The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings rely on hard, incontrovertible math. There are algorithms at work. This stuff is peer-reviewed. Seasons are simulated. You can't argue with science, so don't even try...Jonathan Stewart), Jake Delhomme has a new elbow ligament, and the Panthers have a new right tackle (rookie Jeff Otah).
These additions were all welcomed by the fantasy community, because the Carolina offense has done very little over the past two seasons. They averaged 16.9 points per game in 2006, and 16.7 in 2007. They've totaled only 14 rushing touchdowns in two years. Carolina finished in the bottom-third of the league in total yardage in both '06 (307.7 YPG) and '07 (284.9).
Simply put, you haven't won any fantasy titles lately by relying on Panthers.
Can you win with them in 2008? Well, there's hope. Reports on Delhomme's recovery from Tommy John surgery have generally been positive, and no less an authority than Steve Smith has suggested that the 33-year-old quarterback may somehow have new life on his throws:
"It seems like he has a stronger arm; he's not showing any signs of weakness with that major surgery."
Delhomme's arm has looked strong to reporters in the practice session ... A little more zip on those passes, Steve?
"Uh, you know, he can't out-throw me; he's never really out-thrown me, so that hasn't changed," Smith said to general laughter.
The Panthers are one of several teams that are suspected of having an interest in Brett Favre and/or rumored to be of interest to Favre. But at the moment, Delhomme is the clear No. 1. If he were a major league pitcher recovering from ligament replacement surgery, you'd say that he was probably eight or nine months away. You can reasonably expect him to be limited in camp and during the preseason. His back-up is second-year quarterback Matt Moore, who enjoyed more success last season than the Panthers' other unspeakable options.
Delhomme enters the season as a high-end QB2 for fantasy purposes. He was awfully good in 2004 and 2005, passing for 7,307 total yards and 53 touchdowns. And with Delhomme at QB, Steve Smith was nothing less than the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver.Smith is coming off a season that was both a massive disappointment, and yet one of the most impressive statistical performances you'll ever see, given the circumstances. He managed to finish with 87 receptions, 1,002 receiving yards and seven TDs, despite the unfortunate post-Delhomme QB situation. Of course he had 15 receptions, 271 yards and four of the touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2, with Delhomme.
We've placed Smith sixth in the composite WR rankings, but there's an unusual difference of opinion on him. One of the experts ranks Smith as high as No. 3 (Funston), and another has him at No. 10 (Buser). If Delhomme is healthy and fully recovered, there's a decent chance that we're all too low.
Alongside Smith at receiver, you'll find another pair of new Panthers. (Well, OK, one's actually an old Panther who fled Chicago). DJ Hackett is higher in the receiver ranks (No. 40) than 35-year-old Muhsin Muhammad (no. 65), despite never having played a full 16 games in his three-year career and never catching more than 45 passes. You're not drafting second-year receiver Dwayne Jarrett. Jeff King narrowly clings to the fringe of the tight end ranks, but he really only projects as a bye-week add in fantasy leagues.
The Carolina O-line has a chance to be very good, despite some position shuffling. It's anchored by franchise tackle Jordan Gross and rookie RT Otah, the 19th overall pick in the NFL Draft. They'll support a run game that unquestionably improved by adding Stewart, a thick, powerful runner with enough speed. DeShaun Foster is out following a season in which he averaged a miserable 3.5 yards per carry. For reasons that remain unclear, he was given 247 rush attempts in '07.
If Stewart gets Foster's old workload, he'll be an every-week fantasy starter. It's really a cliché to call someone a punishing runner, but that's an appropriate description here.
He and Darren McFadden should go back-to-back in drafts, even though Stewart is presently unsigned and he had toe surgery in mid-March. Expect him to be useful immediately, and for his role to expand during the season.
DeAngelo Williams remains draft-worthy, too. We've ranked him 37th among the running backs, while Stewart is 20th. But you shouldn't rely on Williams as starting fantasy back in Week 1. He's like a handcuff with benefits, to use a vaguely icky phrase.
The Carolina defense is a solid brand name, but they didn't actually help fantasy owners in 2007. They scored only 116 points, thanks in part to their NFC-worst sack total (23). Here's an interesting note, via the News & Observer:
Only 14 of the Panthers' 23 sacks came from linemen. (Julius) Peppers, who demanded double teams most of his career, was often single-covered late in the season and still couldn't get to the quarterback.
Peppers managed only 2.5 sacks in 14 games last year. In IDP leagues, you'll want to target linebacker Jon Beason, a first-round pick in the 2007 Draft. He finished with 140 tackles in '07, the third-highest individual total in the NFL.
2007 Carolina team stats
Rushing: 114.0 Y/G
Passing: 170.9 Y/G
Points per game: 16.7
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 40, 20
'08 Schedule strength: .465
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