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2021 Franchise Focus: Carolina Panthers

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2021 Franchise Focus: Carolina Panthers

David Tepper’s ownership of the Carolina franchise has clearly started with a long-term plan, signing coach Matt Rhule to a massive contract last year and, now, bringing a new GM in Scott Fitterer (erstwhile of the Seahawks) into the fold.

The Panthers put a Band-Aid on their QB situation with Teddy Bridgewater a season ago, and are trying to go for some more upside this year in former Jets QB Sam Darnold. Darnold has a surprisingly deep set of receivers to work with, but the key here will be a reshuffled offensive line (some would argue bizarrely so) and the health of RB Christian McCaffrey, the franchise player who appeared in just three games a season ago.

A defensive coach at heart, Rhule has spearheaded efforts to rebuild a broken unit — the Panthers’ entire 2020 NFL Draft was spent on defensive players, and Carolina passed on a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft to select CB Jaycee Horn #8 overall.

How far Carolina can go this year depends on the improvement of that unit but, especially, on a pretty significant unknown in Darnold. Was Darnold just in a bad situation with the Jets, or did he make it worse with his poor play?

Whatever the case, the odds markets believe the Panthers are at least a year away.

Carolina Panthers Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

2021 Season Odds

Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)7.5 (+110/-133)
NFC South+1100
Playoffs (Y/N)+275/-357
NFC Championship+3000
Super Bowl+7000
Season Prop Movement
  • Win Total: 7.5 (-110) in late March to 7.5 (+110)

  • Super Bowl: +4500 in early February to +7000

Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
Sam Darnold (QB)Jaycee Horn (CB)Curtis Samuel (WR, Was)
David Moore (WR)Terrace Marshall (WR)Mike Davis (RB, Atl)
Dan Arnold (TE)Brady Christensen (OT)Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Den)
Cam Erving (OT)Tommy Tremble (TE)Russell Okung (OT)
Pat Elflein (OG)Chuba Hubbard (RB)Chris Reed (OG, Ind)
DaQuan Jones (DT)Shi Smith (WR)Stephen Weatherly (DE, Min)
A.J. Bouye (CB)Daviyon Nixon (DT)Kawann Short (DT)
Morgan Fox (DT)Keith Taylor (CB)Rasul Douglas (CB, LV)
Haason Reddick (LB)Tre Boston (S)
Denzel Perryman (LB)
Micah Simon (WR)
Lano Hill (S)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 14th-easiest (+0.07)

Running Back: 4th-toughest (-1.34)

Wide Receivers: 6th-easiest (+1.02)

Tight Ends: 8th-easiest (+0.29)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 29.1 (T-28th)

Plays per game: 62.8 (23rd)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 60.3% (7th) | Run: 39.7% (26th)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 52.4% (12th) | Run: 47.6% (21st)

When the team is behind — Pass: 61.2% (26th) | Run: 38.8% (7th)

Joe Brady’s first season calling was a bit of a mixed bag. Maybe it was because he was hamstrung by incredibly conservative QB play? Former starter Teddy Bridgewater’s average depth of target downfield was just 7.7 yards, which ranked a lowly 32nd out of 39 qualified QBs. Even though Brady correctly leaned pass-heavy when the game was within a score and on early downs (57%, fifth-highest rate) — he was very conservative when the Panthers were behind on the scoreboard. The Panthers were the 7th-most run-heavy team when they were in catch-up mode, which is even more bizarre considering that Christian McCaffrey only played three games. Plus, Carolina trailed a lot last year. The Panthers offense was behind a point or more on 56% of their snaps, which was the 10th-highest rate. A slow-paced attack isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a coach out of the college ranks and that is exactly what the Panthers were in 2020. Only the Saints, 49ers, Packers, and Ravens got to the line of scrimmage at a slower pace in between plays than the Panthers did. Perhaps a new starter in Sam Darnold, a revamped offensive line, and getting CMC back healthy will flip their tendencies in 2021.

