The Carolina Panthers cleaned house this offseason, getting a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, and new quarterback. Things will undoubtedly change for the Carolina Panthers offense, but there are still things we can look back on in 2019 that can give us a good idea for the 2020 Carolina Panthers’ sleeper, breakout, and bust candidates.
Sleeper – Ian Thomas, Tight End (TE23, 186 overall)
This sleeper has gotten sleepier over the offseason, what with the offensive change and the addition of Teddy Bridgewater. Greg Olsen is gone, and Ian Thomas has shown that without Greg Olsen around, he can really stretch his legs and do some damage. Greg Olsen’s health mostly kept Ian Thomas off the field in 2019, but in 2018, when he subbed in for Olsen down the stretch, he played on an 80-catch, 787-yards, 6-touchdowns pace. That’s more than enough to cut his year-end rank in half, going from TE23 to a top-twelve TE.
I’m not suggesting you go out and draft Ian Thomas in most leagues; the Panthers are now overwhelmingly crowded over the middle. When the season wears on and attrition takes hold, you’ll need a tight end. Check-in on Ian Thomas to see what he’s been up to.
Breakout – Curtis Samuel, Wide Receiver (WR59, 158 overall)
Curtis Samuel was one of my favorite wide receivers going into last season, and I’m too stupid or too stubborn to move off of him going into 2020. Sure, they went out and got Robby Anderson to compete with the deep shot targets to Curtis Samuel. Okay, his new quarterback doesn’t throw deep all that often (throwing the ball 5.4 yards downfield on average last season with the Saints was… concerning), but think about the air yards!
Curtis Samuel had 30% of the team’s air yards last season, meaning three of every ten yards the ball traveled to a receiver, it was headed toward Samuel. He had an average depth of target of 14.3 yards downfield, but was one of the least effective wide receivers at converting air yards into regular yards. Why? His quarterbacks were a cavalcade of garbage who could not hit him deep to save their lives. All-in-all, Curtis Samuel ended the year as one of two wide receivers to get over 1,600 air yards without getting at least 1,000 yards receiving. In the end, he ended up with nearly 1,000 unconverted air yards, a figure which led the league by nearly 100 yards.
Bust – Christian McCaffrey, Running Back (RB1, 1 overall)
Hot take alert! This isn’t to say that Christian McCaffrey is going to be so overwhelmingly disappointing that you shouldn’t take him first overall, it’s that you should take some caution tempering your CMC expectations. Our own Bryan Sclar outlined the history of running backs after they hit the 400 touch threshold. CMC eked over that line last season, ending up with an RB-record 116 receptions and 287 carries. The long and the short of it: since 2006, six running backs crossed that 400-touch threshold. Lev Bell didn’t play in 2018, so toss out his numbers. The other five averaged a 45% drop in fantasy points the next year.
Do I really think that you should go somewhere other than CMC with your #1 overall pick? No. He’s young, and getting the RB reception record tells you more of those touches ended with lighter fellas tackling him than DL he bangs into when he gets rushes up the middle. Still, the smallest contraction following a 400+ touch season was 25%.