The 2018 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 and/or beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final standings. Next up … Carolina.
Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Through the Panthers’ first 13 games, Newton was on pace for his second 4,000-yard passing season (the first one coming as a rookie in 2011), with a career-high 68.8 completion percentage. However, the Panthers’ season took a nose dive during their Week 15 loss to New Orleans, as Newton suffered a flare up in his bothersome throwing shoulder, resulting in him being benched mid-game. Newton ended up being shut down for his team’s remaining two contests, and reportedly underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder this past January, making it the second time in the past two years Newton has needed an operation on this throwing arm (the first was a procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff in March 2017).
Meanwhile, one of the backups in Allen or Heinicke will be deemed expendable later this offseason after the Panthers spent a third-round draft pick on former West Virginia Mountaineer Will Grier, who could potentially become Newton’s successor in due time. As for Newton’s recovery from surgery, the Panthers continue to maintain optimism he’ll be ready for training camp. In an effort to help limit the hits on their star quarterback, Carolina has made a point to bolster the offensive line by replacing long-time center Ryan Kalil (retired) with former Denver center Matt Paradis (three years, $27 million), while also ensuring 2017 Associated Press All-Pro offensive tackle Daryl Williams remained in town (one-year, $7 million). Additionally, the Panthers drafted offensive tackle Greg Little 37th overall in the 2019 draft, and he should push for a significant role right away.
Assuming no setbacks for Newton’s shoulder (and the Panthers have no reason to rush the soon-to-be 30-year-old) he should be on all fantasy radars as a back-end QB1 with weekly rushing upside.
The Panthers’ coaching staff dropped hints during the 2018 offseason about using McCaffrey as a workhorse, and they certainly made good on those words, as the former No. 1 overall draft pick (2017) finished his sophomore NFL season third in both yards from scrimmage (1,965) and offensive touches (326). Additionally, McCaffrey’s 187 career catches have him tied with Odell Beckham for the third-most receptions through a player’s first two NFL seasons. Being the finely tuned athletic machine that he is, McCaffrey finished 2018 as the NFL’s snap count leader among running backs, remaining on the field for at least 90 percent of the Panthers’ offensive plays in 14-of-16 contests.
McCaffrey’s through the roof usage essentially rendered free agent signing of C.J. Anderson useless. Anderson’s inability to nail down a consistent role, led to him being released by the team last November. Anderson’s release vaulted former 2015 seventh-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne into the backup role, though he barely touched the ball until Carolina decided to give McCaffrey some rest during their meaningless Week 17 season finale. Artis-Payne was re-signed to a modest one-year, $895,000 deal this past March, and will compete with a pair of 2019 rookies in fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett and undrafted Elijah Holyfield for snaps behind McCaffrey. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera stated earlier this year he’d like see McCaffrey’s snaps dialed back a little; the team’s lack of viable running back depth likely affords little incentive to do so however. In just two short seasons, McCaffrey has ascended to the elite tier fantasy assets (let alone running backs), and will be worthy of a Top-5 selection in all formats for the 2019 season.