Key Statistics

  • In his three starts last year, Christian McCaffrey scored 28.4, 24.8, and 36.8 PPR points. Dating back to the start of 2019, CMC has now put up 20+ points in 17 of his last 19 starts.

  • In this stretch, McCaffrey has averaged a ridiculous 29.4 fantasy points per game and finished as an RB1 scorer (top-12) in 89% of his starts.

  • CMC’s 23.1 FPG in his career ranks most all-time ahead of Alvin Kamara (21.7), Saquon Barkley (20.8), LaDainian Tomlinson (20.3), Dalvin Cook (19.7), and Marshall Faulk (19.7) to round out the top-6.

  • Since the start of 2019, CMC ranks first among RBs in routes run per game (35.9), first in receptions per game (7.3), first in receiving yards per game (62.8), and fourth in yards per route run (1.75).

  • D.J. Moore has 3,156 yards in his first three seasons, which ranks 18th-most all-time among wide receivers in their first three years ahead of Larry Fitzgerald (3,135), Calvin Johnson (3,071), and Amari Cooper (2,903) to name a few.

  • New OC Joe Brady wisely used Moore much more as a downfield target in 2020 compared to previous years. Moore’s average depth of target traveled 13.7 yards downfield — which ranked 14th-highest among WRs and was right behind Chase Claypool (13.8) and D.K. Metcalf (13.9).

  • In the 15 games all of their receivers were healthy, Robby Anderson (124) led the team in targets, ahead of Moore (119) and Curtis Samuel (88).

  • Over the last two combined seasons, Sam Darnold ranks third-worst in completion rate, last in touchdown rate, last in passer rating, fifth-worst in sack rate, and last in fantasy points per game among qualified QBs.

  • On intermediate throws (10-19 yards), Darold was on-target on just 60% of his passes last season. That ranked second from last out of 32 qualified QBs.

  • Darnold’s average depth of target was 6.6 yards downfield when he was not pressured last year. That ranked 30th-lowest out of 36 qualified QBs.

Huber’s Scheme Notes

Offensive

The addition of Sam Darnold will change everything in Carolina. Darnold’s strong arm will open up passing lanes that opposing defenses were not truly forced to respect with Teddy Bridgewater under center. However, the 24-year-old Darnold has yet to reach Bridgewater’s level of coverage shell recognition, or, when he does, the proper ways to attack. Panthers fans will just need to keep their fingers crossed that he will come into that understanding as he matures. Then we need to factor in the departures of Curtis Samuel (and his truly unique skillset) and Mike Davis, plus we’ve yet to see the full extent of OC Joe Brady’s impact with a healthy Christian McCaffrey on the field each week.

What we do know about the Carolina offense after one year under Brady is that the changes he installed have Carolina at the forefront of the Air Raid revolution. The Panthers, under OCs Norv and Scott Turner in 2019, did not field a single offensive snap with four receivers detached from the O-line. Under Brady, his offense ranked third with 8.1% of all offensive plays from a four-wide set. Bridgewater also targeted his RBs last year at a rate 30% higher than Darnold has over the last two seasons. Bridgewater targeted WRs on 84% of passes from a four-wide set.

We know D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson will be featured as the WR1 and WR2 for Darnold. TE Dan Arnold (confusing, I know) is likely to pop up with a couple quality performances, scattered across the schedule. But Brady is looking to get the ball into the hands of his WRs hands when stationed four-wide. Terrace Marshall, David Moore, and — one of my Dyno sleepers (shhh!) — Shi Smith will have their opportunities to contribute. There is no reason to think that NFL defenses will have figured out a way to slow down McCaffrey’s receiving production. And infusing additional space across the formation will only open up his Gap-heavy rushing lanes even further.

