We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2011 fantasy football questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2011 Carolina Panthers Fantasy Football Preview comes courtesy of our friend Taylor Barbour, editor of Cat Crave.
The Panthers offense was an utter disaster last season scoring a horrendous 12.3 points per game, 4.6 points behind the 31st worst Cleveland Browns. It’s hard to get excited about any Panthers player fantasy-wise this season, but Carolina did bring back DeAngelo Williams to start alongside Jonathan Stewart in their dynamic backfield. Even with numerous 8 in the box defensive looks and no certainty at quarterback, do you see the running game revitalizing in 2011?
I think the running game will improve this season. I think last season was a product of zero passing game and also the most predictable offense you could ever imagine in John Fox’s last season. No matter who is starting, whether it be Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen, the passing game will be better with a revitalized Steve Smith and new tight end additions Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. These guys have to be covered and should help improve the passing game, which will enviably improve the running game. Teams won’t be able to stack 9-10 guys in the box and get away with it like they did last season.
The one down thing I see is that I don’t know if the Panthers will run the ball quiet as much as they did under Fox. Fox loved running the ball and believed in game management and ball control, which he got from the running game. It remains to be seen if Rivera will utilize the run as much but you have to believe with the offense line the Panthers have and the two star running backs, but he would be foolish not to use them.
No matter how many times the Panthers run per game, the one problem for fantasy owners is that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart will once again vulture each other’s points. The two backs are so good you have to split time between them. But because both are so talented and have showed that they can be an unstoppable tandem together, ala 2009 when both rushed for over 1,100 yards in a season. I would say both will be top-20 running backs.
I’m sure every Carolina fan would like to see Cam Newton start week one, but the last time the Panthers started a rookie out of the gate, it was Chris Weinke who led the Panthers to losses in the final 15 games of 2001. Also, the Panthers have Jimmy Clausen trying to prove something after a disastrous rookie campaign and have brought in veteran Derek Anderson. The Panthers passing game finished over 600 yards behind than the 31st worst passing team last year, so the passing game can’t get any worse. If it is Newton starting week one, what would his prospects look like? If it’s not Newton right away, do you think he takes over at some point during the season and has any impact?
At this point, it is Newton’s job to lose. All he needs to do to become the team’s opening day starter is to just show a bit, and I mean a small smidge of ability and understanding of the playbook in training camp and the job is his. Newton has a special talent that will make it impossible for the Panthers to keep him off the field.
Even if the Panthers go with Clausen or Anderson to start the season, Newton will be utilized in certain packages especially in the redzone. I would liken him to Mike Vick. With the Eagles in 2009, McNabb was the starter but Vick came in on certain plays especially in the endzone to provide that extra dimension to the offense. But if I would have to guess, if Newton doesn’t win the job outright in the preseason, it is only a matter of time until he takes over. Give it maybe week four or week five but mark my words Newton will finish the season as the Panthers starting quarterback.
But I wouldn’t expect immediate stardom from Newton early, even if he is the opening day starter. So far in training camp we have seen he has a huge arm, but he is still pretty inaccurate and will need to work on improving that. He seems to be developing a good rapport with Steve Smith, something that Jimmy Clausen has never been able to do and that is a great start.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t bank on Newton to be one of my quarterbacks I start week in and week out. He has a lot of catching up to do and most rookie quarterbacks struggle adjusting to the NFL in their first season unless you are Ben Roethlisberger or Sam Bradford. Would I take a flyer on him late in the draft, yes. He has a ton of upside but I think he is a year away from being a legit fantasy contributor.
Carolina hasn’t had a consistent, play-making tight end really since Wesley Walls… Do you see Greg Olsen or to a lesser extent Jeremy Shockey having an impact year?
I definitely believe that Greg Olsen is going to have a huge season. I have only heard good reports about Olsen since he has arrived, saying the man does not drop a single ball. Not only does he give the Panthers its first consistent play making tight end since Walls, but also he gives them its first solid secondary receiver to Steve Smith since Mushin Muhammad.
Olsen never really got going in Chicago. The Bears kept changing their offensive coordinator and Olsen was really just not a part of the scheme. But Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski loves the tight end, I mean loves it. Look at the numbers Antonio Gates has put up over the last two seasons under Chudzinki, 129 catches, 18 touchdowns for 1,939 yards. No I wouldn’t expect that great of season for Olsen who lacks some of Gates’ athleticism, but nevertheless I believe Olsen will bust out this year.
They always say the best thing for a young quarterback is a strong pass catching tight end and that is just what Olsen can be for Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen. He will provide a safety valve for the quarterbacks when the pocket breaks down. Expect him to finish second on the team in catches for the Panthers, behind Steve Smith and a would say a top-7 tight end behind Gates, Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley and Jason Witten, and somewhere in between Vernon Davis, Mercedes Lewis and Chris Cooley.
Steve Smith hasn’t been too happy as a Panther lately, but it looks like he’s staying in Carolina despite some rumors he had asked to be traded to a contender. This will probably be yet another frustrating season for Smith, but everyone knows he has all the talent in the world. Do you think newcomer head coach Ron Rivera opens the playbook for Smith to have a solid season even with the glaring question mark at QB?
Well, from what it seems at this point in time Steve Smith is happy in Carolina, saying he wants to retire a Panthers right before the start of training camp. But we know how Mr. Smith’s emotions change like the weather. However, I think Smith is happy. He seems to have formed a nice friendship with Newton and likes what the young quarterback can do. The two players worked out together individually prior to camp, so that is always a good sign.
As far as the new system on offense, I think Smith is intrigued. It sounds like Chudzinski is going to find ways to get Smith, who is still in my opinion on of the most electric players in the game, the ball. Chudzinski loves stretching the field and throwing the ball deep and that is one of Smith’s fortes.
Also, the Panthers have actually brought in some weapons to cast around Smith. Both Shockey and Olsen will provide some help and the Panthers also just signed former San Diego Charger Legedu Naanee to come in and most likely take over the No. 2 receiver position. So its not like last season, where Smith was the only offensive threat outside of the two running backs.
Do I think Smith will improve his numbers from last season? Yes, no doubt. Last seasons’ 41 catches and only two touchdowns were career lows for Smith. He is just too good for only 41 passes in 16 games. Expect him to bounce back but I don’t think he will be a top-10 receiver. I would look at him as a solid second receiver on your team, not someone that can carry the load for you.
Brandon LaFell and David Gettis showed some flashes of talent last season as rookies, with Gettis having one monster game of 8 catches for 125 yards and 2 TDs against the 49ers in week Do you see either receiver stepping up for their sophomore season and which guy do you like most?
If you would have asked me this question three days ago I would have said both players will more than likely improve on there rookie seasons. But like I said earlier, the Panthers just went out and signed Legedu Naanee, who will most likely win the No. 2 receiver job.
That’s not to say Gettis or LaFell will not have an impact this season. Both have nice qualities to them and give the Panthers a variety of weapons. Gettis is your more high risk, high reward guy. He is big, fast and will stretch the field, which will be important in Chudzinski’s new system. LaFell on the other hand is more of a possession receiver who will come quiet in handy in the redzone. He is a huge target to throw to and should have his fair share of redzone targets.
If I had to pick one to draft I would take Gettis. He is more of a game changer and seems to fit in the best in this vertical passing system better than LaFell does.
But no matter what, the key still lies with Newton, Clausen or whoever is at quarterback with the Panthers. If they can’t get the ball out, it doesn’t matter if Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Shannon Sharpe are lined up along the outside of them, because they still have to have someone to throw them the ball. But if Clausen or Newton can step up, the Panthers may have some solid fantasy contributors this season.