The Panthers rebounded from a tough season in 2016 (6-10) leading to their four playoff appearances over the last five years with one Super Bowl berth. Ron Rivera has 64-47-1 record over seven seasons as the head coach. Rivera has 21 seasons of experience in the NFL.
Carolina struggled to score points (363 – 12th) for the second straight year after leading the NFL in scoring in 2015 (500 points). They finished 19th in offensive yards, which match their 2016 failure. Norv Turner dusted off his clipboard after taking 2017 off to take over as the offensive coordinator for the Panthers. From 1991 to 2016, Turner was either a head coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL for nine difference franchises. His offense won the Super Bowl in 1992 and 1993 in Dallas. Norv has a 114-122-1 career record as a head coach with four playoff appearances over 15 seasons.
Their success in 2017 was tied to a rebound on the defensive side of the ball. Carolina moved to 7th in defensive yards allowed and 11th in points (327), which was an improvement of 75 points from 2016 (402). The Panthers promoted Eric Washington from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator in the offseason. Washington held his former position for the last seven years while ten seasons of coaching experience in the NFL.
The Panthers parted ways with RB Jonathan Stewart after a long career in Carolina. They signed Jarius Wright for depth at WR while releasing WR Kaelin Clay, TE Ed Dickson, and QB Derek Anderson.
Carolina replaced G Andrew Norwell on the roster in the offseason with G Jeremiah Sirles. Norwell has a stellar resume in the NFL with four years of success. Last year Andrew was one of the best players at his position pass protection while grading highly in run blocking. Sirles is a low-level backup with no chance at being a season-long starter.
On defense, the Panthers added CB Ross Cockrell and DT Dontari Poe. Cockrell played well as a third CB for the Giants with his strength coming in coverage. Poe has been a steady run defender with some value in sacks in his career while grading as a league average player over the last five seasons.
Carolina released S Kurt Coleman, CB Teddy Williams, and DT Star Lotulelei. Coleman struggled last year after three solid strong years for the Panthers. He tends to play well against the run. Williams missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury while seeing minimal playing time in his six years in the NFL. Lotulelei has been on a negative progression in all areas over his five years in the NFL.
The decline in offense led to the Panthers drafting WR D.J. Moore in the first round. Moore offers plus speed (4.42) with an edge in his short area quickness. His route running needs more fine tuning while his hands don’t separate him from the top WRs in the game. D.J. looks explosive after the catch with upside potential in the return game.
Their next two picks in the second and third round were dictated to the Panthers’ secondary – CB Donte Jackson and S Rashaan Gaulden.
Jackson has electric speed (4.32) and coverage skills, but he lacks size (5’11” and 178 lbs.) and strength. Even with talent and athletic ability, Donte lacks vision with risk in run support.
Gaulden is another player who lacks upper body strength. His speed (4.61) and quickness won’t be an edge over WRs in the NFL. His best value will be moving toward the line of scrimmage in run support while having risk in coverage.
In the fourth round, Carolina invested TE Ian Thomas. He’s going to a project based on his limited experience. Thomas needs to improve his route running while having the speed and quickness to create space on passing routes. His blocking skills look more advanced thanks to his strength.
It was back to the defense for the Panthers with their last four draft selections – DE Marquis Haynes, LB Jermaine Carter, LB Andre Smith, and DT Kendrick Norton.
Haynes has the skill set to be a speed rusher on the outside, but his strength limits his explosiveness when faced with stronger offensive linemen. His lower body needs to develop while lacking the body type (6’2” and 235 lbs.) to work as speed defender against the run. Overall, his pass rushing technique needs to improve.
Carter works hard with the foundation to be an upside player against the run. He plays with vision while being a hard hitter, but his change of direction speed can leave him in the dust when a play shifts away from him in pursuit. Jermaine is another player that is undersized (6’0” and 228 lbs.).
The theme for the Panthers in this draft is quickness over size. Smith projects as an early-down run defender who likes to attack the line scrimmage. His draft value slid due to a knee injury that required surgery. His vision in coverage is weak with questions about his change of direction value.
