It’s been a busy offseason across the NFL. Between retirements, suspensions, free agency and the draft there are many players and more importantly many catches/carries/yards/touchdowns missing from each teams production. Let’s take a look at some of the key losses and figure out how the teams expect to replace that production in 2014.
The Panthers enter the 2014 season without five of their top six leading receivers from the 2013 season. The only one remaining is TE Greg Olsen. Cam Newton has an entirely new wide receiver corps to throw to this season. In fact, of the 11 receivers currently on the Panthers roster their combined output doesn’t replace the loss of Steve Smith. Let’s look at the career numbers:
Steve Smith – 13 seasons, 836-12,197-67
Current Panthers WR’s – 36 combined seasons, 799-10,252-49
Most of the production mind you comes from ten year veteran Jerricho Cotchery.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Steve Smith isn’t the only void they have to make up for. Not counting the RB position, the Panthers lost 75% of their entire passing offense last season. The remaining 25% is completely Greg Olsen.
The fact of the matter is the loss of Steve Smith is minimal. He is a shell of his former self and his best attribute these days is the ability to start fights with opposing defensive backs and get pass interference penalties. At 5’9” Smith was never an easy target for QB’s and had almost no effect in the red zone. Furthermore his speed had deteriorated to the point that the Panthers had to use Ted Ginn to run some of his routes last year and to stretch out the defense.
Brandon LaFell had been labeled a major disappointment since being taken in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of LSU. But he had been getting better over the past two seasons and at times flashed that big bodied playmaking ability that everyone hoped for coming out of college. The thing that will be missed most is his size. He was the only WR that Cam Newton could throw it up to when under pressure and expect a play to be made.
Both Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon will be missed more in the return game then the passing game. Ginn stepped up and got himself a contract by making up for Steve Smith’s lack of speed and attentiveness last year.
Granted the Panthers passing attack wasn’t a high level threat in 2013. The team ranked 30th in pass attempts, 29th in passing yards and 15th in touchdowns. Everybody understands that for the Panthers to reach the next round of the playoffs they are going to have to be more effective than that throwing the football.
So who did they bring in to help? Well we thought they might be in the mix for Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders or even DeSean Jackson when he hit the market this offseason but they decided to go cheap.
Here are some of the new faces competing for jobs in Carolina this summer and their numbers from 2013:
As you can see none of these names jump off of the page and scream “FANTASY SUPERSTAR.” But there are some factors here that we should be aware of. The Panthers added size this offseason. As we learned in the 2014 Fantasy Football Draft Guide, size means everything with NFL WR’s and fantasy points. Take a look for yourself:
Kelvin Benjamin – 6’5”, 240 Lbs
Jerricho Cotchery – 6-1”, 200 Lbs
Tiquan Underwood – 6’1”, 185 Lbs
Jason Avant – 6’0”, 200 Lbs
There are two sides to look at with this added size in Carolina. The first is that bigger targets will make it a lot easier for Cam Newton. Great QB’s like Tom Brady (Randy Moss), Peyton Manning (DeMaryius Thomas), Aaron Rodgers (Jordy Nelson) and Drew Brees (Marques Colston) put up their best seasons while frequently targeting big bodied WR’s. This will translate into more passing TD’s as big targets are obviously the preference in the red zone.
The other thing to notice here besides the pure size of the new WR’s in Carolina is that fact that each of them are a big plus in run blocking.
(Ratings via ProFootballFocus)
This just proves that the focus once again of the Panthers offense will be on running the ball. Even though fantasy players would love to see a more wide open approach we must take this knowledge and apply it to what we can use in fantasy. That is the use of Carolina RB’s and their running QB Cam Newton. The Panthers took some hits along the offensive line this offseason and tried to help out by grabbing WR’s who can help out in run blocking.
Let’s go over the final tally’s:
156 Receptions (53%), 1983 Yards (65%), 15 TD’s (63%)
108 Receptions (69%), 1489 Yards (75%), 16 TD’s (106%)
The volume of the Panthers offense isn’t going to change much in 2014. They are still going to run the football over 55% and throw the ball 42% (the other 3% are punts & FG attempts) of the time or as little as they have to.
From a fantasy perspective this unit will not miss a beat. In fact, we can reasonably expect better numbers from Cam Newton and at least the top two WR’s on the Panthers this year. With the extra size they will be able to throw more in short yardage situations and without a doubt accumulate a few more red zone targets as well. There will be a good amount of TD’s caught by this group this season which will play well in standard league formats. In PPR leagues this group will continue to be a few bye week replacements at best.
The player to really watch out for though is Kelvin Banjamin. Not only is he the largest WR the Panthers have, they also have the most invested in him. Jason Avant will likely replace the numbers Steve Smith put up while Jerricho Cotchery will fill the Brandon LaFell role. Banjamin will carve out his own role here and could easily out produce the combined numbers of Avant & Cotchery in 2014. Thus, he should be the first Panthers WR off the board on draft day.