With fantasy draft day fast approaching, Pat Fitzmaurice is taking a team-by-team look at every key player’s fantasy value relative to his current ADP (average draft position). Next up: the confounding Carolina Panthers
IKEA instruction manuals have always flummoxed me, possibly because I’m more of a verbal learner than a visual learner. More likely because I’m just dim. Whenever I try to put together something from IKEA – a dresser, a bookcase, whatever – I’ll get to about Step 3, become hopelessly stuck on some visual cue that I can’t interpret, then throw a mini-tantrum before stalking away, vowing to return the godforsaken item and to boycott all things Swedish for eternity. Then my wife takes over assembly duty and puts the thing together in under 10 minutes.
The Panthers’ offense looks like an IKEA instruction manual to me. It has some weird Swedish product name like “Oovensklüt” and doesn’t include any words, just illustrations. Step 1 is a picture of a dabbing Cam Newton surrounded by a force field. Step 2 shows Christian McCaffrey with a football tucked in the crook of his arm, running past would-be tacklers. Step 3 depicts Curtis Samuel tracking a ball overhead as lightning bolts emanate from his cleats. Other steps show Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin, Jonathan Stewart and Devin Funchess hard at work. It all makes sense at first glance, but then I start going through the steps, quickly become confused and fall into despair. Maybe Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula can make sense of it. Mostly I’m confused about how the new pieces (McCaffrey and Samuel) fit into a Newton-propelled offense.
Newton’s 52.9 percent completion percentage last season wasn’t that bad … for a starting NFL quarterback in 1968. Granted, pinpoint accuracy has never been Newton’s stock-in-trade, but a completion percentage of 52.9% in today’s NFL is roughly equivalent to a 43% completion percentage during the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. Improved health should help matters – Newton was batted around last season like a piñata at an 8-year-old’s birthday party – but it’s worrisome that Cam wasn’t able to take part in OTAs after having surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Also worrisome: that Carolina’s starting left tackle will be Matt Kalil, to whom the Panthers gifted a five-year, $55.5 million contract and a truckload of guaranteed money even though he often plays as if he were holding a red cape.
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Newton has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of QB7. Some see that as a discount in light of Newton’s track record. His previous fantasy finishes, in chronological order, are QB3, QB4, QB3, QB14 (in 2014, when he missed two games), QB1 and QB19. There’s just too much uncertainty with Newton to buy in at his current price. He’s a hard pass for me.
I’ve been itching to draft Christian McCaffrey since the first time I watched him play at Stanford. His skill set is tailor-made for the modern NFL. Back in March, I landed McCaffrey in a MyFantasyLeague.com draft with pick 6.04. These days, getting McCaffrey that late is a pipe dream. He’s routinely going in the third round of MFL drafts, occasionally slipping into the fourth. His ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator is RB15. The rise of McCaffrey’s ADP clearly has more to do with his draft spot (eighth overall) than his landing spot. McCaffrey’s versatility would have made him a nice fit with any number of teams, but perhaps not with a team that has a quarterback who dominates the ball like a shoot-first point guard.
It’s disappointing that McCaffrey’s ADP is so helium-filled. I won’t take him at his third-round ADP, but if he slides half a round farther in any individual draft, I’ll at least consider pulling the trigger.
Jonathan Stewart has long been an undervalued fantasy asset and has a chance to provide sneaky value in 2017, but again, the instruction manual for this offense is beyond my understanding. There are too many dowels, and some of them won’t fit into any of the holes. Stewart had nine touchdowns last season, his best total since 2009, but he averaged 3.8 yards per carry and caught only eight passes. Even if you think Stewart will have a significant role despite the presence of McCaffrey, you’re obligated to consider than Stewart is now 30 and hasn’t played more than 13 games since 2011. His ADP is RB40, which seems about right.
You’ve probably seen the photo of Kelvin Benjamin looking out of shape at the Panthers’ recent OTAs.
I won’t join in on the fat-shaming. It’s more of a personal thing than a holier-than-thou thing – I was a doughy kid. Then I got to college, where a limited budget wasn’t always enough to cover food, alcohol, cigarettes and CDs. I’d sometimes ration food to leave funds for the other stuff, and before long the excess weight was gone. But while I have empathy for Benjamin, that doesn’t mean I want him on my fantasy teams.
To show up out of shape for OTAs suggests a lack of professional commitment. Most NFL players only have a few years to make hay before their bodies wear out or someone comes along to take their jobs. A player who risks squandering those precious years by failing to take care of his body is probably a poor fantasy investment. And it’s not just about fitness with Benjamin. For instance, on the Week 14 play where Newton appeared to have hurt his shoulder, an end zone throw to Benjamin that the Chargers’ Trovon Reed intercepted and returned for a touchdown, Benjamin easily could have tackled Reed but completely dogged it, and Newton wound up landing awkwardly on his shoulder while making an earnest attempt to keep Reed from scoring. Despite his 6-5 frame, 83-inch wingspan and some early-career flashes of dominance, I want no part of Benjamin at his ADP of WR27.
Devin Funchess never struck me as being an NFL-caliber receiver during his college days at Michigan, and he’s done little to change that opinion in his two years with the Panthers. The 6-5, 230-pound Funchess is an inviting end zone target who has nine touchdowns on 54 career catches, but he struggles to get separation and ends up wearing defenders almost as snuggly as Hannibal Lecter wore the flesh of his cell guard in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Funchess isn’t among the top 80 receivers in ADP. He’s a tolerable late-round dart through, but there are better end-of-draft YOLO choices.
Carolina spent a second-round pick on Curtis Samuel, a dual run-catch threat from Ohio State who has 4.3 speed and produced 1,636 yards from scrimmage for the Buckeyes last fall. It’s hard to see Samuel offering weekly fantasy value rather than just the occasional splash play. He’ll have just turned 21 when the season begins, and he’s only 5-11, 196 pounds. Samuel could have bonus value in the running game, but rushing yardage for wide receivers isn’t very bankable (take heed, Tyreek Hill enthusiasts), and the presence of McCaffrey figures to limit Samuel’s rushing attempts. It’s worth noting that Josh Norris of Rotoworld (@JoshNorris), a shrewd judge of talent, is high on Samuel and thinks he could play a substantial role as a two-in-one replacement for ex-Panthers Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown. Samuel is an intriguing penny stock at his ADP of WR74.
Greg Olsen has been a rock at tight end for the Panthers and fantasy owners alike. He’s strung together three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and hasn’t missed a game in nine years. Olsen is 32, but lest you worry about age-related decline, consider that he averaged 11.2 yards per catch before turning 30 and has averaged 13.9 yards per catch in the two years since. He carries an ADP of TE4, behind only Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed. I prefer Olsen to the far less durable Reed.
|Cam Newton||QB7||QB11||Move along|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB15||RB16||Wait for discount|
|Curtis Samuel||WR74||WR65||Roll the dice|
|Greg Olsen||TE4||TE3||Pay homage|