August 04, 2010
The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it. That's all.
The Carolina Panthers have a two-dimensional offense … sort of. They feature a power-running game with DeAngelo Williams(notes), and another power-running game with Jonathan Stewart(notes). (Those count as separate dimensions, right? Good. Thought so). Carolina's offense also contains a theoretical third dimension, one that may involve the forward pass, but we lacked observational evidence last season.
It shouldn't take long to cover the Panthers in a fantasy preview, because they aren't terribly complicated. They have three players who need to be drafted early in standard leagues — Williams (ADP 14.2), Stewart (31.2), Steve Smith (40.7) — and no one else who needs to be drafted at any other time. During the offseason, this team seemed to focus more on de-tooling than re-tooling. Quarterback Jake Delhomme(notes) is gone (addition by subtraction) and so is defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) (subtraction by subtraction). Also gone: DB Chris Harris(notes), WR Muhsin Muhammad(notes), FB Brad Hoover(notes), and various others.
If you'll take a quick look at Pro Football Weekly's team-by-team review of NFC free agent moves, you'll notice that the Panthers' "Key departures" section is substantially larger than "Key arrivals."
Carolina acquired a pair of interesting dynasty names via the draft — QB Jimmy Clausen(notes) and WR Brandon LaFell(notes) — but neither of the rookies figures to make a serious fantasy impact in 2010. LaFell may overtake Dwayne Jarrett(notes) in the receiver hierarchy, but Carolina's passing game probably won't support a second ownable wideout, not unless your league is super-sized. Smith is the clear No. 1 target here, and he won't leave many scraps for the rest of the receiving corps. (He's sidelined by a broken arm at the moment, but he'll be ready for the opener). If I had to draft a second Panthers receiver — let's say we were playing in an NFC South-only league — then LaFell would be the guy.
Matt Moore(notes) enters the 2010 season as the unrivaled starter at quarterback. There's no apparent controversy this year, even with Clausen on the roster. The Panthers won four of their final five games in 2009 with Moore at the controls, beating the Vikings, Giants and Saints in Weeks 15-17. He may not be the NFL's toolsiest QB, but he avoided the game-changing Delhommian mistakes that doomed Carolina early in the season. You'll find him near the bottom of the position ranks because none of us consider the Panthers' passing game to be fantasy friendly. It's not necessarily a knock on Moore.
Carolina is simply a run-first, run-second team. At times, it seems like Carolina relies on a playbook that pre-dates the franchise itself by a few decades. This offense led the NFC in rush attempts last season (32.8), and they're a solid bet to do it again. If you enjoy a good blocking fullback, a blocking tight end and a punishing offensive line, then this is your squad.
Williams and Stewart are outstanding runners, of course, and they each eclipsed 1,100 yards last year. Both players had a little surgical maintenance performed during the offseason, but there's no reason to doubt their availability for Week 1. If either back were to miss time for any reason — as Williams did at the end of '09 — the other would immediately become a top-five RB option. (And Mike Goodson(notes) would likely be the recommended add). Stewart was an absolute terror in the closing weeks last year, averaging 117.8 rushing yards in his final five games. We've worried about his achy Achilles since he entered the league, but it's important to note that Stewart still hasn't missed a regular season NFL game. For a guy who carries the injury tag, he's been awfully reliable.
Here's a fun fact (unless you were on the losing end): Carolina running backs have destroyed New York's run defense in Week 16 in each of the past two seasons, carrying fantasy owners to titles in the process. DeAngelo gained 108 yards and found the end zone four times against the Giants in '08; Stewart delivered 206 rushing yards and one score in '09. The streak ends this year, however, because Pittsburgh awaits in championship week.
The Panthers defense will be without Peppers, a five-time Pro Bowler, so it would be rather helpful if DE Everette Brown(notes) could make a value leap in his second season. The best thing we can say about this team DEF is that they'll get to face Tampa Bay twice, as well as St. Louis and Cleveland. You'll probably have little use for them in their other 12 contests. LB Jon Beason(notes) will be the second or third IDP off the board in most drafts; he's a monster who's averaged 140 tackles per season over the past three years. DB Richard Marshall(notes) (88 tackles in '09) belongs in the IDP discussion, too.
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