The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. Having covered all of 2017’s non-playoff NFL teams, it’s time to review the rest, with the next squad being:
Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Cam Newton entered the 2017 season as a bit of an enigma, as he barely played or practiced in August coming off an off-season shoulder surgery. Newton wound up not missing any time due to the shoulder issue, though his performance on the field was a bit of a mixed bag, with 9-of-16 games where he accounted for just one touchdown or less. One positive takeaway for Newton was that he managed to clear 700 rushing yards for the first time since 2012, and new Panthers’ quarterbacks coach Scott Turner (son of former NFL coach and coordinator Norv Turner) appears to have no intention of curtailing that part of Newton’s game. While Newton’s 45 total touchdown season back in 2015 is starting to appear more and more like an outlier, his steady rushing production (not to mention Newton’s role as what essentially boils down to the Panthers’ primary goal line back) should provide a solid floor in the event he isn’t tossing touchdown passes regularly.
Now 31 years-old, Jonathan Stewart began to show his age as he mustered a career-low 3.4 yards-per-carry and ran for 68 rushing yards or fewer in 13-of-15 games played. Evidently the New York Giants were not concerned with Stewart’s eroding ability, as they signed him to a two-year $6.9 million contract via free agency this past March. Christian McCaffrey managed a respectable 1,086 total yards and finished second among all rookies with 80 receptions, after the Panthers selected him eighth overall in the 2017 draft. However, McCaffrey was given double-digit carries just three times all season, and his 3.7 yards per carry was not exactly eye-popping. Even with Stewart gone, it’s far from a guarantee the Panthers make McCaffrey their featured back. 2017 seventh-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne appears to be the logical in-house replacement as the Panthers between-the-tackles banger who offers little-to-nothing as a receiver. Though Artis-Payne is on the older side for someone entering just their fourth NFL season (turns 28 in June), he’s the owner of a career 4.3 yards per carry and could potentially offer touchdown upside if the Panthers decide not to address the running back position during the draft later this month.
Devin Funchess exploded in his first five games following the mid-season trade of Kelvin Benjamin, averaging 81 receiving yards per game and scoring four times between Week 9 and 14. Unfortunately, toe and shoulder injuries began to take their toll on Funchess and his production suffered down the stretch. With the Panthers off-season acquisitions at wideout being just deep threat Torrey Smith and slot specialist Jairus Wright, Funchess’ role as the Panthers’ No. 1 wideout appears safe. At 6-foot-4, the former 41st overall pick in 2015 should offer touchdown upside even if his game-breaking ability is lacking. Benjamin’s trade opened up targets for many of the Panthers’ other lesser known entities over the course of last season, though none of them outside of Funchess really made a case for increased fantasy ownership, and the Smith/Wright signings now make it unlikely Russell Shepard and Damiere Byrd see the field very often. Curtis Samuel (chosen 40th overall in last year’s draft) was a disappointment after spending most of the 2017 preseason on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, and once finally healthy, was lost for the year after suffering a broken ankle in Week 10. Samuel reportedly still has no timetable for a return, and will be hard-pressed to earn a prominent offensive role this summer. His recovery should be monitored given his draft pedigree and the lack of big play threats in the Panthers offense.
Having posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons, Greg Olsen had been considered one of the most reliable fantasy options at the tight end position. Unfortunately, Olsen managed just three catches for 38 yards through the first two weeks of 2017 before breaking his foot, resulting in a nine-game absence. When Olsen did return in Week 12, his regular season contributions were minimal outside of a 9-catch, 116-yard, one-touchdown effort in the Panthers’ pivotal Week 15 win over Green Bay. With a full off-season to get fully healthy, Olsen should be able to resume putting up mid-tier TE1 numbers going into his age-33 season. Ed Dickson held down the fort atop the tight end depth chart for Carolina while Olsen was sidelined, and wasn’t a reliable fantasy producer other than an out-of-nowhere 5-catch, 175-yard performance against Detroit in Week 5. However, the Seattle Seahawks must have seen something they liked in Dickson, as the team signed him to a three-year free agent deal following Jimmy Graham’s departure for Green Bay. Without Dickson, all the Panthers have behind Olsen are a trio of inexperienced former undrafted free agents (who between them have recorded just two NFL catches,) so it should be reasonable to expect the team to consider addressing the tight end position during the NFL Draft later this month.