|By Shawn Childs, Sunday, August 27, 2017|
The Panthers were one of the biggest busts in 2016 after their great success the previous when they went 15-1 with a Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. Carolina finished 6-10 in the sixth season under Ron Rivera who has a 53-42-1 career record with one Super Bowl appearance. Their failure came on both sides of the ball. They scored 131 fewer points than 2015 (500) leading to a 15th rank in points scored (369) and a 19th place finish in offensive yards gained. Mike Shula will have a chance to redeem himself in 2017, but it wasn't his fault that Cam Newton struggled to repeat his high level of play. Mike has been in Carolina's system for the last seven years with the last four coming as the offensive coordinator. Their defense allowed 94 more points than 2015 (308), which led to a drop of 20 spots in the ranking in points scored (402 – 26th). They dropped from sixth in yard allowed to 21st in 2016. Steve Wilks takes over as the defensive coordinator. He's been the defensive back coach for the Panthers over the last five years while holding the same position for six other seasons for the Bears and the Chargers.
Carolina added four players to their roster in the offseason. They brought back CB Captain Munnerlyn who has been a steady option in the secondary in his career. S Mike Adams has a long resume of success in the NFL, but he'll start 2017 at age 36. Mike's been a league average player of better over his last six seasons.
The Panthers took a swing on T Matt Kalil. He's a former first-round pick who signed a $55.5 million contract in March. Matt played his best ball in his rookie season while struggling in the last three seasons. WR Russell Shepard was added for WR depth.
They parted ways with FB Mike Tolbert, WR Corey Brown, WR Ted Ginn, and T Mike Remmers. Ginn was a key part of their Super Bowl run in 2016 thanks to his big play ability. Remmers had starting snaps last year while failing to be an asset.
The biggest losses on the defense look to be DE Kony Ealy and S Tre Boston. Ealy was traded to the Patriots for a draft pick after recording 14 sacks over three years in the NFL. Boston had his best season in the league while starting for the first time. Tre was about a league average player at his position with 53 tackles, two sacks, and two Ints.
Carolina moved on from CB Leonard Johnson, CB Louis Young, S Michael Griffin, and LB A.J. Klein. Each player had minimal playing time in 2016.
The top end of this year's draft was dictated to help improve the offense for the Panthers. They invested in RB Christian McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick. He lit up the 2017 NFL Combine with multiple stars where he showcased his plus quickness and athletic ability. Christian has the skill set to be a three-down back with high upside in the passing game. His biggest questions come with his size (5'11" and 202 lbs.) and his strength. He'll need to improve his technique and power in pass protection. McCaffrey has a nice combination of vision and patience where his acceleration will offer upside if/when breaking into the second level of the defense.
With two picks in the second round, Carolina added WR Curtis Samuel and G Taylor Moton. Samuel was a dual threat at Ohio State where his elite speed (4.31 in the 40-yard dash) creates mismatches and big plays. The Panthers are expected to use him at WR while being a change of pace options out of the backfield. His best asset with his speed and shiftiness out of breaks and in the open field as a runner. Curtis needs to improve his route running while needing to prove he can beat press coverage. The Panthers will use him in the run game where his explosiveness will lead to an edge in misdirection plays. Moton is a power blocker who will offer more upside once he improves his technique with his hands and his feet. Taylor has some work to do in his pass protection.
DE Daeshon Hall was the choice in the third round. He projects a moveable pass rusher on the defensive line or at linebacker. His angle out the blocks tends to be upright leading to him losing an edge in his pass rush. Hall has enough quickness to create disruption after the snap, but he needs more finishing strength. His game should improve at the next level.
The Panthers drafted CB Corn Elder in the fifth round. Despite being undersized (5'10" and 183 lbs.) while lacking elite speed, Elder handles himself well in coverage. He's a physical player with a good feel for defending pass routes where his quickness is an edge. Corn can handle the press as long as he's not matched up with the top WRs in the game. He has a risk in deep coverage while offering value in run support. Nice rotational corner, who will work well in the red zone.
