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Should You Draft Him?: Carolina Panthers

Fans, media, team management and the man himself are all putting an inordinate amount of pressure on Cam Newton to win. New general manager Dave Gettleman said as much, acknowledging the elephant in the room that is Newton’s 13-19 record as a starter. He praised his athletic ability, but said that the record is unacceptable and it’s time for him to win. That is absolutely priceless.

Newton is a luminously talented young quarterback who was the first rookie in history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. He scored 62 total touchdowns and passed for nearly 8,000 yards in his first two seasons, owns a passer rating that’s better than any quarterback that young with that little receiving and offensive line talent has any right to have. He also absolutely demolished the record books when it comes to rushing stats for his position. 

Sure the offensive line is significantly below average, coach Ron Rivera has no idea what he’s doing, ownership doesn’t actually care about winning, the defense is mediocre, Steve Smith is the only worthwhile wide receiver, and the previous general manager tied up something like 98 percent of the team’s cap space on running backs. That’s all well and good, but let’s start loudly calling out Cam Newton. You know what? When the Legion of Doom defeats the Super Friends, Aquaman doesn’t call out Batman because Aquaman stinks and deep down he knows that Batman on his worst day is still worth four of him.

The Panthers in fantasy are a lot like the real life team. There’s not much to like outside of Cam Newton and Steve Smith, and owning Panthers players in general won’t lead to a great deal of winning. However, some good upside does exist, particularly because they have running backs whose talent level greatly exceeds their draft position, so let’s dig deep and try to find some winners.

(ADP = average draft position. It is based on present data from 12-team standard drafts. Points per reception will get special mention when relevant. I will not write about kickers and defenses because I’m not made of free time.)

Cam Newton (ADP: End of Round 4):

I’ve certainly said enough about my feelings about Newton as a real life football player. As a person he isn’t exactly a bastion of unflappable maturity, but he’s also 24 years old. I feel like he’s close to a sure thing for elite fantasy production because the rushing yards and touchdowns can smooth over so many shortcomings. No matter what, I think the rushing yardage and touchdowns stay constant, and it’s nice that he doesn’t carry the kind of injury risk that the Griffins, Wilsons and Vicks of the world carry because he’s huge. In his worst case scenario, he fails to improve as a passer and puts up stats that are extremely similar to his first two seasons, making him a top 5 fantasy quarterback. In his best case, he cuts down on interceptions and gets over the hump and throws for about 30 touchdowns, making him the single-highest scorer in fantasy. The risk is extremely low and the potential couldn’t be higher. Go for it.

Should you draft him?

Jonathan Stewart (ADP: Late Round 9):
It’s not like I needed reasons not to draft a Panthers running back, but entering the season with two ankle injuries that will certainly result in missing a good deal of training camp and leave his Week 1 status in doubt makes for a pretty good one. There was a time when both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams were players you could comfortably start every week. That time was 2009, which is ancient history in fantasy, especially for the running back position. If Stewart is this banged up at the start of training camp, how can you possibly feel good about him during the season in game action? Newton and Mike Tolbert gobble down short yardage scores, and Williams is the more dynamic threat. If he’s healthy, another Panthers running back is out or limited, and the matchup is good I might stick him in as a flex, but that’s it. I can’t really envision a scenario where a Stewart draft pick pays off big.

Should you draft him?

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