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Breakouts, Busts, and Locks - Carolina Panthers 2022 Outlook

Christian McCaffrey - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News

Welcome to our fantasy football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks, a series on RotoBaller where our writers look at three key players on each NFL team. Today, we're talking about the Carolina Panthers.

It's a good thing we waited on this one a little, because the Panthers took a big swing earlier this month, trading for Baker Mayfield, who should easily earn the starting quarterback job.

Below, you'll find a fantasy football breakout candidate, a fantasy football bust candidate, and a safe fantasy football pick for the Panthers based on early ADP for fantasy football drafts in 2022.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

Fantasy Football Breakout: Baker Mayfield

Alright. It's not quite that Baker is a "breakout" and more that Baker is just an incredible value right now.

His ADP is lower than virtually every presumed starter, though I wonder if some of that is baked in from early drafts? But even the FantasyPros consensus rankings, which draw from a bunch of analysts including some from RotoBaller, have him at QB28, behind Jared Goff and Davis Mills.

Mayfield will easily dispatch Sam Darnold and Matt Corral in the race to start under center for Carolina. From there, things should be pretty good for the former No. 1 overall pick.

He has Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, who both are capable of taking short passes and turning them into something big. He has Robby Anderson down the field to stretch things. Mayfield's weapons put him in a spot where I think his 2020 numbers are a better gauge of what to expect than his 2021 numbers since last season featured just 12 games of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. was waived in November. (Of note, Baker completed 66.7% of his passes in the first eight games, and then 53.4% after Odell was waived).

In 2020, Mayfield was the overall QB17 and the QB26 in points per game. So even if we ignore 2021 and look back at a "successful" season, it wasn't that successful.

But the Browns were such a bad situation. Landry is a reliable weapon in the short passing game, but he doesn't have that breakaway ability that Moore has. Kareem Hunt is no Christian McCaffrey. This is the best situation Mayfield has been in as a pro. The Panthers were 17th in the league in YAC last year despite not having McCaffrey for most of the season, while the Browns were 21st in YAC. When McCaffrey was last healthy for a full season, the Panthers were seventh in the NFL in YAC. It's a small edge, but it could definitely matter at least some.

Look: I don't expect Mayfield to be a top-12 QB. But he can be somewhere between the QB15 and QB20 while coming at the price of someone between QB27 and QB30, depending on where his value eventually lands. In leagues where you need a QB2 or leagues where you're streaming at the position, there's a lot of value-based upside with Mayfield.

 

Fantasy Football Bust: Tight End

I have a take here: there's no NFL team that's in a worse position at tight end than the Panthers.

The only teams that feel close to Carolina at the bottom of the tight end world are the Texans, the Giants, and the Saints. But I'd take Houston and New Orleans out of that discussion because Brevin Jordan and Adam Trautman have some upside. That leaves the Giants with their Daniel Bellinger/Ricky Seals-Jones duo and the Panthers with Ian Thomas/Tommy Tremble.

Thomas is someone who I used to be high on. After Greg Olsen left, I thought Thomas would slide into the No. 1 tight end role and would at least put up high-end TE2 numbers, but instead, Thomas has failed to even come within 100 yards of his rookie receiving numbers. Last season, he played all 17 games, and he caught 18 passes.

The Panthers used a third-round pick last year on Notre Dame's Tommy Tremble, who caught 20 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. The Panthers were 31st in the NFL in tight end targets last season with 80, which represented just 13.9% of the team's total targets.

Don't overthink this. There's no reason to draft a Panthers tight end in any normal-sized fantasy football league.

 

Fantasy Football Lock: Christian McCaffrey

Obviously, there are health concerns with McCaffrey, but when he's out on the field, he's the safest player on this team. (Though if you want to argue that health concerns make D.J. Moore a safer fantasy player, I'm not going to argue with you. Moore's going to have a great season).

McCaffrey has played just 10 games over the past two seasons. But even in a shortened 2021 campaign that saw him play seven games, he was effective, averaging 63.1 rushing and 49.0 receiving yards per game. And that's with the team clearly taking it easy with McCaffrey in the four midseason games he played, plus it factors in the Week 3 game where he was injured. When McCaffrey saw his usual workload in Week 1 and Week 2, he averaged 85 rushing and 77 receiving yards per game and 29.5 touches per contest. That pace would have led to McCaffrey finishing with over 1,000 yards as a runner and receiver for the second time.

McCaffrey's injuries last year were a strained hamstring and a sprained ankle. While those could pop back up—especially the hamstring—I think, in my non-medical opinion, that McCaffrey's injuries being the kind of injuries they were shouldn't really sap his playing ability. It's not like he tore an Achilles. When he's on the field, he should be just as effective as ever. The concern is that he won't be on the field a lot, and that's a fair concern. He was injured five separate times over the past two seasons.

But you still have to take the risk. McCaffrey has a ton of downside as a top-three fantasy pick, but no one in the NFL has a higher ceiling than McCaffrey has, especially in full PPR. On a per game basis, McCaffrey is a lock. We just have to hope we get a lot of games from him.



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