Carolina bought FB Alex Armah in the sixth round to help offset the loss of Mike Tolbert. He played both fullback and linebacker at West Georgia. Alex has strength, but he needs more experience at a power blocker. Armah may end up one the defensive side of the ball as well.
With their last pick in the seventh round, the Panther tried to improve their kicking game with Harrison Butker. He'll compete with Graham Gano for the kicking job on the Panthers after spending three seasons at Georgia Tech.
The Panthers fell to 10th in rushing yards (1,814) with 16 rushing TDs. They gained only 4.0 yards per rush with ten runs over 20 yards. Carolina had 38 negative rushed with 47 runs over 10 yards. In 2015, they had the second highest most rushing yards (2,282) with 19 rushing TDs.
Their regression came in passing yards (3,685) with a short completion rate (54.4). The Panther had 21 passing TDs and 19 Ints while their offensive line allowed 36 sacks and 93 QB hits.
LT Matt Kalil was paid a ton of money ($55.5 million) to protect Cam's blindside. He missed 14 games in 2016 due to a hip injury (labrum) that required surgery. Matt didn't play well in 2014 and 2015 so he has a lot to prove even after getting drafted fourth overall in 2012.
LG Andrew Norwell has been a steady force on this line in all three of his seasons in the NFL while improving in each year in the league. Norwell offers the biggest edge as a run blocker.
C Ryan Kalil missed eight games over second of 2016 due to a right shoulder injury that had surgery in November. When healthy, Kalil is a top option at center over the last eight seasons. Carolina selected him in the second round in 2007.
RG Trai Turner couldn't repeat his high level of success of 2016, which was partly due to the weakness/injuries around him in the starting lineup. He tends to play well in pass protection while holding his own in the run game. The Panthers selected him in the third round in 2014.
RT Daryl Williams struggled in his first season as a starter for Carolina. His low bar may clear the way for rookie Taylor Moton to steal the starting job. Moton has experience at guard and tackle, but his game projects better at guard.
There is enough talent on the offensive line for Carolina to regain some of their momentum created in 2015. Four positions have talent if all players play up to their skill set and stay healthy. The right tackle is a clear issue, but it has a chance to be improved in 2017. At the very least, this offensive line will be improved while ranking above the league average.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Panthers have three favorable matchups (BUF, MIA, and SF) for their rushing offense. Their only tough game rushing the ball looks to be against the Patriots. Carolina opens up the season with two favorable games to Christian McCaffrey may shine out of the gate.
They have five games vs. teams (NO X 2, ATL X 2, and GB) with risk defending receivers. Their four poor matches will come against Philadelphia, Buffalo, Chicago, and Minnesota.
Carolina ran the ball 44.6 percent of the time, which was a much lower number than 2015 (50.5 percent). Game score was a big part of the reason. Their lack of success in the passing was due to a sharp decline in the play of Cam Newton and the offensive line.
The Panthers' run defense will be tested in only one game (BUF) while facing two weak rushing opponents (DET and MIN). They have almost a neutral run schedule.
Their pass defense has two easy games (SF and BUF) to start the year followed up by three more favorable matchups (PHI, MIA, and NYJ) during the year. Most of their struggles will come in games within the division (NO X 2 and ATL X 2) while being challenged by NE, GB, and DET.
Carolina ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,465) with ten rushing TDs. They gave up 3.9 yards per rush with seven runs over 20 yards. Even with a losing record, teams only attempted 23.5 runs per game against them.
The loss of CB Josh Norman was felt in the pass coverage. The Panthers fell to 29th in passing yards allowed (4,291) with 27 TDs and 17 Ints. Their defensive line did produce 47 sacks.
DT Kawann Short has been one of the top interior linemen in the league over the last two years. He matched his total in tackles (55) while failing to repeat his breakout 2015 season (11) in sacks (6). The Panthers drafted him in the second round in 2013. DE Julius Peppers may be asked to play inside at the age of 38. Peppers has seven sacks or more in 13 of his 14 years in the league. DE Mario Addison had a career-high 9.5 sacks in a rotation role in 2016. DT Star Lotulelei had a career-high four sacks last year while seeing a rebound in his value against the run. DE Charles Johnson had 52.5 sacks from 2010 to 2014, but he's been injured over the last two seasons leading to a huge drop off in play. Johnson had surgery in the offseason to repair an issue with his back.
