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NFL Draft 32 for 32 - Carolina Panthers

The 2018 season was a lost one for the Carolina Panthers. It was apparent that Cam Newton was playing hurt towards the end of the season, likely costing this team a shot at the playoffs. The overall numbers were respectable for Newton (3,395 yards and 28 total TD) but during the fantasy playoffs, he disappeared before being shut down for the final two weeks of the year. After the season, Newton underwent shoulder surgery to clean up the damage, now the question has to be asked, will he be ready for 2019? The team is downplaying the seriousness of the injury, but we are just two years removed from Andrew Luck missing a full season due to shoulder problems. As far as fantasy goes, Newton is a commodity that may be hard to buy until we know everything on his health, which likely will not come until training camp.

The face of this team has now switched to ultra-productive running back, Christian McCaffrey. He finished as the RB1 last season in fantasy (388 FP) and his receiving numbers alone (107 catches, 867 yards, and 6 TDs) would have been good enough to place him in the WR2 area. The Panthers are really just starting to tap into McCaffrey's potential and rest assured that the offense will be going through him yet again in 2019. Easily making him one of the top players taken in drafts. Outside of McCaffrey, the Panthers are full of young and unproven players, led by second-year wideout D.J. Moore. With the departure of Devin Funchess, Moore now steps into the primary receiver role and should flourish. He started to come into his own during the mid-point last season, but he must find a way to get into the end-zone more to really intrigue fantasy owners. Currently, his value has him somewhere in the WR3 range in drafts.

Going into the draft, expect the Panthers to hone in on the defensive side of the ball in an attempt to get this team back to what it does best. Ball control on offense, then let the defense keep control of the game on their end. The team could also benefit from adding a receiver to this group as well to take the pressure off of McCaffrey and Moore.

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Top Three Projected Selections

First Round- Garrett Bradbury, C North Carolina State (16th overall)
Second Round- Deionte Thompson, S Alabama (47th)
Third Round- Riley Ridley, WR Georgia (77th)

Remaining Picks
Third Round- 100th
Fourth Round-115th
Fifth Round- 154th
Sixth Round- 187th

To start off their draft, I have the Panthers looking to solidify an offensive line that ranked in the top third in 2018. Selecting Garrett Bradbury does just that. Bradbury is a center by trade but has the flexibility to move along the line. With Matt Paradis likely to hold down the duties at center, Bradbury could slide in at guard and fair quite well. He checks virtually all boxes for what teams look for with his strength, intelligence, and body control. His abilities as a run blocker are above average, but he really excels in pass protection. This is something the Panthers will be looking for with Newton coming back from injury.

Adding to the back-end of the defense, Deionte Thompson will come in and challenge incumbent Rashaan Gaulden for the starting free safety spot. His range and ball skills make him one of the best in this class as he rarely plays out of position. Sometimes he can rely on his explosiveness too much and take chances in coverage. But his instincts and burst can get him back in a play quickly. His open-field tackling ability coupled with his knack for getting to the ball in coverage makes him a strong selection for this Panthers defense.

Looking to add depth to the receiver room, the Panthers may take a shot on Riley Ridley. Familiar with his brother from division rivals Atlanta, Calvin Ridley, the team will be hoping to get similar production from him. Coming out of Georgia, Ridley was a hot commodity before the offseason testing began. But after some poor showings, Ridley's draft stock has taken a plunge. He's not the type of receiver that can be the focal point of an offense, but his physical play could be utilized as a possession receiver for the Panthers. He runs strong routes and can be a menace in contested catch situations. Playing for the Panthers can limit his potential as a receiver in fantasy. In seasonal formats, Ridley will be no more than a late-round flier at best for 2019. As far as dynasty leagues are concerned, he is a guy that you can take a shot at in the fourth round and hold until he flashes in game situations.

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