2024 Carolina Panthers Fantasy Preview


NFL: Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars

2023 Stats (Rank)

Points per game: 13.9 (31st)
Total yards per game: 265.3 (32nd)
Plays per game: 64.5 (9th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks per game: 38.3 (10th)
Dropback EPA per play: -0.16 (30th)
Rush attempts per game: 26.2 (19th)
Rush EPA per play: -0.16 (24th)

Coaching Staff

The Panthers shoved all their chips in on Bryce Young last year and paired him with veteran head coach Frank Reich. Young was a high-floor prospect and Reich had led plenty of competent offenses in Indianapolis. What could go wrong? As it turns out: everything. The offense was predictable, the concepts were bland, and the quarterback was atrocious. Reich was fired after 11 games, only one of which was a victory.

Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales was tabbed as the Panthers’ next head head coach. Canales gained notoriety in coaching circles for his part in the tremendous turnarounds of Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield. As the Bucs OC, Canales guided Mayfield to a 4,044-yard, 28-touchdown season in his first campaign in Tampa Bay. Both marks were career highs for the No. 1 overall pick turned journeyman. Canales brought in Bucs receivers coach Brad Idzik as his offensive coordinator. The two have worked together for five seasons, most of which came in Seattle. Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero was retained despite the turnover elsewhere in the staff.

Canales’s job is to make Young’s life easier. Mayfield threw to his first read at a top-10 rate last year and received a top-10 PFF passing grade when doing so. The Bucs also ranked inside the top 10 teams in passing plays that utilized play action and passing plays with a pre-snap motion. These are all simplifications of what makes an offense good, but nothing was simple for Young as a rookie. He needed more layups called and Reich never gave them to him. Canales will have no issues engineering easy wins for the second-year passer.

Passing Game

QB: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton

WR: Diontae Johnson, Jonathan Mingo

WR: Adam Thielen, Terrace Marshall

WR: Xavier Legette, Ihmir Smith-Marsette

TE: Ja’Tavion Sanders, Tommy Tremble

So many things went wrong for the Panthers’ offense last year and covering them all would take a series of articles. I’ll hit on a few major points about the offensive design first. Per Pro Football Focus, Young ranked 44th out of 49 quarterbacks in his throw rate to open or wide open receivers. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise. ESPN’s player tracking metrics point to this being a problem with the receivers. Adam Thielen ranked 37th in Open Score and the next Panthers tight end or receiver came in at rank No. 112. The lack of open receivers, in turn, forced Young off his first read—the pass-catcher designed to see the ball in a given play—at a high clip. He threw to his first read at the 23rd-highest rate in the league. PFF also graded Young’s offensive line as a below-average unit in pass-blocking situations. The lack of open receivers combined with a poor offensive line led to plays that looked like this.

Canales was brought in specifically to make life easier for Young by eliminating these plays. The team also spent a combined $153 million on guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. PFF graded them as the No. 10 and No. 32 guards in pass-blocking.

Young can’t be let off the hook though. PFF graded him outside the top 40 quarterbacks when throwing from a clean pocket. He also struggled when throwing to his first read and on the rare occasions when his receiver was considered open. For a quarterback who was considered a high-floor prospect, Young made some stunningly bad decisions.

All of this combined for one of the worst rookie seasons in recent memory. Young’s numbers look extremely similar to Zach Wilson‘s as a rookie. The good news is that the Panthers improved his offensive line, upgraded his coaching staff, and gave him more weapons to work with.

Their first move to bring more firepower to the offense was the acquisition of Diontae Johnson from Pittsburgh. Johnson was known as an inefficient target-hog for most of his time as a Steelers but logged career highs in several categories last season:

He also cleaned up the drop issues that had plagued him for years. Johnson’s Open Score of 78 ranked 11th among wide receivers and was actually a low water-mark for him. He has been at 87 or higher in every other season. Johnson’s ability to quickly create separation will make him a reliable target for a quarterback in desperate need of a player to lean on. Even if the offense doesn’t become efficient overnight, Johnson should fire up the PPR machine as a Panther.

His presence will dock the target share of Thielen, who accounted for 26 percent of the Panthers’ looks in the passing game in 2023. He began the season on fire, logging three 100-yard games and four scores through six weeks. His pace slowed drastically over the second half of the season. He went from averaging 73 yards per week through 10 games to 41 yards over his final seven appearances. A lighter workload will hurt his fantasy output on the whole but may help him from falling off as the season wears on.

The final big addition came when Carolina traded into the first round to draft South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette with the No. 32 overall pick. Legette doesn’t check many of the boxes from an analytics perspective. He was a part-time player with dreadful efficiency numbers for four seasons before breaking out in his fifth collegiate campaign. That final season, however, was special. He averaged 3.15 yards per route run and was targeted on 24.4 percent of his routes. Legette caught 71 passes for 1,255 yards and seven scores as a super senior. He cemented his high-ceiling profile with a 9.9 RAS at the NFL Combine.

LegetteRas.jfif

LegetteRas.jfif

Fantasy managers are so out on his profile (and the Carolina offense) that a first-round receiver with an outstanding final season and elite athleticism goes in the WR65 in early best ball drafts. That feels like an all-time “trust the process” value.

There isn’t much of note happening in Carolina’s tight end room. Fourth-round rookie Ja’Tavion Sanders and veteran Tommy Tremble will likely split the starting role, with neither seeing enough targets for even TE2 production.

Running Game

RB: Jonathon Brooks, Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders

OL (L-R): Ikem Ekwonu, Damien Lewis, Austin Corbett, Robert Hunt, Taylor Moton

Miles Sanders signed a four-year, $25.4 million contract in Carolina last offseason. Sanders was coming off a breakout season with the Eagles but had the size 15 shoes of Christian McCaffrey to fill. Like most of the Panthers’ moves in recent memory, it was an abject failure. Sanders was one of the league’s least efficient backs and was benched after just over a month. Chuba Hubbard took over and was an immediate upgrade.

Hubbard ranked 16th in PFF’s rushing grade and was even better in the Next Gen Stats. He finished fourth in success rate and 23rd in rush yards over expected per carry. Hubbard is a solid spot-starter but not a player an NFL team wants to install as a work-horse for an entire season. He will be a solid backup to second-round rookie Jonathan Brooks, who profiles as a potential bellcow down the stretch.

The No. 46 overall pick, Brooks is recovering from a torn ACL and will be eased into the lineup. His upside, however, is undeniable. Brooks dominated the Texas backfield in his lone season as the starter, accounting for over 60 percent of the yards and touchdowns in 10 games. PFF graded Brooks as their No. 5 runner in the Power Five. He ranked top-20 in yards after contact per carry and posted the seventh-most yards on long runs (15+ yards). Brooks was also a plus as a pass-catcher, registering a 1.5 yards per route run in his final season.

Canales has made no effort to hide the fact that he wants a strong run game. The team has invested heavily in their offensive line and spent big on a difference-making back in the draft. All signs point toward elite production for Brooks once he is up to speed.

Win Total

DraftKings Over/Under: 5.5

Pick: Over

The Panthers were a dreadful team last year, but there are plenty of similarities between them and the 2021-2022 Jaguars. No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence bombed as a rookie while playing under a horrific coach in Urban Meyer. He had terrible pass-catching weapons and the scheme did him no favors either. Then, in 2022, Lawrence looked like the prospect he was billed as and the Jags snuck into the playoffs with a 9-8 record. Five wins is extremely conservative for a team with as much potential as the Panthers. It’s not a fun bet, but I like backing the combination of Young’s prospect profile and his revamped situation.





Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top