Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the next installment of the series, we head back to the NFC South and check out the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were 8-8 last season, a dramatic drop from the 12-4 mark of 2008, finishing third in the division behind New Orleans and Atlanta.
The Carolina offense, which was seventh-best in 2008, stumbled in 2009, ranking 21st among 32 teams. They scored just 19.7 ppg (down from 25.9 the previous season) while their defense yielded 19.2 ppg.
Matt Moore - The No.1 question among fantasy owners is whether Moore or rookie Jimmy Clausen can play well enough to allow the running game and its two stars, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, to shine. They didn't in 2009 when a combination of Jake Delhomme and Moore totaled 3,070 yards in the air, 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Moore should start the season with the job, but there is no guarantee if you draft him that he'll stay there all year. Moore started five games last season and averaged just 198 ypg, not enough to start in a fantasy lineup. However, he did throw eight touchdown passes in the final four games against no interceptions to give fans and fantasy owners a sliver of hope that he could improve. I can't recommend him, even at the relatively low cost of a 17th-round selection (Average Draft Position of 202).
Jimmy Clausen - Clausen was a four-year starter at Notre Dame and should eventually get the starting job in Carolina. However, you may not get any production from him in 2009 with Moore likely to be the Opening Day quarterback. Unless you are in a keeper league, drafting Clausen, even as a "late-round flyer" is likely a wasted pick.
DeAngelo Williams - Coming off a spectacular 2008 (1,636 combined yards, 20 TDs, 2008 TSN Fantasy Football Player of the Year), Williams was a first-round fantasy selection last year (ADP 6). Unfortunately, he couldn't live up to expectations partially because of injury and partially because of the team's quarterback issues. With little to scare defenses through the air, opponents loaded up on the Panthers' running game. Williams played just 13 games, some of them at less than 100% and totaled 1,369 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. He finished 14th among running backs in fantasy scoring after being the fifth running back off the board. He's currently being selected as a middle second-round pick (2010 ADP 15), but unless the Panthers' passing game improves, he'll struggle to get his yards and touchdowns again this season.
Jonathan Stewart - Stewart excelled in his part-time role and was even better when Williams went down with an injury late in the season. Stewart cracked the 100-yard mark in four of the team's final five games and that success is the reason his "stock" has climbed in 2010. Fantasy owners apparently believe this will be a true "shared backfield" and Stewart's ADP has gone from 80 in 2009 to 33 today. That puts him in a range with running backs like Knowshon Moreno and Ryan Mathews and while the two youngsters may have a higher upside, at least with Stewart you have enough history to be confident in his fantasy production. Barring injuries to both Williams and Stewart, neither Tyrell Sutton, Mike Goodson or Daniel Porter have any fantasy value.
Steve Smith - Smith is an extremely talented receiver who will likely struggle until the team's quarterback situation is resolved. He had just one 100-yard game after Week 3. Because there is no faith from fantasy owners in his quarterback's ability to get him the ball, Smith's early ADP has dropped dramatically, from 21 in 2009 to its current level of 42. He'll likely drop a bit further unless Moore has a good preseason and if you could draft him in the fifth or sixth round, you should be willing to take the gamble.
Dwayne Jarrett - With Muhsin Muhammad headed for retirement, Jarrett and rookie Brandon LaFell will fight it out for the spot opposite Smith. So far, Jarrett has shown little to warrant fantasy attention. Watch summer camp and preseason to see who wins the battle, but my expectations are that LaFell wins the spot.
Brandon LaFell - LaFell had a better junior year at LSU than senior season, but still managed to haul in 57 balls for 792 yards and 11 touchdowns. He should be able to beat out Jarrett and converted quarterback Armanti Edwards for the position, although it might not be on Opening Day. As a fantasy option, LaFell probable won't get enough targets in 2010 to make him a viable property, but a last-round pick would have little downside and decent upside.
Jeff King - Neither King, a solid blocker, nor Dante Rosario, the better receiver of the two, has any fantasy value in a year where there is an abundance of quality tight ends.
John Kasay - Kasay has always been a reliable kicker, but when the offense struggled in 2009, so did his opportunities. He finished the season in the middle of the pack despite getting just 27 field goal attempts. Kasay is currently the 18th kicker off the board, meaning fantasy owners don't believe he has starter value.
The Panthers' defense finished eighth among defenses last season, accumulating 115 fantasy points. They did it primarily by creating turnovers, 37 in all (15 fumbles, 22 interceptions). Carolina also sacked the quarterback 31 times. However, the Panthers might not be able to reach that number this season with star defensive end Julius Peppers now in a Bears uniform. The Panthers' defense is not currently among the top-12 fantasy selections and unless something dramatic happens, won't be all season. Look elsewhere for your defense/special teams.