2019 Panthers fantasy preview: Cam Newton's health will dictate much in Carolina

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Next up, the Carolina Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers provided both fantasy happiness and fantasy heartbreak in 2018. The happiness belonged to all those who drafted Christian McCaffrey in the second round and received a career-year — and high-first-round value — in return. The heartbreak, however, was delivered by Cam Newton, who went from a great start to the season to a gut-wrenching end, thanks to limitations brought on by a shoulder ailment.

Can Cam bounce back? Will Run-CMC become a first-round staple in 2019?

Panthers fantasy impact players
Panthers fantasy impact players


After tossing numerous wounded ducks last season and off shoulder surgery, can you trust Cam Newton (119.0 ADP, QB9) to post QB1-level numbers in standard (4 pts/pass TD) 12-team formats?

Andy: Can it happen? Sure. Newton has actually finished as a top-five fantasy QB in five different seasons. But is it a lock? Heck NO.

Carolina’s receiving corps is full of fun options, but the foundation of Newton’s fantasy value has never really been his passing stats. He has only one 4,000-yard season to his credit and he’s averaged 22.8 passing TDs per year. The key to Cam’s fantasy greatness has been his rushing ability and, more importantly, his role as a goal-line rusher. Last season, however, Christian McCaffrey emerged as this team’s primary option in goal-to-go situations — and it worked brilliantly. CMC handled 29 carries inside the 10-yard line, the fourth highest total in the league. Meanwhile, Newton ran for a career low four touchdowns. If we can’t bank on him for 6-10 rushing scores, then he’s no longer a rock-solid, no-doubt QB1.

Brad: YES. Graduating from chucking mini (One of these we can only hope. John Elway was quite the salesman.) to regulation-sized footballs in his recovery regimen, Cam is on pace to not miss a single day of training camp. Apprehension is understandable, but even with last year’s decline in rushing scores the man still finished QB7 in fantasy points per game. Unless he reverts to the grossly inaccurate passer from two years ago, it’s a near lock he’ll record a QB1-level line. Recall last year dealing with his wounded wing, he posted the highest completion percentage (67.8) of his career. His execution inside the red-zone (68.4 cmp%) was equally outstanding. Understandably his air yards (No. 27 in air yards/attempt) suffered, but his floor remains quite high due to his scoring versatility.

At age 30, Cam likely isn’t going to reach 700 ground yards or seven rushing TDs again in a season. Additionally, the multidimensional passer invasion presents more competition. Still, the presumed advancements of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel combined with Christian McCaffrey’s across-the-board dominance arrow to another top-10 campaign. Wagering on a healthy, revitalized Cam is a sage investment.

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Percentage Play

With bulging biceps akin to Thor — not the Endgame version — Christian McCaffrey is a popular top-four overall pick whether in standard or PPR. Percent chance he meets or exceeds last season’s gaudy line — 219-1098-7-107-867-6?

Andy: Twenty percent? Thirty? Let’s call it 27.8 percent, just to be weirdly and unnecessarily specific.

McCaffrey deserves his early ADP, without question. He’s a thrilling player coming off an all-time PPR season, and he’s the backbone of Carolina’s offense. But let’s not pretend that a 1965-yard campaign is routine. That’s not a number we can confidently forecast for any player, in any system.

Still, CMC is great. You want him. If he’s healthy over a full 16-game season, he clearly has the potential to become the NFL’s third 1000/1000 player. His ceiling is as high as anyone’s. Just because I won’t guarantee a second straight historic season, please don’t think I’m down on McCaffrey. He’s a clear top-five pick in any fantasy format.

Liz: Let me preface this by admitting I was dead wrong about CMC’s volume heading into 2018 and regrettably believed C.J. Anderson would have a role. So when I say he has a 10 or maybe 15 percent chance of matching last year’s production, know that I’m bearish on the whole operation.

McCaffrey proved that his college usage was no fluke by not just touching the ball 326 times in 2018, but by also owning high-value scoring situations with 60 red zone rushes (RB4) on the season. There’s a chance, however, that some of that had to do with Cam’s health, as McCaffrey averaged 3.5 red zone rushes (up 1.25 from the start of the season) from Weeks 10 (when Cam’s shoulder became a noticeable issue) through 17.

