Cam Newton – He finished as the 17th best quarterback last year thanks to just 14 games. In FPPG, Newton finished as QB8, so it’s not all bad news. However, with Benjamin gone, you can no longer expect much improvement for Newton. We can still bump his numbers from last season, especially if he plays 16 games, but we’re looking at 2013 being around his ceiling… actually, it’s too much to ask for in the touchdown department. The yards are reasonable (3,379) but the touchdowns were a career high (24) and a more reasonable expectation is around 20. Newton will still use and need his legs in this offense, even more now without Benjamin, so 500-600 yards and five touchdowns is certainly doable. Put all of that together and we’re talking around 285 Fantasy points, which would put him in contention for QB9-12. Still a QB1 (if he can make it through 16 games with the offense firmly on his shoulders), but Newton is no longer in the conversation for Top 5 quarterbacks.
Backfield – You can expect an uptick here, but the Panthers already attempted the eighth most rushes last year. Part of that is thanks to Newton, but Jonathan Stewart will be expected to do even more now without Benjamin. Stewart is a good pass-catcher; in fact, he’s a great running back. Stewart just needs to stay healthy. Stewart already had RB1 potential, but it’s the heavy injury risk that keeps him in the mid-teens of running back rankings. Benjamin’s injury obviously helps Stewart’s ceiling, but the risk increases with the additional usage. Behind Stewart, Cameron Artis-Payne is the full-time option if Stewart was to miss time and would be an immediate RB2. Keep an eye on Fozzy Whittaker and Jordan Todman though. Whoever locks down the change-of-pace/pass-catching role will have deep league value, as the Panthers need weapons.
Receiving Unit – Did I say, “need weapons?” I meant they are dying for weapons. Devin Funchess has nearly the same concerns Benjamin did as a rookie. He’s raw, has poor hands and some wanted him to be a tight end. However, as raw as he is, the Panthers now desperately need him. He can fill Benjamin’s role, especially in the red zone, but expect him to be just as touchdown reliant for Fantasy production and frustrate owners with weekly inconsistency. Philly Brown, Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery are up next for the Panthers, but there is no sugar coating this, the drop off from Benjamin to the rest is enormous, especially when you factor in Benjamin’s 146 targets (sixth highest in 2014). You could argue Benjamin was the most valuable receiver to his team. Don’t be surprised to see the Panthers test the leftover free agents or explore a trade. As it stands now, Funchess is worth a mid-round pick.
As for Greg Olsen, he’s already coming off a career year, so don’t expect him to get better. At 31, it was doubtful Olsen would even repeat last year’s numbers of 123 targets, 84 receptions, 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. However, he’s a threat to post those numbers again after the Benjamin injury, at the very least in the target department. Again, we’re still talking about the fourth best tight end last year, so Olsen won’t leapfrog Jimmy Graham, but you can slide him back into the third spot if you had Travis Kelce ahead of him.
Overall, this is the worst news any team could face. Not only do you feel for Benjamin and hope he heals quickly, but the Panthers lost the second most important piece of their team. As you can see, don’t overreact too much with the Panthers’ players, but Funchess is the one whose value is significantly impacted.
Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck