Carolina's WR2 Situation
By: paul.hickey | 7/9/10, 1:00 AM EDT
Searching for that elusive deep sleeper wide receiver heading into 2010? You know, the guy you get for next to nothing on draft day —or even early in the season on waivers —who blows your opponents’minds by midseason.
Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker did it in 2007, Antonio Bryant and Lance Moore in 2008 and Steve Smith (NYG) and Miles Austin last year. So, chances are there will be at least one or two fantasy wide receivers who rise from Nowheresville to the spotlight and achieve fantasy stardom in 2010.
As usual, fantasy writers (myself included) and prognosticators have published many sleeper lists, trying to pinpoint the next “out of nowhere”studs. After scouring the league and checking my previous predictions, as well as those of other writers, I realized that one team in particular is getting no love at the WR spot: Carolina.
Hey, I'll be the first to admit that at first glance, the Panthers’WR situation looks bleak. Even former elite fantasy WR Steve Smith isn't a sure thing anymore. Nursing a broken arm and coming off a very subpar season at the age of 31, he's just not quite what he used to be —and I think even heknows it. Remember, just a few months ago, prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, Smith told the media he doesn't want to be the team's No. 1 wide receiver anymore.
What fantasy owners need to realize is that, to a certain extent, the Panthers listened to Smith's cry for help. Did they bring in a proven veteran? No, but they did invest two of their first three draft picks (both second-rounders) in young, promising wide receivers —and they are not to be overlooked. Brandon LaFell, a 6-2 receiver from LSU, and converted college QB Armanti Edwards (5-11) are very different threats who will compete for time with Dwayne Jarrett, a former second-round draft pick entering his fourth season.
So, why am I spending time writing about a trio of receivers with only 33 career NFL catches among them? A situation in which the QB picture has yet to take shape? Easy answer: A new face will emerge as a starting WR opposite Smith on a very solid NFL offense —a new face who could perhaps be the next deep sleeper fantasy WR.
Jarrett has been disappointing throughout his career, which means the spot opposite Smith is up for grabs. But I wouldn’t rule Jarrett out as a candidate for the gig; after all, he has the most experience in coordinator Jeff Davidson's offense. In fact, he'll probably have the leg up on the rookies heading into training camp after learning from the recently retired Muhsin Muhammad, the Panthers’all-time leader in receiving. At 6-4, Jarrett has great size and incredible wingspan. He reminds me a lot of Sidney Rice, whom he was drafted one spot behind in the second round in 2007. Rice put up 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight scores last year. Could Jarrett be this year's Rice? The chances might seem slim for Jarrett to post Rice-like digits —he certainly doesn't have Brett Favre throwing him the ball —but he does have an opportunity to step up at age 24 (as of the day before Carolina’s season opener) and earn a starting role. And that opportunity, along with his physical potential, definitely make him worth adding to your deep sleepers watch list during the preseason.
Carolina’s passing attack might not be anything to get excited about now, but with defenses worried about stopping their top-tier ground game, opportunities will exist for these young wide receivers to produce. Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen will duel for the starting QB job in training camp, with Moore —who started the final five games of 2009 —the likely candidate to win it. The Panthers committed to Moore as their guy after releasing Jake Delhomme, and taking Clausen in the second round was more of a luxury pick, considering many had anticipated he'd be gone prior to slot 48.
While the name "Matt Moore" won’t get many fantasy owners excited, he did toss eight scores in his five starts last year, including three at home against the Vikings and three at Giants Stadium against the Giants. So, he is a clear upgrade from Delhomme. Overall, the Panthers’ground game is strong enough to make life largely stress-free on Moore, which could result in some nice statistical performances.
So, here is what I'm saying: A Carolina wideout other than Steve Smith will emerge in 2010 and become a valuable asset in both short-term and long-term leagues. The most likely scenario is for LaFell —who might have been a first-round pick had he entered the 2009 draft —to give Jarrett a serious run for his money. Both will see plenty of reps in camp with Smith sidelined. Look for Jarrett to win the job at first, but for LaFell to be the much stronger long-term prospect, and thus the better overall fantasy option. Depending on the direction the passing game takes, Edwards could also fit in nicely as a Julian Edelman (poor man's Wes Welker) slot option with great run-after-the-catch ability. It is unlikely, however, that both LaFell and Jarrett both become valuable, so be sure to follow that specific training camp battle very closely.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and IDP leagues.
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