It's time to start thinking about fantasy football, and we have started going team by team to let you know what each NFL franchise can do for your fantasy squad. You can click here to see if your team has been previewed yet. If it isn't there, chances are it's coming soon. We have finished the NFC and AFC West, and move on to the "South" divisions.
*Rankings are based on a 12-team, standard scoring format.
2012 RECORD: 7-9
2013 BYE WEEK: 4
TOP DRAFT PICKS: (1) Star Lotulelei- DT- Utah
(2) Kawann Short- DT- Purdue
(4) Edmund Kugbila- OG- Valdosta St.
QUARTERBACK: Cam Newton didn't quite match his ridiculous rookie campaign, but his second season was not a disappointment. He did start slowly, throwing only 6 touchdowns to 8 interceptions through the first 8 games of the season. If you bought low on him at that point, you were rewarded handsomely. The 2nd half of the season Cam was one of the best fantasy performers in the NFL, throwing for 13 touchdowns and only 4 picks. He rushed for 35 more yards (741) than last season, but his rushing TDs dropped from 14 to 8. The Panthers added Mike Tolbert last season, and he took away some of the goal line carries that Newton had in 2011. I think Cam is good for 20 passing and 10 rushing touchdowns, and close to 4,000 passing yards. I see him as an upper-tier QB1, and you can argue him as high as 3 in the positional rankings. It is also fair to temper expectations after his slow start last season. Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen are behind him on the depth chart, but if Newton gets hurt, you won't want any part of this Panthers offense.
RUNNING BACK: The reality is, Cam Newton is the best running back this team has. Unfortunately, he isn't eligible at that position. The running back situation in Carolina has been jumbled for the last several years. They have too many B-level backs and not a true A-list guy to dominate carries. DeAngelo Williams got the bulk of the carries last year, but didn't do much with them, going for 737 yards and 5 touchdowns. Jonathan Stewart was expected to get equal carries going into the season, but that wasn't the case. He ran for only 336 yards and a touchdown, and averaged a lowly 3.6 yards per carry. Mike Tolbert was more valuable to fantasy owners last year than Stewart, despite the fact that he only ran for 183 yards on the season. The goal line specialist scored 7 touchdowns, more than Stewart and Williams combined. The reality is, none of these guys should even be an RB2 for your team. If you have a flex spot, Williams may be worth drafting. The other two are bench fodder in deep leagues, unless an injury to Williams occurs. Even then, time has shown us that none of these guys are great players.
WIDE RECEIVER: Steve Smith is Cam Newton's favorite target, which is enough to make him a person of interest. The downside is that he is nearing the end of his career, or at least his productive career. Last year was strong, but still a big drop off from 2011, and he goes into this season at 34 years old. He had nearly 1,200 receiving yards, but only got into the end zone 4 times. Brandon LaFell was a respectable #2 for the Panthers last season, going for 677 yards and scoring 4 touchdowns. Domenik Hixon, Armanti Edwards, Ted Ginn and David Gettis will provide depth, but none need to be drafted. Smith is a low end WR2, but I could see continued regression. LaFell can be drafted late for bench depth.
TIGHT END: Greg Olsen came on strong last year, really finding his groove with Cam Newton. He set personal bests in receptions (69) and yardage (843) to go along with 5 touchdowns. Olsen is a freakish athlete at 6'5" and 250 lbs. He is a matchup nightmare and may be poised to step into the elite of tight ends. Draft him as a TE1. Veteran Ben Hartsock is the backup.
KICKER: Graham Gano is back after finishing up the last 6 games with the Panthers last season. He is nothing special, so no need to draft him unless you think that the Panthers offense is going to make a big jump.
DEFENSE-SPECIAL TEAMS: This defense is not good. Not for fantasy or real life. They play in a division with the Falcons and Saints, and in general they are devoid of real playmakers. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy both finished with double digit sacks and Luke Kuechly led the league in tackles, but they were 24th in the league in interceptions. Look elsewhere on draft day.