Defensive

In Year 2 under former Baylor DC Phil Snow, the Panthers are hoping for drastically improved results from the recent personnel adjustments. Snow’s defense played Cover 3 at the second-highest rate last season. However, despite a Cover 3 providing the defense with the box advantage, Carolina permitted the sixth-highest rushing YPC (4.70). But, in defense of the pass, the Panthers actually got off to a strong start to the season. Through the first six weeks of the season, Rasul Douglas was on his way toward landing himself within the second tier of top cover corners. All of that changed after being placed on the COVID-19 list. Whether or not it was due to a positive test or contract tracing, Rasul’s yards allowed/coverage snap increased by 54%, and his passer rating allowed spiked by 42%.

Douglas became expendable after GM Scott Fitterer selected Jaycee Horn in the first round of the 2021 draft. Snow will now rotate Horn, Donte Jackson, and free agent acquisition A.J. Bouye — after he returns from the two games remaining in his suspension. The team will be in capable hands at box safety with Jeremy Chinn’s multidimensional skillset. But last season’s bottom-seven defense will be at the mercy of its play at FS and LB. Justin Burris stands to receive the initial nod at FS. We’ll need to see considerable strides from Burris before the single-high safety third of the deep field is secured in Snow’s Cover 3. I am, however, excited for the addition of Denzel Perryman. He’ll bring six season’s worth of experience playing for the one team that topped Carolina’s Cover 3 rate last season (Chargers) in hopes of bringing the best out of Shaq Thompson. And Haason Reddick will supply a much-needed pass rusher to take pressure off the secondary.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Sam Darnold (Proj: QB24 | ADP: 175 | Pos ADP: QB27)

The Panthers are taking the chance that a change of scenery for the talented Darnold will help him reach the potential that got him selected as the #3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, between two much more successful QBs in Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. Injuries, illness, a bad situation, and just all around poor play led to Darnold’s divorce from the Jets, but it is also worth pointing out that he’s entering his age-24 season and his future is in question (the Panthers did pick up his 5th-year option for 2022). Though Darnold is big and mobile, he’s never translated those skills to fantasy relevance — he’s never even finished a season as a backup fantasy QB, with finishes as QB27, QB27, and QB30 in FPG from 2018-2020. He’s struggled with turnovers dating back to his time at Southern Cal, and on the field he always looks a beat or two slow to recognize coverages and pressure. That might be something that’s in his DNA at this point, though separating him from the toxic situation he was in with the Jets will finally give us the full picture. Darnold isn’t short on weapons in Carolina — Carolina’s top-three WR group of DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and rookie Terrace Marshall is one of the league’s best, and depth option David Moore was a shrewd signing. TE Dan Arnold is very athletic, and of course RB Christian McCaffrey is the best checkdown option in the league. Let’s also not bury the lede here, as Darnold is getting a massive playcaller upgrade in the switch from Adam Gase to wunderkind Joe Brady. Still, his projection of QB24 is higher than he’s ever finished as a pro, acknowledging just how much better the situation is for Darnold. The question is if Darnold is better, but you don’t have to pay much to find out. He’s only worth selecting in best ball or Superflex/2QB formats.

PJ Walker (Proj: QB47 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

Walker, a former QB under Matt Rhule at Temple, had a wild 2020. He was on track to be the MVP of the XFL when the league had to shut down because of COVID. He followed Rhule to Carolina, where he is now on the second year of a two-year contract. And when Teddy Bridgewater missed a game with a knee injury last year, Walker got his first career start, going 24/34 for 258 yards with a TD and 2 INT, leading the Panthers to a 20-0 win over the hapless Lions. Then he played in Week 17 in a blowout loss to the Saints… and threw 3 INT on just 14 pass attempts (Bridgewater was benched after throwing 2 INT on 23 attempts). Walker has some talent, and there could be an opportunity to play here if he beats out Will Grier as the backup and Sam Darnold falls on his face, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But he has just mediocre mobility, so most of his fantasy production will come from throwing to this low-key loaded receiving group. He’d be a low-end fantasy option if pressed into action based on his short track record.

