Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
No two teammates have been as deleterious to each other's fantasy value as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart over the last three seasons. The duo posted two of the most impressive teammate campaigns during Stewart's first two years in the league, when they combined for 4,601 rushing yards (Williams had 2,632, Stewart had 1,969) and 45 touchdowns. If you owned either one of them in those two seasons, you may have cursed the other guy, but you still started whichever one you had with confidence.
They haven't been able to get out of each other's way since, and that makes them two of the hardest players to gauge this summer.
Heading into the season, here's what we know. Both will have important roles in the offense. Stewart is rehabbing from offseason surgery to both ankles after missing seven games in 2012. The Panthers expect him to be ready Week 1, but they'll likely take it easy on him in training camp, and the preseason PUP list remains an option. Williams played all 16 games last year and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, but got just 173 totes thanks to the running prowess of Cam Newton. The QB is another significant mitigating factor in each of these guys' draft stock. While Newton's presence makes the offense much better as a whole, it also limits the amount of carries Williams and Stewart will get. The offense revolves around Newton, and the third-year QB has some pretty good weapons in the pass game with Steve Smith and Greg Olsen. The Panthers promoted Mike Shula, who had been the QB coach the last two years, to offensive coordinator. This is a Newton-centric unit.
Even with the ankle surgeries, I think Stewart has the greater upside. He's four years younger (and Williams turned 30 this year, though he hasn't racked up a ton of mileage the last three seasons) and is a better receiver out of the backfield. For the purposes of the preview, we'll assume Stewart has a clean bill of health by the time draft season really gets underway. If that's the case, I could see him going anywhere between picks 75-100. I'd be OK with having him as my third back, but I'd feel great about him as a No. 4. As for Williams, he has played all 16 games each of the last two seasons, and failed to top 1,000 total yards both years. I don't see any reason to believe that will change this year. For me, he's no more than a depth guy.
|Carolina Panthers' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Panthers' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
The NFC South doesn't offer much in the way of strong defense. In fact, Carolina had the best defense in the division last year. New Orleans will pretty much let a team score at will, just so it can get the ball back. Tampa Bay was one of the friendliest defenses to quarterbacks and receivers, good news for Newton and Smith. Unfortunately, they're matched up with the AFC East and NFC West, so that means at least four very tough games against the Seahawks, 49ers, Dolphins and Jets, and neither the Rams nor the Cardinals are pushovers. This is arguably one of the most challenging out-of-division schedules in the league.
QB: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen
RB: Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Kenjon Barner
FB: Mike Tolbert
WR: Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Domenik Hixon, David Gettis, Armanti Edwards
TE: Greg Olsen, Ben Hartsock, Nelson Rosario
|Carolina Panthers' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Panthers feature a pretty strong front seven playing a base 4-3 defense. Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Frank Alexander make up a solid defensive end rotation. The team drafted two defensive tackles last April, Star Lotulelei from Utah and Kawann Short out of Purdue. Along with Dwan Edwards, they secure the interior of the line. Luke Kuechly had a huge rookie year in taking over the middle and pushing Jon Beason outside. Thomas Davis finally stayed healthy again, and didn't show any ill effects after tearing his ACL three times.
Those first two units will have to be as good as advertised, because the Panthers are in trouble in the secondary. Captain Munnerlyn will start, along with either Drayton Florence or D.J. Moore. My bet is on Moore, who played well in a nickel role with the Bears. At safety, Charles Godfrey will line up next to either Haruki Nakamura, Mike Mitchell or D.J. Campbell. Again, the strength of this defense is in the front seven. Luckily for the Panthers, they can get after the passer enough to cover up the flaws in the secondary. As far as being a defense you'd consider in fantasy, until they prove otherwise, the Panthers are no more than a matchup play.