Juggernaut Index No. 8: The Carolina Panthers

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.

8. Carolina Panthers

Last year, many of us went into the Week 16 Sunday night game loaded with confidence. We held commanding leads in championship matchups – in highly incentivized leagues – against opponents whose hopes rested with DeAngelo Williams(notes).

If there was a fantasy version of the prevent defense, we would have fallen into it. The setup for Williams wasn't great. He faced the Giants' D in the Meadowlands in a game that seriously mattered. Cigars were lit. Concession calls were made. We felt good.

And then Williams absolutely crushed us. He carried 24 times for 108 yards and four TDs against a terrific defense, on the road, when you knew exactly what the Panthers wanted to do. (Four touchdowns. [Expletive]. Some of us could have survived three).

Williams was unquestionably the fantasy MVP last season. Anyone who disagrees simply wasn't paying attention over the final weeks. He broke the plane 11 times between Weeks 13 and 16. For the year, he rushed for a total of 1515 yards and 20 TDs. His offensive line, anchored by tackles Jordan Gross(notes) and Jeff Otah(notes), was a dominant run-blocking unit. Williams finished as the top-scoring fantasy running back in '08, and by a comfortable margin.

If you're betting against him this year, you do so at your own peril. He offers game-changing big play potential on every touch and that line is outstanding. Williams is Exhibit A in the case on behalf of running back committees. (Brandon Jacobs(notes) is B, Chris Johnson is C, Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is D, Marion Barber(notes) is E, etc).


Ideally, Jonathan Stewart(notes) would be a key member of the committee as well – he's coming off one of the quietest 10-touchdown seasons of all-time – but the second-year back has been sidelined by Achilles soreness during the preseason. There's no obvious reason to expect Stewart to get off to a quick start in '09. We can only hope that his feet aren't cursed, and we can keep drafting him in a spot where he presents very little risk (current ADP 83.0).

Rookie Mike Goodson(notes) has taken full advantage of Stewart's absence, delivering 118 rushing yards on 25 preseason carries, and authoring at least one highlight run. John Fox has reportedly said that "he could envision [Goodson] playing a significant role on offense, not as just a spot player or returner." The rookie is thus a nice late-round/dynasty flier.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme(notes) is...well...if I were a Panthers fan, he would be dead to me. That six-turnover playoff game against the Cardinals would be an unforgivable offense. When something like that happens – particularly at home, against a team you know you can beat – it's honestly tough to feel anything for the player again. Negative plays have always been part of the fantasy story with Delhomme, but he also has a pair of 20-plus TD seasons on the second page of the resume ('04 and '05). Entering 2009, he's just the guy who hands off to Williams and lobs the occasional pass to Steve Smith. The Panthers were dead-last in the NFL in pass attempts last year (25.9 per game). Delhomme offers little fantasy upside, which explains his position in the composite QB rankings (No. 22). The well-traveled Josh McCown(notes) backs up Delhomme, and he's followed by the Testaverde Hotline Matt Moore(notes).


The Carolina receiving corps is led by Smith, a top-tier talent who's proven that he can maintain his fantasy relevance through lean times. He suffered a shoulder injury in early-August, but he made his preseason debut last Saturday against the Ravens, catching two passes for 37 yards. He's fine. Take him in Round 2 as needed; he's a gift in Round 3.

It's not yet clear that the Carolina offense can support two ownable receivers. Dwayne Jarrett(notes) hasn't claimed the No. 2 job from 36-year-old Muhsin Muhammad(notes), and he's now hearing Kenneth Moore's(notes) footsteps (three catches for 40 yards versus Baltimore). Gary Barnidge(notes) finds himself in the mix at tight end along with Jeff King(notes), but that position hasn't really mattered in Carolina since the Wesley Walls era, at least not for fantasy purposes.

Panthers Notes: John Kasay(notes) seemed to hit his peak at age 39, drilling 90.3 percent of his kicks and scoring 130 points. … Carolina's defense has not had a stellar preseason and they weren't all that impressive in the second half of the '08 season, either (28.0 PPG allowed after Week 10). Still, there are interesting names on the depth chart. The IDPs to target are LB Jon Beason(notes), DE Julius Peppers(notes) and CB Chris Gamble(notes). Beason is dealing with an MCL sprain, but he could be ready by the opener. He's also a high-volume tackler (278 since '07) who should be owned regardless of his Week 1 status. … As great as he was last year, DeAngelo still trails DeShaun Foster(notes) on the Panthers' career rushing list. He finally passed Biakabutuka, though.


Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh, 14) Denver, 13) Chicago, 12) Minnesota, 11) Arizona, 10) Green Bay, 9) Dallas.

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Photos via US Presswire

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