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Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2023 Carolina Panthers

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Nick Makowitz

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Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2023 fantasy football season. All summer, our analysts, two at a time, will preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming season. We’ll pick a pair of sleepers, a pair of busts and a pair of bold predictions. Sometimes they’ll be the same pick! Sometimes they will directly disagree! And that’s fine. Today: The Carolina Panthers.

 

Below, Nick Makowitz and Michael Dolan tackle the Panthers, starting with their picks in “The Answers,” then expanding on their picks in “The Explanation.”

2023 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Carolina Panthers

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Makowitz: Terrace Marshall
DolanLaviska Shenault

Biggest Bust

Makowitz: N/A
DolanMiles Sanders 

Bold Prediction

Makowitz: Miles Sanders finishes as a top-12 running back
DolanDJ Chark is a 1,000-yard receiver

The Explanations

Sleepers

Makowitz: Terrace Marshall

This is more like a hibernator than a sleeper, but if you believe in Bryce Young (I do), then one of his receivers is bound to have a solid season. Among Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, Terrace Marshall and rookie Jonthan Mingo, I’ll take the 23-year-old Marshall. Although he’s disappointed so far in his career, he showed a few signs of life in Year 2.

He improved upon every counting stat as well as a few advanced stats, particularly aDOT (7.0 yards in year one, 12.0 in year two) and targets per route run (10% to 14%). It’s also worth noting that Marshall averaged fewer than three targets and 20 yards per game prior to Week 8 last year, but he averaged four targets and 45 yards per game after that. Those numbers themselves aren’t even impressive but he certainly improved and now he gets to play with this year’s No. 1 overall pick. 

Terrace Marshall Carolina Panthers Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions

Is Marshall going to be a surefire fantasy starter? Who knows, but this may be his last chance to prove himself in Carolina, and this is the least competition he’s faced in the receiver room.

Dolan: Laviska Shenault

Laviska Shenault has been a trendy late-round fantasy pick who hasn’t blossomed in years past. This year however, I think we’re ready to see the breakout. With a new offensive-minded coaching staff in town, the Panthers offense is ready to build a new foundation around Bryce Young, and rumors indicate Shenault is slated to play a big role.

The coaching staff have likened Shenault’s role in the offense to Deebo Samuel’s in San Francisco. While Shenault certainly isn’t the same level of talent as Samuel, his price tag isn’t nearly the same either. Whenever a coaching staff makes a conscious effort to manufacture touches for a player, that’s a major green flag for their fantasy value.

 

Busts

Makowitz: Nobody

How can anyone be a bust if nobody is expected to be any good? The only player who could really qualify is Miles Sanders (RB21 ADP), but I expect him to have a good season … which I’ll explain below. You could make a case for Bryce Young, but he’s being drafted as the QB24, which would make him the last starter in a 12-team superflex league, and I think he can manage that with a decent offensive line and average skill players. The receivers are all being drafted outside the top-50, so none can really disappoint and Hayden Hurst fits right in as the TE24. Simply put, the Panthers’ fantasy expectations are low, so there’s almost nowhere to go but up.

Dolan: Miles Sanders

Right now, Miles Sanders is priced as a mid-RB2, and that price tag seems far too high for the upside he possesses. Yes, he seems to be the lone guy in Carolina’s backfield, but when it comes to talent, Sanders pales in comparison to the guys being drafted around him. He’s coming off a great 2022 season where he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and logged 1,269 rushing yards and 11 TDs, but in a much worse Panthers offense, Sanders’ efficiency is poised to decline drastically.

Many of Sanders’ impressive stats last year were a product of the Eagles’ dominant offense. He won’t get that same benefit in Carolina, and the offense around him severely limits his upside in fantasy football. I think his floor is respectable since his volume should be high, but it’s much easier to envision him underperforming this year relative to cost than overperforming. That lack of upside means I’ll be largely avoiding him in drafts this year.

 

Bold Predictions

Makowitz: Miles Sanders Finishes as a Top-12 Running Back

On the surface, Miles Sanders leaves the best offensive line and one of the best offenses in football for one with plenty of new pieces, including a rookie QB and new head coach. The Carolina offense is a downgrade from Philadelphia’s in every way, but for fantasy, it could benefit Sanders. Jalen Hurts was his biggest competition as he rushed for 760 yards and a ridiculous 13 touchdowns, but Bryce Young won’t come close to stealing as much of the ground game.

Miles Sanders Carolina Panthers Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions

Sanders has always been efficient, but his problems in fantasy have always been tied to opportunity, particularly in the receiving game. The good news is that Bryce Young showed a willingness to involve his running backs in college, with Brian Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs combining for 79 receptions and 740 yards in their respective final seasons in Tuscaloosa. Sanders has also shown he’s a variable receiver by racking up 50 catches and 500 yards as a rookie. With a bigger workload, Sanders is capable of finally cracking the top-12.

Dolan: DJ Chark Is a 1,000-Yard Receiver

It’s anyone’s guess who the Panthers’ top targets are going to be in 2023 after they overhauled their receiver room this offseason. Laviska Shenault looks poised to play a unique hybrid role that provides some fantasy value, but if I had to bet on someone taking over as the true No. 1, I’d bet on DJ Chark. It’s been a while since we’ve seen solid production out of Chark, but he’s a big-bodied receiver with a QB-friendly catch radius, and that bodes well for his potential connection with No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young.

Only once has Chark eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in a season, and that was all the way back in 2019. It’ll be tough for him to hit that mark again in 2023, but with little target competition in Carolina, I think this is the year we finally see him bounce back.

 
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