Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton lost his top three receivers from 2013, but is that really such a bad thing when his top three receivers were an ancient Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn?
Fantasy owners are treating it as a huge loss, avoiding Newton like you'd avoid the calls of a relative who only contacts you to borrow money.
But Newton has finished in the top five among quarterbacks in fantasy points (standard scoring) in each of his first three seasons and didn't exactly have the best personnel around him in any of those years. I fail to see why his supporting cast is suddenly a deal-breaker.
He still has tight end Greg Olsen, who has recorded 800-plus yards in back-to- back seasons and led the Panthers in receiving yards last year.
Carolina also brought in Jerricho Cotchery, who had 602 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013, and Tiquan Underwood, who's produced a 16 yards-per-catch average in his career. They should be able to replace LaFell and Ginn as the Panthers' No. 2 receiver and deep threat, respectively.
The onus is on rookie first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound behemoth, to replace Smith as Carolina's No. 1.
If this was the mid-2000s, the task would be daunting for the raw rookie, but Smith wasn't exactly a game-breaker in 2013.
The veteran caught 64 balls, but he averaged just 11.6 yards per catch and ranked 130th in the NFL with 183 yards after the catch. Smith added four touchdowns, one fewer than both LaFell and Ginn.
Even if he's inconsistent, Benjamin should be able to at least match Smith's 2013 yardage and touchdown production. And if Benjamin can make a larger impact than that, Newton's weapons will actually be better than they were in 2013.
Newton finished third in fantasy points at his position last season even though the Panthers had to play against the grueling NFC West. In four games against the West, Newton averaged 9.25 fantasy points per game and had a high of 14 fantasy points. The Panthers will play the NFC North instead this season.
As for Newton's health, the QB is about a month ahead of schedule in his recovery from left ankle surgery and should be ready for regular practices at the start of training camp.
Rather than holding him back, the surgery should help. The procedure tightened up ligaments that have been bothering Newton since college.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said back in April that there are no plans for Newton to run less in 2014 after the QB had 111 carries for 585 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Newton currently has an average draft position (ADP) of 83.3 in fantasyfootballcalculator.com mock drafts, 10th among quarterbacks, which is a bargain. He's going one spot after Matt Ryan, who has never finished with more fantasy points than Newton, even in 2012 when he had 4,719 passing yards and 32 touchdowns.
I'd consider taking Newton as high as fifth among quarterbacks, ahead of Matthew Stafford (46.5), Nick Foles (67.4 ADP), Robert Griffin III (69.2) and Tom Brady (75.3), so getting him in Round 7 is a major coup.