The Panthers have struggled in the seasons following their Super Bowl loss. They missed the playoffs in 2016. The following season they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Last season, the Panthers started 6-2, but then lost seven straight games before finally winning a meaningless game against the Saints’ backups. Many of the Panthers problems have been addressed, but two concerns still remain: inconsistent quarterback play and a below average offensive line.

Team Preview

Key Departures:

Devin Funchess, WR; Ryan Kalil,C

Free agency is a lot like online dating. Attractive and interesting singles do not hit the free market. It’s the crazy girlfriends and guys that spend too much time playing fantasy football that use dating apps. In the NFL, talented players are locked up by teams and never enter free agency. The Panthers have put a ring on Christian McCaffrey’s finger, but they’ve ghosted other Panthers. DE Julius Peppers, C Ryan Kalil, LB Thomas Davis, OT Matt Kalil and WR Devin Funchess were allowed to walk. They’re old, slow, hurt, or not very good to begin with, and that’s exactly what NFL free agency is. The Panthers like most teams lost players to free agency, but also like most teams, they’re not really losing anything.

Key Acquisitions:

Greg Little, OT; Matt Paradis, C

The Panthers offensive line has been a major problem for the past three seasons. Their front office’s inability to address this need in a timely manner has likely taken years off of the career of Cam Newton. It’s quite possible that his best days are well behind him. Nonetheless, the Panthers drafted tackle Greg Little in the second round and brought in veteran center Matt Paradis. Is this too little too late or is this just enough to breathe life into Newton. The offensive weapons that surround Cam have the potential to be the best that he has ever had, but the offensive line must keep him upright.

2019 Fantasy MVP

Christian McCaffrey, RB

No one believed that McCaffrey was a between the tackles running back. His rookie season confirmed this suspicion. It seemed that he was a high-end scat back that could do some work inside, but he was never going to be the lone workhorse in a successful backfield. That generalized analysis could not have been any further from the truth. McCaffrey is a football lifer. He is an elite talent, but more importantly, he is one of the few players with an elite level of dedication. McCaffrey was one of three running backs that topped 1,000 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry. He led all running backs in receptions (107) and receiving yards (867). In his second season, he became arguably the most valuable running back in the NFL, and he did this behind shaky quarterback play and an average at best offensive line.

2019 Fantasy LVP

Cam Newton, QB

There will be weeks when Newton breaks a slate. There will also be weeks when Newton breaks. Every offseason, fans are assured that Newton looks fine and is healthy. Fantasy players optimistically draft Newton only to find out that it’s no longer 2011; it’s not even 2015 for that matter. Gone is the multi-threat QB with a gluttony for goal-line sneak TDs. Newton is a statuesque pocket passer with average accuracy, zip and awareness. He will run, but just enough that it does not kill your fantasy team. If the offseason offensive line changes work and Newton truly is 100% healthy, then he has the weapons to have a monster year. On paper, his numbers looked as good as ever last season. Newton clearly benefited from the breakout of McCaffrey and the new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The demise of Newton may be greatly exaggerated, but a hobbled quarterback with a questionable line is not a fantasy asset.

2019 Breakout Player

Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore, WR

The Panthers enter 2019 with a completely different receiver corps. The slow possession receivers (Kelvin Benjamin and Funchess) are gone. Greg Olsen looks to play a smaller role, if any role at all. The Panthers will look to build upon the 2018 success of their young receivers. Samuel (a 2017 second-round pick) and D.J. Moore (a 2018 first-round pick) did not set the world on fire last season, but they were major contributors in what can be an explosive offense. Moore lacked consistency last season, but that’s expected from a rookie receiver in an offense that lacked consistency. Still, Moore’s 788 yards receiving ranked second among rookies and his 55 receptions ranked fourth. Samuel’s 35 receptions for 494 yards seems pedestrian, but Samuel only started eight games. This combination will be difficult for defenses to contain, but nearly impossible when a defense also must focus on McCaffrey.

Final Thoughts:

As goes the quarterback so goes the team. The NFL is a quarterback driven league. Some teams find a way to win games despite their quarterback play, but those teams do not win Super Bowls. The hopes and dreams of the Carolina Panthers hinge on the play of Cam Newton. If Newton is healthy and protected, then this offense will be explosive. McCaffrey will have an MVP season, and Moore and Samuel will have breakout seasons. If Newton struggles, then he may bring the entire team down with him.

Be sure to check out the rest of our team previews for the NFC South:
New Orleans Saints
Atlanta Falcons
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers, July 4

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