Monday, August 15, 2022

2022 Panthers Fantasy Football Preview: Baker Mayfield may not be a star, but he’s a gigantic upgrade

The Panthers QB carousel took another turn as they acquired the disgruntled Baker Mayfield from the Browns a few weeks before training camp. And, unlike last year’s attempt to turn Darnold into a starting-caliber quarterback, you don’t really need to talk yourself into Mayfield being an upgrade: All he has to do is play like he has his entire career and he’s almost certainly a significant upgrade over what the Panthers have had the past few years. Mayfield may not be a franchise QB, but he should be good enough to elevate this offense. 

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: 7.2

That was Mayfield’s yards per attempt in 2021, a season pretty much everyone agrees was an outright disaster. That Y/A was good for a full yard better than Darnold’s last season. Of course, Mayfield earned the criticism he got last season, as he struggled to hit open receivers — just ask Odell Beckham’s dad — saw his mechanics break down at the slightest hint of pressure, and ultimately had a 3.1% interception rate, the fifth-worst mark in the league.

Of course, even that interception rate was an improvement on what Darnold gave the Panthers, which just goes to underscore how bad he was. And how easy it would be for Mayfield to provide an upgrade, even if he isn’t particularly good in his own right. Since they entered the league together in the 2018 draft as top-three picks, here’s how Mayfield and Darnold stack up:

Totals Table

Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used

In just about every way that matters, Mayfield has been a better player than Darnold, typically much better. That’s good news for the pass-catchers here, especially D.J. Moore, who has been held back by bad QB play pretty much his entire career. The Panthers have had one season in Moore’s four in the league with more than 17 touchdown passes, and their overall touchdown rate in that time is just 3.2% — Mayfield’s is 4.8% for his career. 

Mayfield is coming off surgery on his non-throwing shoulder this offseason, but all indications are he’s healthy enough to be cleared for training camp, so he should get plenty of time to get up to speed. If he’s just the guy he has been for his entire career, this represents a likely significant upgrade for the Panthers, and could help lead to a breakout season for Moore, who probably just needs better touchdown results to be a No. 1 WR. And Robby Anderson has some sleeper appeal now — remember, he was WR20 in 2020 despite poor QB play. 

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 Baker Mayfield PA: 594, YD: 4160, TD: 25, 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: 155, REC: 93, YD: 1155, TD: 7
WR Robby Anderson TAR: 110, REC: 60, YD: 838, TD: 5
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. Mayfield hasn’t been a world-beater as a deep passer, but it cannot be said enough just how much of an upgrade over Darnold he is likely to be. I’ll be looking for Anderson as a bounce-back candidate in the later rounds.  

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. I think Mayfield is enough to get him there. For all of the talk of Moore’s inability to find the end zone, his 2.9% touchdown rate over the past three seasons is actually better than the team’s 2.6% overall rate. Mayfield’s career rate? 4.8%. 

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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