The Carolina Panthers went 15-1 in 2015 and represented the NFC in Super Bowl 50. The big story of the team might have been the MVP season turned in by quarterback Cam Newton, but it can be argued that the real MVP of the Panthers Super Bowl run might be their defense.
The Panthers were sixth in the NFL in total defense, fourth against the run, sixth with 44 sacks, sixth in scoring defense and led the league in both takeaways and turnover differential.
As one might expect given that defensive prowess, there’s no shortage of IDP talent to be had in Carolina, especially in the front seven.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
After his 55-tackle, 11-sack explosion in 2015, a new contract for defensive tackle Kawann Short (DL7) has been the dominant storyline of the Panthers offseason. Short doesn’t have his new deal yet, but linebacker Thomas Davis (LB4) told Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer he’s confident Short’s big payday will come.
“The way the league is right now (salaries) are slotted for players. You’re expected to get a certain (number) based on what you’ve done and what the guys before you have done,” Davis said. “So I’m pretty sure that Mr. Gettleman is a smart man, and he’s proven that. And I’m pretty sure they’ll come to an agreement and he’ll get something worked out. He knows how valuable KK Short is to our football team.”
The fact is, Gettleman is probably wondering the same about Short that IDP owners are — can the big man duplicate last year’s success in 2016? It’s a big enough question to drop Short into DL2 territory, but he’s still a top five fantasy option among defensive tackles.
With veteran Charles Johnson (DL193) coming off a miserable season the Panthers badly need youngster Kony Ealy (DL48) to step up and build on his huge game in Super Bowl 50 in 2016. As FanSided’s Joe Soriano wrote, “Ealy fell out of the first round due to his status as a project, and even though it was just one game, it seemed like he did put pieces together against the Broncos.”
Both Johnson and Ealy slot as IDP DL3, albeit ones trending in opposite directions. Of the two, Ealy’s upside and potential makes him the far more preferable option.
The heart and soul of the Panthers defense is the linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly (LB9) and Davis, both of whom were top 10 fantasy options in 2015. As Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus wrote, there isn’t a better one-two punch in the NFL at the position.
“It’s easy to see why they should be recognized as the top linebacking duo in the NFL,” Renner said. “No one can match Kuechly’s instincts, while few have the fluid athleticism to match Davis. With all the losses in the Carolina secondary, don’t be surprised if they ask even more out of the pair in 2016—and be even less surprised when they deliver.”
At 33 Davis isn’t getting any younger, but he told Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review he isn’t ready for the old linebacker’s home just yet. “I feel good,” Davis said. “I’m having fun playing this game. I keep getting that question about, ‘How long do you think you’re going to play?’ or, ‘How long do you want to play?’ I want to play as long as I can.”
Davis’ level of play certainly didn’t appear to suffer in 2015, as he topped 100 tackles for the fourth straight season and chipped in a career-high 5.5 sacks. Counting on those big play numbers again isn’t advisable, but Davis remains a solid pick as a LB2. Kuechly, on the other hand, is a machine — the 2014 NFL defensive player of the year is arguably the best linebacker in both the NFL and IDP.
Short may not have gotten his big payday yet, but after a career year that included 90 tackles and seven interceptions the Panthers re-upped safety Kurt Coleman (DB8). After inking a three-year, $17 million extension Coleman told Fox 8 TV in Charlotte that he’s eager to show last year’s big numbers were no fluke.
“It’s a blessing,” Coleman said. “When you go through situations you want what’s best for your family and what’s best for the team, and I’m really excited. I’m fortunate to be a part of this team for three more years. Training camp is the beginning of a new season, and for me, now that this is out of the way I am completely focused.”
As a former Ohio State standout, Coleman has a soft spot in my heart. However, we’re talking about a 28-year-old journeyman player whose career year was fueled in large part by a flukish spike in interceptions — the sort of spike that will more than likely regress in 2016. Let someone else be disappointed when their pursuit of last year’s numbers comes up short — because you know better than to chase ghosts.
As things stand right now, the departure of Pro Bowler Josh Norman (DB16) in free agency means the Panthers will start a pair of rookies at cornerback according to the depth chart at Ourlads. Given that, it’s entirely possible that either James Bradberry (DNP) or Daryl Worley (DNP) could emerge as sneaky IDP plays as beneficiaries of the “rookie corner” rule. If we had to pick one or the other it would be Worley, but neither is worth any sort of draft day investment.