Norton is an early down run clogger with minimal value rushing the QB. His edge comes from his strength. Kendrick has limited range while lacking a plan on passing downs.
Carolina finished 4th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,102) with 15 TDs and ten runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 30.6 rushing attempts per game.
The Panthers slid to 28th in passing yards (3,077) with 22 TDs and 16 Ints. They gained only 6.6 yards per pass attempt with 46 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 35 sacks and 70 QB hits.
LT Matt Kalil was paid a ton of money ($55.5 million) to protect Cam’s blindside in 2017. He missed 14 games in 2016 due to a hip injury (labrum) that required surgery. Matt didn’t play well in 2014 and 2015, and his game didn’t look worth his price tag last year. Kalil has risk in all areas.
LG Taylor 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. The Panthers drafted him in the second round in 2017, but he only saw minimal action. Carolina needs Moton to play well in the starting lineup this year.
C Ryan Kalil missed eight games over the second half of 2016 due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery in plus another ten games last year with a neck issue. When healthy, Kalil tends to be an above average player in all areas, but 2018 will be his last season in the NFL meaning any injury could end his season. Carolina selected him in the second round in 2007.
RG Trai Turner couldn’t repeat his high level of success in 2015 over his last two seasons, 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, but he stepped up in a big way in 2017. Williams played at a high level in the run game and pass protection. His success points to a nice career in the NFL going forward.
The Panthers’ offensive line has one player of value and two players that have been paid like elite players. The center position is going to have risk if Ryan Kalil has any sort of an injury. The second guard position projects to a big weakness unless Taylor Moton hits the ground running. Overall, I’d rate this line around the league average with a plus/minus in either direction.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. 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.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
Carolina has one poor game (PHI) for their rushing offense and two matchups (CIN and WAS) that offer upside. The rest of their rushing schedule looks to be about neutral.
The Panthers have three favorable games (NYG and TB X 2) for their passing offense plus one mid-tier matchup (DET). Their toughest four games come against CIN, BAL, PIT, and SEA with each possibly coming in closer to league average with the roster changes in 2018.
Carolina had almost a balanced offense last year. They ran the ball 49.9 percent of the time, which is helped by a high volume rushing QB. This season the Panthers have a top passing catching back and tight end, but their growth in the passing game falls more on the development of the WR position.
QB Cam Newton – Over the last two seasons, Newton struggled with his consistency to make long plays. His yards per pass attempts (6.7) was a career low in 2017 with weakness as well in 2016 (6.9). Cam offset his regression in passing yards to posted a career high in rushing attempts (139) and rushing yards (754) while scoring six rushing TDs. Over 109 career games, he has 54 rushing TDs. Last year Newton passed for 3,302 yards with 22 TDs and 16 Ints. He finished with two games with over 300 yards passing and three other games with 300 or more combined yards. Cam had four games with three TDs or more. In 2017, he played most of the season without his top TE, which created a void in the Panthers’ offense. Overall, the WR core lacked a true WR1 which left Devin Funchess playing the lead role at WR despite having a WR2 skill set at best. The second highest WR in catches came at 32 receptions. This season Newton will have a new hotshot WR drafted in the first round plus a speedy Torrey Smith added to the roster via trade. Curtis Samuel struggled in his rookie season due to injuries, but he could be the sneaky swing option on the roster. Even with short passing results, Cam finished as the third highest scoring QB in the World Championships scoring system. Remember, rushing yards are worth twice as much as passing yards in the high stake’s market, and rushing TDs are 1.5 times more than passing TDs. In essence, Newton had 4,800+ passing yards with 31 passing TDs if you converted his yards on the ground to the air. His pass/run package should lead to 5,000 combined yards with improvement in production at WR and TE. His gain in passing yards will lead to regression in rushing yards as Cam won’t feel the need to carry the team on the back on the ground. His floor is combined TDs should be 30 in 2018.