Christian McCaffrey (Proj: RB1 | ADP: 1 | Pos ADP: RB1)

McCaffrey played just three games in 2020 as he dealt with a high-ankle sprain (costing him six games) and then a shoulder injury that robbed him of the rest of the year. But in true McCaffrey fashion, he sure as hell dominated those games from a fantasy perspective, finishing as a top-5 RB in all three games, with an average of 30.1 FPG. For comparison, only four RBs (Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, James Robinson) had more top-5 RB finishes than McCaffrey … and he played in three games. You can’t always presume health, but McCaffrey played in all 16 games in each of his first three seasons, and in 2019 became the first RB since Marshall Faulk in 1999 to post a 1000-yard rushing/1000-yard receiving season. This off-season, OC Joe Brady told reporters he doesn’t foresee CMC’s role changing, and the star is expected to be ready to go for the season. With backup Mike Davis gone and only rookie Chuba Hubbard and some scrubs behind CMC, there is plenty of reason to believe he can finish as the #1 overall fantasy player, and that’s how he’s being drafted.

Chuba Hubbard (Proj: RB64 | ADP: 161 | Pos ADP: RB55)

Per our Greg Cosell, Hubbard’s college career was a tale of two seasons. In 2019, Hubbard was one of the best backs in college football in Oklahoma State’s predominant outside-zone system. He showed patience, vision, and burst, en route to 21 TD and over 2000 rushing yards. Then, in 2020, for whatever reason, he didn’t perform well at all. His burst was gone, he didn’t gain any extra yardage, he ran too upright, and showed balance issues. Maybe his heart wasn’t in it — he did cut his campaign short to enter the NFL Draft rather than play more in the COVID-altered season — but the Panthers are hoping their fourth-round pick is more the back he was in 2019 than in 2020. As more of a finesse runner than a power runner, and at his current size of 208 pounds, Hubbard is much more of a complimentary back than a foundational one, and the question is if there is a ton of room for him to contribute with snap-hound Christian McCaffrey in the fold. We’re not really going to know if Hubbard is more of the 2019 back than the 2020 back until we see him on the field … and he might not play much at all if McCaffrey is healthy. He’s being drafted as a handcuff, which is totally fair, as he’s the most gifted back behind CMC (Trenton Cannon, Reggie Bonnafon, Rod Smith).

D.J. Moore (Proj: WR16 | ADP: 49 | Pos ADP: WR19)

Moore established himself as one of the best receivers in football in 2020, despite playing with a QB in Teddy Bridgewater who once again proved he’s better served as a backup in the NFL. Moore finished as the overall WR25, which is probably a bit of a disappointment, but that shouldn’t take away from how well he played overall in a new role. New OC Joe Brady wisely used Moore much more as a downfield target in 2020 compared to previous years. Moore’s average depth of target traveled 13.7 yards downfield — which ranked 14th-highest among WRs and was right behind Chase Claypool (13.8) and D.K. Metcalf (13.9). (Moore averaged 11.4 aDOT in 2019, per SIS). His 1193 receiving yards were 9th among WRs, and his 18.8 YPR were by far the highest among WRs with his fantasy profile — no receiver above him in total finish had more than even 16.0 YPR (Justin Jefferson), and you’d have to go down to Nelson Agholor (19.7) at WR34 to find one who averaged more. Indeed, Moore’s YPR were easily the most among any receiver with 50 or more catches. Still, the deep-threat role and limitations at QB limited Moore’s ceiling and consistency — he didn’t have a single finish as a top-5 weekly WR, had just 4 top-12 finishes, and had just 8 total finishes inside the top-36, just over half his games.

