The Carolina Panthers are going through a transition phase but that doesn’t mean the team’s short of talent. With one of the most complete players in the league in Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers boast consistency in player production.
They recently gained Teddy Bridgewater, a deep sleeper who spent the last few seasons as a key backup after a near-career-ending knee injury in 2016. They also have a few receivers who can produce and the question is which will become Bridgewater’s go to?
While it is a transition season in Charlotte, North Carolina with a new coach in Matt Rhule and a new starting quarterback opening the season for the first time since 2011, there’s a lot to like with this Panthers team.
Here are 4 Panthers you don’t want to miss.
1- Stud: Christian McCaffrey, RB
- 287 carries
- 1,387 yards
- 4.8 yards per carry
- 15 touchdowns
- 116 receptions
- 1,005 yards
- 4 touchdowns
Okay, you have your Nick Chubbs and Derrick Henrys, the league’s 2 best pure running backs. However, neither comes close to being the league’s most complete back. That moniker rests with Christian McCaffrey, whose near 2,400 yards from scrimmage in 2019 trumped all.
McCaffrey is a scoring machine who can catch like a receiver (his dad is former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey) and he can run with the league’s best running backs. If you molded a Barry Sanders-Jerry Rice hybrid, you get McCaffrey.
He already has 303 career receptions and he’s just now entering his 4th season, the prime of his career. He’s averaging a career yards per carry average of 4.7 and that’s after spending the previous 2 seasons as the team’s featured back.
Sure, Chubb and Henry may be better rushers, but McCaffrey is a more finished product than either back and he’s shown it.
Look for McCaffery to be the first player taken in most fantasy football drafts. If you have the first pick, you’re most likely using it on either McCaffery, Chubb, or Henry, among others. I’d go with McCaffery above the others because of his pass-catching ability.
If you bet on player productivity, NFL betting sites will have his projected statistics higher and it’s always an obvious risk to bet the over on players like this. However, we need to remember that McCaffrey spent a lot of games in 2019 playing with quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Will Grier.
Exactly. Now he gets to team up with the proven Bridgewater, who’s made one of the most inspiring comebacks in NFL history.
McCaffrey is a risk to bet the over, but I’d bet over given the fact that he’s improved each season in the NFL.
ESPN.com’s 2020 projections of McCaffrey are shown below:
- 234 carries
- 1,051 yards
- 4.5 yards per carry
- 9 touchdowns
- 89 receptions
- 734 yards
- 3 touchdowns
2- Sleeper: Teddy Bridgewater, QB
- 133 completions
- 196 attempts
- 1,384 yards
- 9 touchdowns
- 2 interceptions
- 28 carries
- 31 yards
Once upon a time, doctors said Bridgewater would never play again. It was in training camp prior to the 2016 season when Bridgewater’s knee literally exploded in a non-contact role. This resulted in a torn ACL and structural damage which also included a dislocated knee.
Bridgewater defied the odds and ended up returning to the Minnesota Vikings in a backup role before they traded him to the New York Jets prior to the 2018 season. Soon after, the Jets traded him to the New Orleans Saints, where he spent 2 seasons as Drew Brees’ backup.
Bridgewater again saw action as a regular-season starter when Brees went down with an injury and posted respectable numbers in 5 starts, posting a 99.1 quarterback rating. Now, he’s with the Saints’ division rival in Carolina, looking to succeed Cam Newton, who held the position for 9 seasons.
While it’s never a guarantee that Bridgewater will ever be the same, an injury or similar injuries have kept quarterbacks from reaching their peak as with Carson Palmer (torn ACL 2005) and Derek Carr (broken leg 2016). Bridgewater’s 2019 season shows things are pointing up.
He also has a dangerous receiving unit that many pundits will underrate and it’s always nice having the NFL’s most complete running back. Given the sheer talent around him, don’t be surprised if Bridgewater performs better than the ‘Game Manager’ role experts will label him with.
Bridgewater has in recent years become a Journeyman Quarterback because of his injury, a term that some take in a derogatory manner because of the stereotype that journeymen are only 1 or 2-season gap-fillers while the team hunts for another quarterback.
