2021 record: 5-12
Notable coaching and system changes
After finishing 5-12 in Matt Rhule’s second season, let eight assistant coaches go. Former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo is in as the new offensive coordinator, bringing a West Coast system with him. Joe Dailey comes from the college game (most recently Boston College) to coach wide receivers. Kevin M. Gilbride42, was elevated from an offensive assistant to tight ends coach, and James Campen is coaching his third offensive line in three years after spending 2020 with the Los Angeles Chargers and 2021 with Houston. The leash on Rhule is getting tight, and the next change won’t be a slew of assistants. It will start at the top.
Key free agent additions
- RB D’Onta Foreman (Tennessee Titans)
- W.R. Rashard Higgins (Cleveland Browns)
Key free agent departures
- QB Cam Newton (free agent)
Key draft additions
As quarterbacks were moving in the offseason and others (Baker Mayfield) being offered up, the Panthers stood pat. They may have pulled a major coup by standing their ground in the draft and getting Matt Corralwho many viewed as a first-round prospect given the way QBs rise up draft boards.
For now, the Panthers are content with Sam Darnold, but, if they struggle, he’s on a really short leash. He’s not the future. Corral is … at least for a legitimate attempt to win the job. As such, both aren’t even close to a QB2 role and are a one-week waiver pickup for a desperate weekly play, outside of superflex.
Running back preview
Christian McCaffrey has played in just 10 games over the last two years but is still viewed as one of the most lethal dual threats in the game — despite having pedestrian quarterbacks in that span. McCaffrey is a risk-reward decision that gamers will have to make much earlier than anyone should be comfortable doing. His average draft placement suggests a top-10 pick is the price for admission, and he went as high as No. 3 in a recent industry draft The Huddle participated in.
Last year when he went down Chuba Hubbard stepped in and stepped up, earning his stripes as a strong second option in the backfield.
D’Onta Foreman adds a new element to the mix as a pure power guy. Anyone who takes McCaffrey does so knowing the risk — the knock on him coming out of college was that he would struggle to stay healthy long term. That said, McCaffrey is a clear RB1, but the owner who ends up with him will likely have to invest to make Foreman or Hubbard a handcuff pick to provide insurance for the Run CMC investment. It’s a frustrating situation not yet clearly knowing the direct replacement, which hopefully gets resolved before the bulk of fantasy drafts are underway.
Wide receiver preview
The Panthers have had many ups and downs at quarterback, but the combination of DJ Moore and Robby Anderson was outstanding in 2020 but took a dip last year, largely due to quarterback deficiencies. Moore has topped 1,000 yards three straight seasons with different QBs and earned a lucrative contract extension. He has earned his way to WR2 status, and Anderson is a solid WR3/flex option.
In 2021’s draft, Terrace Marshall Jr. was chosen in Round 2. He didn’t accomplish a great deal as a rookie, and it wasn’t all his fault. While he has talent to start in this league, Marshall’s quarterback situation and spot on the depth chart will require a few breaks to go his way before he’s relevant outside of best-ball.
Beyond the top three, the team was painfully thin at depth and added a couple of team-friendly signings in Andre Roberts (a special teamer) and Rashard Higgins (who couldn’t catch on with Cleveland). If McCaffrey stays healthy, this team will struggle to consistently field even two fantasy-viable wideouts most weeks.
tight end preview
The Panthers made a serious investment in Ian Thomas in the offseason, despite coming off a dismal 18 catches for 188 yards last season. That was barely more yardage and fewer catches than fantasy legend Tommy Tremble†
Thomas a borderline TE2, at best, and Tremble an occasional daily fantasy consideration. The latter isn’t a prototypical tight end, so he’ll be moved around to create mismatches, which also limits his playing time. There simply isn’t enough volume in this offense to make either of them worth drafting.
Who were the choices here? McCaffrey? There will be somebody willing to take the risk to make him a top five or six pick, at worst. Moore? He isn’t flying under the radar anymore.
Marshall is about the only name worthy of even considering, and, as mentioned, will require something to happen to one of the two guys ahead of him — all while seeing competent quarterback play.
The best sleeper or value buy might end up being Foreman, should something yet again take McCaffrey off the field for extended action.
Bust potential/overvalued players
Nobody is climbing on Darnold’s bandwagon because he is in the worst of all possible scenarios. When a team has an established veteran at QB and they draft a replacement — even in the third round — it gets dicey. The first struggles Darnold has will get the fan base looking for change. By midseason, it may be the second town where he’s worn out his welcome.