Robby Anderson (Proj: WR28 | ADP: 79 | Pos ADP: WR33)

The Panthers inked Anderson to a two-year, $20 million contract last off-season to presumably be the team’s primary deep threat, but his old Temple HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady had other plans. Anderson saw his aDOT plummet from 14.6 yards with Sam Darnold and the Jets in 2019 to just 9.7 yards with Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers last season. Robby played well in his new role as an intermediate target, racking up the quietest 95 catches in the league last year. However, the role change crushed his YPR average (15.0 in 2017-19 to 11.5 in 2020) and his touchdown production (18 TDs in 2017-19 to three TDs in 2020). The Panthers dumped Teddy this off-season and brought in Robby’s old pal Darnold so there’s some hope Robby could see a return to more explosive plays in 2021. He’s also unlikely to match his 5.9 catches per game with the more scattershot Darnold but Curtis Samuel’s departure gives Anderson a chance to maintain his 26% target share from a year ago. Robby doesn’t have a terribly high ceiling unless Darnold completely transforms his career in his fourth season. Anderson should still be a solid WR3 option with a little better luck in the touchdown department and with more big plays, and it doesn’t hurt that they no longer have a high-end third WR behind Moore and Anderson.

Terrace Marshall (Proj: WR75 | ADP: 184 | Pos ADP: WR67)

Carolina landed one heck of a prospect in Marshall on Day Two of the draft, who slipped to the Panthers because of three separate foot/ankle fractures since high school. He was overshadowed at LSU by stud teammates Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase during the 2019 season, but he still averaged 4.9 catches and 73.8 receiving yards per game over the last two seasons while scoring 23 TDs in 19 games. Marshall is long (6’3”, 205 pounds) and has plenty of speed (4.38 40-time) to make plays as a vertical threat or with the ball in his hands. Marshall primarily played on the perimeter in 2019 while Panthers’ OC Joe Brady was coaching him at LSU before Marshall took over Jefferson’s role in the slot last season with Brady moving on to Carolina. The Panthers lost primary slot receiver Curtis Samuel (Washington) in free agency, and they brought in just David Moore to fill the void next to D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. Marshall will need to beat out just David Moore to play in three-WR sets, and he could be an interesting late-round pick since Brady’s offense supported three fantasy WRs last year. Of course, Sam Darnold will have to do his part to support multiple fantasy receivers, but Marshall is basically a free pick with some upside in best ball formats if Darnold can be the next player to dramatically improve once he gets away from Adam Gase.

David Moore (Proj: WR115 | ADP: 403 | Pos ADP: WR135)

The Panthers lost Curtis Samuel to Washington and they quickly signed Moore to a two-year, $4.75 million contract to try to fill the void. Moore, a late-round favorite of our Greg Cosell, has made a lot happen with his limited opportunities in his first four seasons with the Seahawks as a seventh-round pick out of East Central, a Division II program in Oklahoma. He’s scored 13 TDs on 134 career targets while averaging 14.9 YPR over the last three seasons after seeing action in just one game as a rookie. Moore finished with 35/417/6 receiving on 47 targets for 118.8 FP while playing 45% of the snaps in 16 games for Seattle last season. Moore’s YPR average dipped to just 11.9 yards after he averaged 17.3 YPR in 2018-19. Moore is a thick (6’0”, 215 pounds), athletic (4.43 speed) receiver who has consistently shown strong hands and a knack for the circus catch. He’ll look to hold off second-round pick Terrace Marshall for the #3 WR role this season. Moore is unlikely to be a fantasy factor behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few more of his circus catches playing with Sam Darnold this season.

Shi Smith (Proj: WR124 | ADP: 277 | Pos ADP: WR96)

The Panthers selected Smith in the sixth round and he’ll compete with the likes of Terrace Marshall and David Moore to be the #3 WR behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. Carolina lost its slot receiver from 2020 with Curtis Samuel inking a big deal with Washington, and Smith does own more experience playing out of the slot than Marshall and Moore. Smith is used to lining up between some stud WRs as he played the slot at South Carolina where he played with the likes of Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. Smith held his own with 174/2204/13 receiving as a four-year contributor for the Gamecocks, and he also has some experience on special teams, which could help him make the 53-man roster. Our Greg Cosell compared Smith’s competitiveness to that of Panthers’s legend Steve Smith, and Shi Smith has similar physical attributes at 5’10”, 190 pounds. Shi Smith also has excellent hands but he’s more of a straight-line player with tighter hips than the older Smith. Shi Smith’s progress should be monitored in training camp, but he’ll be completely off the radar in all but Dynasty formats.

