Juggernaut Index, No. 13: Cam Newton, suddenly a fantasy bargain

Cam Newton, curiously disrespected by early fantasy drafters. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Cam Newton has finished as a top-four fantasy quarterback in five of his seven NFL seasons, including last year when he ranked second at the position. Even if he didn’t throw a pass in 2017, his rushing stats alone (754-6) would have made him the No. 36 running back in fantasy.

Newton already holds the career record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (54) and he’s currently No. 60 on the all-time leaderboard — tied with Matt Forte, Arian Foster and George Rogers. This year, he’s going to pass Tiki Barber, Larry Johnson, Chris Johnson, Roger Craig, Jamal Lewis and various others on the all-time list. By the end of 2019, he will very likely have more career rushing scores than Terrell Davis, O.J. Simpson and Herschel Walker.

We’re talking about a quarterback, people. Ridiculous. As a fantasy weapon, Newton is almost unfair.

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Somewhat incredibly, Newton is getting selected as the seventh QB off the board in an average draft, despite the fact that he’s never finished worse than fourth overall in any season in which he’s played 16 games. If you can get him at that draft price, it’s pure theft. There’s simply no reasonable justification for ranking him as low as seventh. It’s lunacy. He averaged a career-low 206.4 passing yards per game last season and still finished second overall at his position. Assuming good health, Newton is a near-lock for 600-or-so rushing yards and 6-8 TDs. Add those stats to his typical full-season passing numbers (3600-23-13) and you have a top-tier fantasy quarterback.

Newton’s receiving corps has been upgraded for 2018, which further boosts his appeal.

D.J. Moore, the rookie receiver you need

With all due respect to Devin Funchess, Carolina’s best receiver right now is Maryland rookie D.J. Moore. He was phenomenal at the collegiate level last year, overcoming a brutal QB situation to catch 80 passes for 1033 yards and eight scores. Moore averaged 86.1 YPG for a team that only produced 161.7 passing yards each week. He crushed the combine, ranking as a 97th percentile SPARQ athlete, and he’s been a buzzy player throughout the offseason. Moore passed the eye test in his exhibition debut, too…

Basically, he’s a bad dude. Steve Smith himself has given Moore a full endorsement. Draft him with total confidence at his ADP (110.6, WR44). Moore is a decent bet to finish his first pro season as an every-week fantasy starter.

Funchess was a waiver wire treasure last season, finishing with 63 catches for 840 yards and eight spikes on 111 targets. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he’s an ideal red-zone option for Newton; his 16 RZ targets tied for the 13th highest total among all wide receivers last year. Funchess entered the league as a raw and relatively unimpressive prospect, but we certainly can’t say he hasn’t worked to improve. He’s probably miscast as any team’s No. 1 receiver, but he’s a dangerous supporting player. Funchess doesn’t seem like any sort of special bargain at his ADP (89.5, WR36), particularly when compared to Moore. The Panthers will have more receiving weapons in the mix this season, so we should probably view Funchess’ 2017 stats as his ceiling for 2018.

Greg Olsen is back in the game after a foot injury limited him to only seven appearances last season. He delivered a big performance in the playoff loss at New Orleans (8-107-1), which helped ease concerns about his outlook moving forward. Still, it seems worth noting that he’s only found the end-zone twice in his last 16 games, postseason included. Like Funchess, G-Reg doesn’t seem like any great value at his ADP (59.8, TE5).

Torrey Smith joined this team in the spring, giving the Panthers a Ted Ginn-like vertical threat. We’ll never see the big games coming from Smith, in all likelihood, but it won’t be much of a shock if he finishes with 5-7 scores. Curtis Samuel returns after a year lost to injury as well. He was a dynamic multi-purpose player at Ohio State and he can make Carolina’s offense a bit more frisky, but he won’t be featured. We aren’t drafting him outside mega-leagues.

CJA + CMC = RBBC

Following the release of Jonathan Stewart back in February, many of us (briefly) had big plans for Christian McCaffrey in 2018. But after the team added veteran back C.J. Anderson, we probably have to hope that CMC can simply repeat last year’s workload. It should be clear at this point that Carolina’s offense has plenty of talented players who need to be fed.

Absurdly, Panthers coach Ron Rivera recently said he hoped to get McCaffrey 25-30 touches a game, which of course isn’t going to happen. This team could average 100 plays per game and it would still be out of play. (They averaged 64.5 per game last year.) It’s an insane number, not to be taken seriously.

Christian McCaffrey was a PPR monster in 2017, but he’s still stuck in committee. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

That said, McCaffrey brought a new dimension to the Panthers’ offense last season, leading all running backs with 113 targets, catching 80 balls for 651 yards. No Carolina back had finished with more than 27 receptions since 2011. McCaffrey offers easy yards for Newton in the passing game, and he’s a fun player when he finds himself in space. CMC was an inefficient runner last season, gaining just 435 yards on 117 carries (3.7 YPC). His O-line did him few favors last year; a return to health from five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil would mean a lot in 2018.

Ultimately, it’s tough to project much more from McCaffrey than the 1086 scrimmage yards and seven scores he delivered last year. He’s a safe bet to remain a high-volume receiver, spectacularly valuable in PPR formats, but he’s not gonna see 30 touches in any week while Anderson is healthy.

CJA became a member of the 1000-yard club last season in Denver, carrying 245 times for 1007 yards (4.1 YPC), adding 28 catches for 224. He can play. Stewart received 206 touches last season, running in committee with McCaffrey. Anderson is likely to see a similar total, which gives him a shot at, say, 900 scrimmage yards and 5-6 scores. He’s available at a friendly price, too (ADP 93.1, RB39). Newton remains the best goal-line rushing option for the Panthers, a fact that’s always limited the upside of this team’s backs.

Carolina’s defense allowed the seventh fewest total yards and eleventh fewest points last year, which was no small feat considering the offensive talent in the NFC South. This team also ranked third in total sacks (50), so it’s an ownable D/ST for fantasy purposes. (Early season matchups with Andy Dalton, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco don’t hurt.) Also, just for the record, Luke Kuechly is still a tackling machine and top-tier IDP. He’s yet another Panthers fantasy asset who can assist your pursuit of a title.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 22.7 (12th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 192.3 (28)
Rush YPG – 131.4 (4)
Yards per play – 5.1 (19)
Plays per game – 64.5 (12)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina

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