Furthermore, the development of the Panthers’ receiving corps (as discussed in depth on the latest edition of the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast) leads me to believe that, in health, Cam could continue to put the ball in the air. Since the addition of D.J. Moore and the legitimate deployment of Curtis Samuel, Carolina has gone from calling the fifth fewest passing plays in the league (2017) to the 15th most (2018). I don’t expect that number to climb, but it’s likely to hold. Of course, part of what makes McCaffrey so special is his prowess as a ball-catcher, but the targets figure to be less concentrated, particularly if Greg Olsen can stay on the field.

Finally, I simply don’t buy that McCaffrey’s frame (even swolled up) can handle another 300+ touches. Yes, it’s possible - and that’s why I have the Stanford standout ranked as my RB4 - but I’m not taking the over on the proposition.

Predict the line

D.J. Moore (52.9 ADP, WR22) catches _____ passes for ______ yards and _____ touchdowns, finishing WR ____ in .5 PPR formats.

Brad: 68-889-5, WR23. Last season, Emmanuel Sanders tallied the 23rd-most valuable WR line in .5 PPR notching 71 catches for 868 yards and four touchdowns. Moore, off a rock solid rookie year, should do slightly better. In his kickoff campaign, the plucky wideout dazzled in multiple advanced categories including yards per route run (14.3), YAC (WR13) and drops percentage (1.5%). Unfortunately, when it came to crossing the chalk, discovering Sasquatch in the Carolina woods proved to be an easier task. Moore, who ranked No. 79 in red-zone target rate, scored only two touchdowns. Still, the gained experience combined with Cam’s expected smooth recovery has the arrow pointing up. If Newton can deliver the ball more crisply and accurately — Moore ranked WR53 in on-target% in ‘18 — D.J. will thump bass as a WR2 all season long.

Liz: 64-866-4, WR27(ish). Moore earned significant snaps beginning in Week 8 and averaged just over 6 targets per game while Newton was under center (through Week 15). Factoring in a catch rate of 67 percent, and noting that Moore will likely draw tougher coverage than teammate Curtis Samuel (who is garnering buzz of his own), an average of 4 catches per game feels right. Of course, one of the most stunning pieces of Moore’s game is his after-the-catch ability, which also makes projecting yards per reception a bit difficult. In 2018, Moore managed 14.3 YPR. That total figures to regress as his opportunities grow, but I think he’ll still manage an average of over 13 YPR. As for touchdowns, the Panthers’ have plenty of red zone options, which depresses Moore’s ceiling in this particular statistical area.

Best Ball Bargain Bin

Andy: Look, not every team is gonna deliver a high-variance, high-upside best ball sleeper. Carolina’s primary options — McCaffrey, Moore and Samuel — aren’t exactly under-the-radar fantasy fliers. One of the things we’re gonna like about the Panthers, in fact, is that a huge percentage of the yards and points will be funneled to just three guys.

Anyway, because the rules of this feature require that I pick someone, I’ll go with tight end IAN THOMAS. It’s tough to believe Greg Olsen will remain fully operational over a full season, which should lead to opportunities for Thomas. He made some noise in December last season, ranking as TE6 over the final five weeks.

Brad: CURTIS SAMUEL. Largely due to Newton’s absent touch on passes beyond 20 yards late last season, the short-field standout saw an increased role. Playing a near full complement of snaps from Weeks 12-17 he amassed a WR3 line in 12-team, .5 PPR formats, enticing 42 targets for 22 receptions, 315 yards and two scores. His reported strong offseason has his perceived value ascending. Moore is the better target, but at his 100.7 ADP (WR43) Samuel showcases much ROI appeal. Keep in mind he finished 2018 WR16 in fantasy points per target.

Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook): Carolina 7.5 wins OVER (-120) or UNDER (+100)

Andy: There’s just no way I’d bet this total, because this absolutely feels like an 8-8 or 7-9 team. Last year, the Panthers were almost perfectly meh, winning seven games and delivering a full season point differential of -6. I’ll take the OVER here, with a nod of respect to Riverboat Ron.

Liz: OVER. This division is lit and figures to showcase plenty of shoot-outs, but the Panthers’ roster is looking better and better. Obviously a lot hinges on Newton’s heath, but if he’s GTG then an 8-8 season seems entirely probable.

More Fantasy Team Previews

AFC East: Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots

NFC East: Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Washington

AFC South: Colts | Texans | Jaguars | Titans

NFC South: Buccaneers | Saints | Panthers | Falcons

AFC North: Bengals | Steelers | Ravens | Browns

NFC North: Lions | Vikings | Packers | Bears

AFC West: Chiefs | Chargers | Raiders | Broncos

NFC West: Rams | Cardinals | 49ers | Seahawks

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