Dan Arnold (Proj: TE33 | ADP: 397 | Pos ADP: TE55)

Carolina needs more receiving production from its tight ends this year after Ian Thomas flopped as the team’s top TE in his third season. Arnold could be a good fit for the Panthers since he worked with OC Joe Brady during the 2017-18 seasons in New Orleans. Arnold had a moment as a streaming option at the end of last season with 3+ catches or a touchdown in the final five weeks, which helped him to a top-five weekly performance and two top-12 finishes. He posted a career-best 31/438/4 receiving on 45 targets for 97.8 FP in 16 games — he appeared in just 15 games in his first three seasons. Arnold might be just starting to hit his stride as a move TE after playing WR at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. He also earned DIII All-American honors as a hurdler in track and field so he’s clearly more athletic than most at the position. He didn’t begin his transition to TE until 2018 with the Saints, and he’s an intriguing receiving weapon because of his length (6’6”, 220 pounds) and athleticism (4.63 40-time, 39.5-inch vertical). Arnold found the right offense to potentially find fantasy relevance in next season. Slot WR Curtis Samuel and his 77 receptions left in free agency and Thomas finished dead last in yards per route run (.31) at the position in 2020. Brady could look to move Arnold to create mismatches against smaller safeties and linebackers. David Moore is the only somewhat proven receiver behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson so Arnold has an outside chance to break through as a sleeper TE3 in deeper formats.

Ian Thomas (Proj: TE48 | ADP: 315 | Pos ADP: TE40)

The rebuilding Panthers gave the talented Thomas a huge opportunity to play in 2020 after Greg Olsen bolted for Seattle in the off-season. The 2018 fourth-round pick did nothing but disappoint the franchise by playing like the worst receiver at his position last season. Thomas failed to reach 30+ yards in any of his 16 games and he finished with single-digit yardage (or worse) in 11 contests last season. Thomas also finished dead last in yards per route run (.31) at the position as he concluded his third season with 20/145/1 receiving on 31 targets. The Panthers brought in the ascending Dan Arnold as competition this off-season, and OC Joe Brady previously worked with Arnold in New Orleans in 2017-18. Thomas shouldn’t be considered in any season-long leagues unless he’s receiving glowing reports in training camp, and he has the faintest of pulses remaining in Dynasty formats as he enters his fourth and potentially final season with the Panthers.

Hansen’s Final Points

There’s a lot to like about Sam Darnold moving on to the Panthers’ situation, but there are still things not to like about Darnold the player, so we can't call the former Jet a priority in drafts. On the negative side, the Panther OL is a weak part of their roster, and Darnold still has to prove that he can process information quickly and stay tight mechanically, the two biggest issues for Darnold so far in the NFL. On the positive side, OC Brady did a nice job last year, and his scheme and play calling could help Darnold hide some of his deficiencies, plus they will use a lot of 3-4 WR sets, which can make the offense QB-friendly. Ultimately, we are buying Darnold at his low cost (QB24-27), but there will also be instances when we don’t even have to consider him after securing a better QB2 in a typical league. The intrigue with Darnold comes for deeper leagues with 14 teams or more and in 2-QB leagues, and in those types of leagues Darnold does stand out a bit and has a speck of upside.

The consensus #1 overall pick in 2020, Christian McCaffrey will likely stay atop the board in 80% or more of redraft leagues, and that’s where we confidently have him. To me, the most promising element in play with CMC is the impressive (albeit small) sample size we got of CMC in Brady’s offense. McCaffrey in three games last year finished as a top-5 RB in every game and averaged an absurd 30.1 FPG. Now, he won’t have Teddy Bridgewater, a.k.a. Captain Checkdown, but McCaffrey is also a deadly runner and if Darnold is decent, this offense will make many big plays down the field, which will help. Our projections for CMC are very realistic, and he’s 85 FP ahead of our #2 RB Dalvin Cook, so with no hesitation we take CMC at 1 overall.