Other Options: Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen
RB Christian McCaffrey – In his first year in the NFL, McCaffery finished third in RB catches (80) and fifth in RB receiving yards (651). When adding in his seven TDs, Christian has a floor of 200 Fantasy points in PPR leagues without even considering his value as a runner. Last year the Panthers’ RB had 349 rushes for 1,350 yards and nine TDs, but McCaffrey had fewer than 33 percent of the early down action (117/435/2). With Jonathan Stewart no longer on the roster, Christian can’t help but gain a much better portion of the run game. Carolina added C.J. Anderson in the offseason to fill the void created on early downs in the run game. Cam Newton runs the ball a ton at QB, which limits the overall chances on the ground for the Panthers’ RB. At the very least, McCaffery will see a bump to 50 percent of the RB carries. With 175 rushes, Christian should gain at least 700 yards. He’ll catch between 80 and 100 balls leading to another 700 yards at a minimum. His ability to catch the ball gives him a nice consistency factor from week-to-week while adding big game ability when the Panthers are forced to chase on the scoreboard. With 1,400 combined yards, 80 catches, and eight TDs, McCaffrey would score 284 Fantasy points in a PPR league, which would have ranked sixth in 2017, seventh in 2016, and 2nd in 2015. Even with a ten percent error on the downside, Christian will finish with a top 10 RB season with a full season of games.
RB C.J. Anderson – Over the last two seasons, Anderson has been a trap for Fantasy owners due to his best opportunity coming in Week 1 (2016 – 139 combined yards with two TDs and four catches on 24 touches and 2017 – 88 combined yards with a catch on 21 touches) and Week 2 (2016 – 93 combined yards with one TD and three catches on 23 touches and 2017 – 154 combined yards with two TDs and three catches on 28 touches). Over his other 19 games over the last two years, C.J. had four other games with over 100 combined yards and five games with 20 touches or more. On the downside, Anderson had 11 games over this stretch with fewer than 50 yards rushing. In 2017, he had his first season with over 1,000 yards rushing (1,007) with a career-high in touches (273) and combined yards (1,231). C.J. has 14 TDs over his last 38 games. There is no doubt Anderson will see plenty of touches on early downs, and he will pick up a few catches. I expect between 200 and 225 touches for 900+ yards with 20 catches and about five TDs. At best, he’s a low upside RB4 in PPR leagues unless McCaffrey has an injury.
RB Cameron Artis-Payne – In his only full season of action with Auburn, Cameron ran for 1,608 yards on 303 carries with 13 rushing TDs. He also caught 13 passes for 147 yards. CAP doesn’t attack the line of scrimmage when given the ball. He tends to wait for daylight, which hurts his timing to hit possible holes to the second level of the defense. Artis-Payne will run with power and some wiggle in the open field. With a weak offensive line, Cameron is going to deliver many carries with minimal gains. In his rookie season in the NFL, the Panthers gave him 50 touches for 241 yards with a TD and five catches with fading results in 2016 (36/144/2) and 2017 (18/95/1). Cameron has seven career catches on seven targets for 71 yards. Artis-Payne is a low-end insurance policy.
Other Options: Kenjon Barner, Elijah Hood, Reggie Bonnafon
WR D.J. Moore – Over three seasons at Maryland, Moore caught 146 passes for 2,027 yards and 17 TDs highlighted by his junior season in 2017 (80/1033/8). When doing my research on incoming rookies, I read scouting reports to come up with my initial picture then watch player highlights to get a feel for a player’s movements in game action. When doing the first step of research on Moore, I got the feeling that he was going to project or work as one-dimensional speed threat in 2018 for the Panthers. His highlights painted a different picture. Moore is a physical WR who will break many arm tackles while working the short areas of the field on many plays. His open field ability will turn a short pass into long TD if given daylight at the second level of the defense. He didn’t create huge separation in the deep passing game even with plus speed, but D.J. did show he could win tightly contested passes. I sense that the Panthers saw some of Steve Smith in his game, which allows Moore to test a defense all over the field. His next step is proving he can beat top CBs in the NFL when drawing WR1 coverage. His game will improve in the NFL, and his style should work well in Newton’s passing game. Overall, I see him outperforming Devin Funchess in his rookie season thanks to his better overall skill set. Outside chance at 65+ catches for 1,000+ yards and mid-level TDs. I expect him to be the new and improved version of Kelvin Benjamin in the Panthers’ offense.