It’s a mistake to refer to Bridgewater as a Journeyman given his age and former status as a 1st-round pick. He’s also shown he still has the talent.
Look for Bridgewater to perform better than advertised and to shed both the Game Manager and Journeyman label as he continues to pick up where he left off from his time in New Orleans. If you’re a fantasy owner, Bridgewater is a late-round pick or a high-end QB2.
Here are his projected numbers:
- 300 completions
- 466 attempts
- 3,347 yards
- 16 touchdowns
- 9 interceptions
- 41 carries
- 70 yards
- 1 touchdown
3- Stumbler: Curtis Samuel, WR
- 54 receptions
- 627 yards
- 11.6 yards per reception
- 6 touchdowns
- 19 carries
- 130 yards
- 1 touchdown
Samuel has to deal with the emergence of Robby Anderson, who signed with Carolina from the New York Jets and the latter figures to be the WR2 as D. J. Moore takes the WR1 spot. While Samuel is serviceable enough, his numbers are likely to drop below their projection.
J. Moore proved to be a steady target for underwhelming quarterbacks in 2019, snatching 87 receptions while Samuel stumbled to just 54. He likely would’ve improved his numbers for 2020 if it wasn’t for the team signing Anderson.
Instead, Anderson, who began his career with the Jets as an undrafted free agent performed well in each of his first 4 seasons, recording 207 total receptions as a member of the Jets. In all 4 of those seasons, quarterback play was spotty.
Look for Anderson to supersede Samuel and while Samuel will play well, he likely won’t reach his projected totals.
He’ll amass between 40 and 50 receptions, but he’ll fall short of his projected 54 unless either Moore or Anderson go down with an injury.
He’s a safer bet for the under and if you play fantasy football, Samuel is a late-round pick in larger leagues and a weekly waiver wire pickup in smaller leagues.
Here are his projected statistics for 2020:
- 54 receptions
- 663 yards
- 12.2 yards per reception
- 5 touchdowns
- 14 carries
- 95 yards
- 1 touchdown
4- Breakout: Ian Thomas, TE
- 19 receptions
- 136 yards
- 8.5 yards per reception
- 1 touchdown
Like the Falcons, the Panthers don’t have a top-tier rookie or 2nd-year player looking to breakout. Their entire NFL Draft was dedicated to the defensive side of the ball. Despite this, there is a 3rd-year player that will supersede expectations in 2020: tight end Ian Thomas.
Thomas finds himself on top of the Panthers’ tight end depth chart, one that is barren of talent for the foreseeable future. This means Thomas will get a lot of looks early on here.
While his production won’t be jaw-dropping, he’ll see the ball come his way often now that he’s playing most of the snaps.
Thomas won’t do much for your fantasy football team. He may prove to be a solid waiver wire pickup and he’ll string together a few good games, but he’s a better bet at online sportsbooks if you wager player productivity.
It’s very likely Thomas performs better than he’ll be advertised since oddsmakers will project lower numbers from him because of the talent at receiver and the fact Christian McCaffrey will touch the ball over 300 times in 2020. The latter is a sheer guarantee.
But, given the fact he’s a starter that’ll see plenty of opportunities come his way, he very well could be poised for a breakout season, having performed well as a backup to Greg Olson over the last 2 seasons.
Here are Thomas’ projected statistics for 2020:
- 43 receptions
- 424 yards
- 9.8 yards per reception
- 2 touchdowns
The Panthers have the stage set to be an offensive powerhouse in 2020 with a quarterback who has defied everything thrown his way plus the influx of talent around him that includes the league’s best running back and one of the best up and coming receivers.
The Panthers also have a few players worth watching that aren’t mentioned, including D. J. Moore and Robby Anderson. With the number of talented players in Carolina, it’d be foolish to pass over them and write them off as a team in rebuilding mode. This team successfully reloaded.
If McCaffrey, Bridgewater, and Moore stay healthy, the team has a dangerous set of triplets capable of lighting up the scoreboard and producing much higher than expected.
And if new coach Matt Rhule can translate his high-flying game from college to the NFL, the Panthers are even more dangerous. They will be fun to watch.
What do you think of my picks? Is there anybody I left out? Let me know what you think in the comments.