series of red flags, you must really re-evaluate your fantasy preferences.
WR Tiquan Underwood, --- - Not Draft Worthy
Underwood is a talented receiver the Panthers picked up from Tampa in the offseason. The New Jersey native caught 24 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. His numbers don't jump out, but he did show some flashes. Early reports are that Underwood is not expected to win a starting job. Unless he can somehow start in this offense, Underwood is not draft worthy. His competition is far from unbeatable considering most of them have been backups for most of their careers.
WR Jason Avant, KC - Low Potential
Early reports from the Panthers state that Jason Avant (along with veteran Jerricho Cotchery) is expected to win the starting receiving job. Avant has had less success than Cotchery in his career, but has been a dependable receiver when called upon in many years with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has caught more than 50 passes three times in his career, despite never having been been a consistent starter. If he does win a starting job while fending off rookie Kelvin Benjamin from the lineup, Avant must be considered a relevant fantasy option until he proves otherwise.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, CAR - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
DYNASTY IMPACT ROOKIE: Kelvin Benjamin is the Panthers' first round pick out of Florida State. He is a huge target that can pull the ball down out of a crowd. When Cam Newton's in trouble, Benjamin is a guy that can be thrown to even when draped by a defender. Benjamin is expected to win the job as the Panthers' No. 1 receiver and is poised to have a big fantasy season. He is in the best situation of any rookie receiver. Expect a high volume of catches (particularly from red zone targets). With the Seminoles, Benjamin scored 15 TDs. Given his length, Newton can just throw it up and allow the rookie to come down with it.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Marvin McNutt, --- - Not Draft Worthy
As a rookie, McNutt had a very promising preseason with the Dolphins in 2013; however, he ended up buried on the bench. McNutt will get a chance this offseason to show off his talents in Carolina. McNutt will be competing to earn a roster spot and if the second year receiver out of Iowa defies the odds and earns significant playing time, he may be worth a look in dynasty leagues. Unfortunately for now, McNutt is buried on the depth chart.
TE Greg Olsen, CAR - Solid/Safe Pick
Olsen caught 73 passes for 816 yards in 2013. The only thing holding him back from being an elite tight end is a lack of touchdowns throughout the years. The former Miami Hurricanes pass-catcher comes into the season as Newton's most reliable and trustworthy option. Olsen's targets, catches and yards may very well rise even higher. The additions of rookie Kelvin Benjamin and veteran Jerricho Cotchery may only hurt his touchdown opportunities. That, coupled with Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton's goal-line running, does not bode well for Olsen getting into the end zone more often this season. Even without much touchdown production, Olsen is a Top 10 tight end and should be drafted as a starter across all formats.
Editor's note: Olsen's popularity as a mid-ranged TE1 is likely to grow. The concussion concerns for Washington's Jordan Reed, the advanced age of Dallas' Jason Witten and the presence and addition of Baltimore's Owen Daniels taking looks away from Dennis Pitta are all negative points of view. Detroit's Eric Ebron is an unproven rookie, Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph has a shaky QB situation and the list goes on. On the other hand, Olsen figures to be an even larger part of an offense which lacks a desirable backfield or any reliable receiver.