LB Luke Kuechly missed six games in 2016 due to a concussion and three games in 2015 for a groin issue. Another concussion may put his career at risk. When healthy, he's one of the best all-around players in the league at his position. LB Thomas Davis has 100 or more tackles in each of his last five seasons with value in the pass rush and pass coverage. He'll start the year at age 34, so his game is starting to fade. LB Shaq Thompson showed improvement in pass coverage in his second year in the league after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. Shag plays well vs. the run with limited upside rushing the QB at this point of his career.
S Mike Adams will try to squeeze out one more solid season at age 36. He tends to play well in pass coverage and against the run. S Kurt Coleman had two of his better seasons after moving to the Panthers in 2015. Last year he set a career high in tackles (95) while securing 11 Ints over the last two seasons with two TDs. CB Caption Munnerlyn wasn't asked to be an outside CB in many games in 2016 for the Vikings leading to solid success in the slot. Carolina will need him to play better this season. At best, Caption is a league average player. CB James Bradberry started 13 games in his rookie season with improvement over the last nine games of the year. He did miss three games due to toe injury. The Panthers drafted him in the second round in 2016. CB Daryl Worley handled himself well in his rookie season after getting drafted in the third round.
This defense should be much better in 2017. They continued to have strength on the defensive line with upside in sacks. The second level of the defense has two proven NFL vets plus a young player on the improve. The secondary should be improved with one year of experience for two of their young CBs plus Adams will at least be a steady pro with a long resume in the league. The return game should produce TDs as well in the return game from Samuel or McCaffrey if they are given the chances to return kicks. Top 12 defense for me with matchup value at the very least.
QB Cam Newton - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 10/20/17After two strong games (316/3 and 355/3), Newton struggled with his completion rate (53.8) against the Eagles. He threw three Ints with 239 passing yards and a TD. His day was saved by his value in the run game (11/71/1). The Bears have played surprisingly well vs. the pass. Their last three opponents threw for fewer than 185 yards in each game with five TDs (four by Aaron Rodgers in Week 4). This defense has faced Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers). QBs gain only 6.5 yards per pass attempt with eight combined passing TDs. Only one QB has over 235 yards passing (Matt Ryan - 321/1). Chicago wants to run the ball so game flow doesn't point to an impactful game by Newton.
RB Christian McCaffrey - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 10/20/17McCaffrey is on pace for 97 catches for 781 yards and five TDs on 133 targets, but he remains dead in the water on early downs (38/104 - 2.7 yards per rush). Over the last four games, the Panthers have given him on 17 rushes for 47 yards. Jonathan Stewart struggled to run the ball in the last two games (26 rushes for 17 yards), which may create a better window for Christian on early downs. RBs have 30 catches for 198 yards and no TDs on 37 targets against the Bears in 2017. McCaffrey is overpriced for his opportunity without seeing double rushes per game. He's remains one injury away from being a very attractive player, but Carolina needs to block better on early downs. I don't view this as an impactful matchup.
RB Jonathan Stewart - Bust (overvalued)
Update 10/20/17Stewart hasn't scored a rushing TD in 2017 while failing to gain over 70 yards rushing. Jonathan struggled in his last two games (18/21 and 8/-4) while battling an ankle injury this week. The Bears allow 4.0 yards per rush with RBs scoring five rushing TDs. The Vikings (31/159/1) and the Ravens (26/125) ran the ball well in the last two games against Chicago. On the year, Stewart averages 15.1 touches per game.