We’re not entirely sure he will have the exact same role as their vertical threat, especially since Sam Darnold has downfield chemistry with Robby Anderson, but we did get firm confirmation in 2020 that D.J. Moore is a baller. (A baller who doesn’t score much, but still.) We love the player and we love the role, and we’re willing to pay for his talent at a 4th/5th-round ADP. But we don’t blame you if you’re a little hesitant to pull that trigger when Sam Darnold is throwing Moore passes this year. Despite what was, on film, a great season last year, Moore didn’t pay off at a similar ADP, and Darnold is still a low-end starter until proven otherwise. He’s a mid-range WR2, but it would be nice to see him slip to the sixth round for optimal value. That’s just not happening often, if ever.

We undersold Robby Anderson like everyone else in 2020, and this year we’re right in line with his ADP. The fact that he played well with Sam Darold in New York certainly helps, and Robby has commented on how Sam is a different guy this year, which is understandable. The downfield chemistry the pair have may help offset the fact that Darnold isn’t as consistent as Teddy Bridgewater. I wouldn’t expect another 95 catches, but he should have a good chance to hit 80+, especially with Curtis Samuel off the roster, giving Robby a good chance to maintain his 26% target share from a year ago. He’s a solid WR3 option around 80 picks into a draft with some upside from there if he can enjoy a little more luck in the touchdown department and/or with more big plays.

One of the reasons to be relatively high on Sam Darnold this year is the addition of WR Terrace Marshall, who gives Carolina needed length (6’3”) and speed (4.38 40-time). He will have to earn snaps over veteran David Moore, but that’s not an incredible challenge. Marshall can also line up anywhere, including the slot, which should help get him on the field. His familiarity with Panthers OC Joe Brady, who coached Marshall at LSU, should also help. Unless he blows up in training camp, Marshall may not be a great late-round pick, but he’s also essentially a free pick with an ADP of 175, and he’s easily talented enough to go down as a nice value. Otherwise, he’ll be a guy to keep a close eye on as a choice waiver add at some point in his rookie season.

Free agent addition David Moore has flashed in the past as an outside vertical threat, but he was also unable to carve out a large role in Seattle’s offense, which has not exactly been loaded with WR talent. He’ll battle the rookie Terrace Marshall for snaps, but they could mix and match both players all season. We’d opt for Marshall’s upside summer drafts over the veteran Moore, but if Marshall is slow out of the gate, Moore could be a solid WW pickup in deeper leagues.

He is a major long-shot, but WR Shi Smith, Carolina’s sixth round selection, could surprise for some snaps and a role in the slot. Cosell’s comparison of Smith to former Panther great Steve Smith should get your attention, as should Sam Darnold’s propensity for throwing the ball inside to slot guys like Jamison Crowder. If Smith makes noise in training camp he still might not be worth drafting, but we’re not ruling out a surprising showing for Smith if he does earn snaps and gets on the field this year.

Carolina obviously needs some help at TE after Ian Thomas had one of the worst seasons I’ve ever seen from a starting TE who’s not there for blocking. Enter Dan Arnold, a former college WR and a big-play TE threat. Arnold can essentially operate as a third or fourth receiver in this offense, and he has worked with OC Joe Brady for two seasons in New Orleans. We have him as TE33 on the board, which is not inspiring, but Arnold does have a chance to emerge as a viable TE streamer in deeper formats.

Thomas flopped with a great opportunity in 2020 with Greg Olsen gone, failing to hit 30+ yards in any of his 16 games. Thomas also finished dead last in yards per route run (.31) at the position, so with Dan Arnold (who actually makes plays) on the roster, there’s no reason to consider Thomas unless he shockingly impressed this summer.

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