WR Devin Funchess – After two boring seasons (31/473/5 and 23/371/4) to start his NFL career, Funchess looked the part of a starting NFL WR in 2017. He caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight TDs in 111 targets. Devin had a poor catch rate (56.8), but he did play through multiple injuries (knee, hamstring, toe, and shoulder). Funchess had five games with five catches or more and one game with over 100 yards receiving. His best success came in Week 4 (7/70/2 and Week 10 (5/92/2). Last year Carolina completed 151 passes to the WR position on 260 targets for 1,922 yards and 12 TDs. With a healthy Greg Olsen and D.J. Moore added to the roster, Funchess will have more competition for targets. Cam Newton has never attempted over 517 passes in a season, and his completion rate tends to be around 60 percent. The quick math breaks down to about 300 completions with Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen expected to catch at least half of those balls. The WR position again is left with only about 150 catches in 2018 unless Newton has a jump in passing attempts or completes a high percentage of throws. I’ll set his bar close to his final stats in 2017 – 60 catches for 800 yards and seven TDs while understanding Devin has as much upside as a downside if D.J. Moore hits the ground running.
WR Torrey Smith – Over the last three seasons, Smith lost his way after offering big play ability on the outside for the Ravens from 2011 to 2014. His best year came in 2013 (65/1128/4) while showing growth in scoring in the red zone in 2015 (11 TDs). The 49ers poor offense and QB play led to two seasons of emptiness (33/663/4 and 20/267/3). Last year Torrey struggled to make big plays (11.9 yards per catch – career low) while being the third wheel in the Eagles’ WR rotation. He finished 36 catches for 430 yards and two TDs on 68 targets. In 2013, Smith caught 21 passes for 20 yards or longer with eight gaining 40 yards or more. This year he’ll be the much needed deep threat for Carolina while working similarly as Ten Ginn in 2015 (44/739/10) and 2016 (54/752/4). His targets won’t be impactful due to the overall structure in the passing game, but Torrey will hit on some long TDs while adding value on crossing routes at the goal line. Possible 40 catches for 600 yards and about five TDs.
WR Curtis Samuel – Ohio State listed Samuel as a running back 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). Curtis runs with vision, but his ability to outrun defenders drive his success. He has more strength than meets the eye with an excellent gear to create separation on pass routes. Last year I had high hopes for Samuel that were short-lived after a season full of injuries. He finished 2017 with only 19 touches for 179 yards and four catches, which in a way show his explosive upside. In 2018, Curtis may work his way into more playing time in the backfield while possibly being a thorn in Christian McCaffrey’s side. Samuel is an upside talent who will be a matchup problem for the defenses. I view him closer to being the handcuff to McCaffrey than being the top WR3 option on the roster. In this case, I wish he was listed as RB in 2018. Keep an open mind especially if he’s looking healthy in training camp. Fantasy team can never have enough talent or playmakers.
Update: 8/11/18 > Curtis Samuel was a non-factor in 2017 with a slow path in training camp with an ankle issue. Carolina looked his way four times vs. the Bills in their first preseason game leading to four catches for 43 yards. Intriguing upside player who may lack an opportunity out of the gate in this year.
Other Options: Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd, Mose Frazier, Austin Duke, Free Ross, Jamaal Jones
TE Greg Olsen – Heading in 2017, Olsen had this player profile at Scout: 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 1,000 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) in 2016. Greg scored over 200 Fantasy points in PPR league in his last three full seasons (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. Well, the safe bet at TE in 2017 ended up missing nine game with minimal success over his other seven games (17/191/1 on 38 targets) due to an early-season broken right foot. With Olsen out the Panthers’ line most of the year, the TE positioned with only 49 catches for 645 yards and two TDs on 87 targets. With more competition for targets in 2018, I’ll lower his bar to 70 catches for 850+ yards and about six TDs.