WR Kelvin Benjamin - Quality Backup
Update 10/20/17Benjamin has his best game of the season in Week 6 (9/99) with a season high 13 targets. His game has been on the uptick over the last three games (17/261/1 on 23 targets). Kelvin developed a knee injury over the last week putting his playing time at risk vs. the Bears. This issue is tied to his early injury in Week 3. The Bears have done a nice job vs. WRs (66/770/6 on 116 targets). Mike Evans (7/93/1) and Antonio Brown (10/110/1) have the best two games. The Panthers haven't run the ball well of late so Cam Newton will need to throw to win this game. This isn't a great matchup, but I don’t fear Chicago’s CBs. A Fantasy owners may not know Benjamin’s status until Sunday so I would put him the avoid column.
WR Curtis Samuel - Deep-league Only
Ohio State listed Samuel as a RB for his whole career. He had minimal touches in his freshman and sophomore years (899 combined yards with nine TDs and 33 catches). His game shined in all areas in 2016. He rushed the ball 97 times for 771 yards with eight rushing TDs while making a huge step forward as a receiver (74/865/7). He's expected to take over the role of Ted Ginn in the Panthers' offense where his deep speed will offer an edge. Curtis runs with vision, but his success is driven by his ability to outrun defenders. He has more strength than meets the eye with an excellent gear to create separation on pass routes. Samuel will be the WR2 in this offense with a chance at 60+ catches for 700+ yards. Carolina has to give him four to five rushes per game as well leading to another 500+ yards with sneaky value in TDs.
WR Devin Funchess - Low Potential
Update 10/20/17The Eagles did a nice job defending Funchess in Week 6 (3/36 on nine targets). Over the last four games, Devin has 21 catches for 217 yards and three TDs on 36 targets. His catch rate (58.3) over this span is below the completion rate (64.5) of Cam Newton. With Kelvin Benjamin banged up, Funchess could be very active in this matchup. Chicago has only league average CBs, which are helped by a decent pass rush (16 sacks). Possible 20+ game could be within reach if he scores.
TE Ed Dickson - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 10/20/17Dickson had a season high eight targets in Week 6, but he only caught four balls for 36 yards. The previous week the Lions didn't game plan to cover him leading to his best game of his career (5/175). Ed doesn't have a TD in 2017 while averaging 5.7 targets per game over his last three contests. TEs have 30 catches for 327 yards and two TDs on 43 targets vs. the Bears. Low volume player with limited scoring ability. If Kelvin Benjamin doesn't play this week, Cam Newton will be forced to use Dickson more in the passing game.
TE Greg Olsen - Stud (low risk)
If a Fantasy owner is looking for a player to show up every Sunday, Greg is that guy at TE. He's never missed a game in his career while setting a high floor over his last three seasons. Olsen has three straight years with over 1000 yards receiving while averaging just over 80 catches over this span. His targets have grown in each of his last six seasons (69, 89, 104, 111, 123, 124, and 129). The weaker play of Newton led to a career low in TDs (3). Greg scored over 200 Fantasy points in PPR league in his last three years (84/1008/6, 77/1104/7, and 80/1073/3). In 2016, his best success came over the first six games of the season (39 catches for 610 yards and two TDs on 60 targets) highlighted by Week 2 (5/122/1) and Week 5 (9/181). Olsen only scored one TD over the last 12 games of the season. More of the same (80/1000/5) with a top 5 TE opportunity.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
PK Graham Gano - Solid/Safe Pick
Carolina scored 25 fewer TDs in 2016 (34) than 2015 (59) leading to a shorter ranking for Gano. He missed six of his 93 extra point chances over the last two years. Graham repeated his success in made field goals (30) while receiving a career high 38 chances. Gano had a drop off in his success rate (78.9) leading to the Panthers drafting Harrison Butker to compete for the starting job. Butker only made 71.7 percent of his field goals in college while showing growth in his senior year (88.2 percent). Harrison missed two of his 210 extra point chances. Graham has been solid from 50 yards or longer with the Panthers (13-for-21), which may be the edge needed to win the starting job. Carolina created 109 field goal chances over the last three seasons giving the winner here a viable top 12 opportunity. I do expect Carolina to be improved scoring TDs in the red zone in 2017.