Thursday, June 30, 2022

2022 Panthers Fantasy Football Preview: Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore have upside, question marks

You can bet that if another franchise QB becomes available, the Panthers are going to be part of the bidding as they continue to look for a fix for their biggest hole. At this point, it looks as if Sam Darnold will get another crack at the job, but after he flopped last season, don’t be surprised if rookie Matt Corral gets a chance with what remains a pretty promising group of skill players.        

2021 Review

Record: 5 – 12 (27)

PPG: 17.9 (29)

YPG: 298.9 (30)

Pass YPG: 190.5 (29)

Rush YPG: 108.4 (20)

PAPG: 35.2 (14)

RAPG: 26.8 (14)

2021 Fantasy finishes

QB: Sam Darnold QB27, Cam Newton* QB36

RB: Chuba Hubbard RB36, Christian McCaffrey RB39

WR: D.J. Moore WR17, Robby Anderson WR49

TE: Tommy Tremble TE47

*No longer with team

Number to know: 6.2

That’s Darnold’s Y/A last season, the fourth-worst mark of 33 qualifying passers. You could have argued that Darnold was being held back early in his career by the general incompetence of the Jets organization, and the fact that he posted his best Y/A and QBR in his first two seasons would have been somewhat compelling evidence. He wasn’t good, but given the lack of weapons and the historic struggles of Adam Gase-led offenses since he became a head coach, it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to give Darnold the benefit of the doubt to start last season.

At this point? Nah, he really is just that bad. He’s thrown 770 passes over the past two seasons with more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (18) while averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt. And, while the Panthers aren’t the Rams when it comes to the supporting cast surrounding the quarterback, there’s no question this was the best group of complementary pieces Darnold has ever played with.

And he flopped yet again. He’s the projected starting quarterback for the Panthers to open this season only because they foolishly picked up his fifth-year option last year and struck out in their attempts to find an upgrade. Rookie Matt Corral has a good chance to step in at some point if the team doesn’t find a way to get Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield. And, as run-of-the-mill as both of those guys often look, it’s hard not to think they’d both be a significant upgrade over whatever Darnold will give you at this point. The potential for that upgrade provides some upside for this offense, but until they find a way to make a move, Darnold is going to hold them back. 

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks 

1. (6) Ikem Ekwonu, T

3. (94) Matt Corral, QB

4. (120) Brandon Smith, LB

6. (189) Amare Barno, DE

6. (199) Cade Mays, OL

7. (242) Kalon Barnes, CB

Additions

S Xavier Woods, RB D’Onta Foreman, WR Rashard Higgins, OL Austin Corbett, OL Bradley Bozeman

Key Departures

LB Haason Reddick, DT DaQuan Jones, QB Cam Newton, CB Stephon Gilmore

Available Opportunity 

65 carries, 60 RB targets, 39 WR targets, 11 TE targets 

2022 Preview

Rankings

Chris Towers’ projections

QB Sam Darnold PA: 594, YD: 3982, TD: 21, INT: 15; RUSH — ATT: 45, YD: 182, TD: 3
RB Christian McCaffrey CAR: 273, YD: 1173, TD: 11, TAR: 113, REC: 96, YD: 890, TD: 4
RB D’Onta Foreman CAR: 136, YD: 545, TD: 5, TAR: 18, REC: 15, YD: 117, TD: 1
WR D.J. Moore TAR: 142, REC: 95, YD: 1020, TD: 8
WR Robby Anderson TAR: 94, REC: 61, YD: 737, TD: 4
WR Terrace Marshall Jr. TAR: 82, REC: 49, YD: 642, TD: 3
TE Tommy Tremble TAR: 59, REC: 37, YD: 334, TD: 3

Biggest Question

What does Christian McCaffrey’s role look like?

At his best, there’s no player in Fantasy who can do what McCaffrey does. However, after playing just 10 games over the past two seasons, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll still have the opportunity to be the best player in Fantasy. The Panthers are heavily invested in McCaffrey, so they might decide it’s in their best interests to limit his work — another 400-touch season a la 2019 seems pretty unlikely. If D’Onta Foreman cuts into his carries, McCaffrey could still be the No. 1 RB with his passing game role, but the injury history will be enough to scare off most with the No. 1 pick.

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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

Anderson was such a pleasant surprise in 2020, emerging as arguably the team’s No. 1 wide receiver after showing flashes primarily as a deep threat with the Jets. However, he just never got going in 2021, and it’s hard not to argue that he was held back significantly by the miserable state of QB play in Carolina. As previously noted, it’s not likely the play is much better if they have to run it back with Darnold, but if they can find an upgrade, Anderson still has plenty of potential coming off a 110-target season. 

You may be asking, not unfairly, how long we can continue to give Moore credit for breakout potential. After all, he has seemingly settled in as a dependable, low-ceiling play, with between 1,157 and 1,193 yards in three straight seasons. I’ll just point out that he’s done that while being asked to fill a variety of roles — as both a typical, go-to No. 1 WR in 2021 and as a more downfield-oriented big-play option in 2020 — and with arguably the worst QB play in the league. Moore has a solid floor as a No. 2 WR, but he’s also still just 25 and has room to grow into a legit No. 1 for Fantasy if the QB play improves. Even Mayfield might be enough to get him there. 

I don’t think McCaffrey is going to bust, but that’s mostly because I’m not particularly confident in my ability to predict injuries. The sheer number of maladies he’s dealt with over the past few seasons — he’s played just 10 of 33 games while dealing with shoulder, hamstring, and ankle issues — make him seem pretty risky, obviously. And, while I don’t think those injuries are as likely to recur as, say, Derrick Henry’s surgically repaired broken foot, I can’t exactly say that with a ton of confidence.

I’m willing to draft McCaffrey as early as the No. 1 pick, but that’s because I believe his upside remains significantly higher than any other player. But, if you’re the type who doesn’t want to bet on injury-prone players, he’s an obvious bust candidate. I can’t exactly argue against it. 

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