Other Options: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Evan Baylis, Jason Vander Laan
K Graham Gano – Last year Gano led the NFL in success rate (96.7) while making 29 of his 30 field goals. Over his last four years with the Panthers, Graham made 118 of 139 FGs (84.9 percent) and 155 of 164 extra points. In 2017, he missed more extra points (3) than field goals (1). In his NFL career, Gano is 17-for-31 from 50 yards or longer, but he only had one chance in 2017 which he missed. His field attempts (35 per year over the last four seasons) ranks in the top ten in the league, but Carolina did struggle in the TD department in 2016 (40) and 2017 (40) after scoring 59 in 2015. Viable top 12 kicker with matchup value. I expect the Panther to score more in 2018, but it may result in a bump in TDs.
The Panthers have four games (DAL, PHI, and NO X 2) vs. teams that had success running the ball in 2017. Their best edge will come against CIN, WAS, DET, and TB (2).
Carolina’s pass defense has a very tough schedule in 2018 with seven poor matchups (TB X 2, PIT, DET, NO X 2, and ATL) coming over the last nine games of the season. They also have two below par games (ATL and WAS) earlier in the year. Their best success defending the pass will come against DAL, CIN, BAL, and CLE. The tough pass schedule should be a positive for the Panthers’ offense as they will need to score to win games this year.
The Panthers had the third best-run defense in 2017 (1,409 yards) with seven TDs and ten runs over 20 yards. They allowed only 22.1 rushing attempts per game with ball carriers gaining 4.0 yards per rush.
Carolina ranked 18th in passing yards allowed (3,665) with 25 TDs and ten Ints. Their defense did deliver 50 sacks with QBs gaining 7.2 yards per pass attempt.
DT Kawann Short played at a high level vs. the run in 2017 while adding 49 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He’s been one of the top interior linemen in the NFL over the last three seasons. DT Dontari Poe will add steady league average production at the other defensive tackle position. Poe had 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Falcons in 2017.
The Panthers also have DT Vernon Butler at their disposal after selecting him in the first round in 2016. Over his first two years in the league, Butler saw minimal playing time neutral success last year against the run.
DE Mario Addison blossomed as a pass rusher over the last two seasons (20.5 sacks in 30 games). He set a career high in tackles (44) in 2017, but he did show risk defending the run. He’ll start the year at age 30 while playing at the highest level of his career. DE Julius Peppers returns to the Panthers after spending the last seven seasons in Chicago and Green Bay. Peppers continues to produce sacks (11) at age 37 while playing a full season for the tenth straight year. Julius ranked slightly above the league average against the run in 2017.
LB Luke Kuechly has over 100 tackles in each of his first six years in the NFL leading to an edge against the run plus playing well in pass coverage. Kuechly s one of the better all-around linebackers in the league. LB Thomas Davis will start the year on the bench with a four-game suspension for failing a drug test. At age 35, Davis is now a league average player with minimal upside in sacks. LB Shaq Thompson set a career high in tackles (61) and sacks (2) in 2017. He’s a former first-round draft pick (2015) with his best value defending the run.
S Mike Adams has a long career in the NFL with productive in tackles and success in coverage. In three of his last four seasons, Adams ranked higher than the league average even with risk vs. the run. S Da’Norris Searcy struggled in run support in 2017, and his overall game is trending backward. Last year he managed only 26 tackles with two defended passes and one Int leading to a step back in playing time with the Titans.
CB James Bradberry was more productive than his rookie season (85 tackles, one sack, ten defended passes, and two Ints), but he made more big mistakes in coverage. He ranked highly in areas in 2016, which points to more upside in 2018. The second starting CB will come from a growth of veteran option and upside rookies who lack physical skills.
The Panthers will defend the run up the middle with passing rushing value from the outside. They have risk in the secondary vs. teams with deep receiving talent. If Carolina can’t get to the QB, they will be tested in the passing game. Some of their better starting players are at the end of their careers, and Luke Kuechly is one concussion away from retirement. I see more going wrong than going right, which points to regression on the defensive side of the ball over the long season especially with this year’s draft class not NFL ready. I’ll avoid Carolina as top options to be a Fantasy defense plus they have a tough schedule for their pass defense.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks