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Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2024 Carolina Panthers

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Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2024 fantasy football season. Our Chris Meaney and Daniel Kelley are going to go team-by-team around the league all summer. They’ll pick sleepers, busts and bold predictions for each team. Sometimes they’ll agree! Sometimes they will go completely opposite one another! And that’s fine, because they’ll defend their positions, and you can decide for yourself who to side with. Up today: The Carolina Panthers.

Below, they tackle the team, starting with their picks in “The Answers,” then expanding on their picks in “The Explanation.”

2024 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Carolina Panthers

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Meaney: Jonathon Brooks
Kelley: Jonathon Brooks

Biggest Bust

Meaney: Diontae Johnson
Kelley: Diontae Johnson

Bold Prediction

Meaney: Bryce Young Is a Top-20 QB
Kelley: Andy Dalton Starts at Least 5 Games

The Explanations

Sleepers

Meaney: Jonathon Brooks

Brooks had his season cut short in November due to a torn ACL or else he may have gone a touch earlier in the NFL Draft — he was tremendous before suffering an injury. Brooks is a dynamic runner who can hit top speed quickly, and he can make defenders miss with his shifty footwork. He may not have a ton of power, but he has the ability to be a three-down back as he hauled in 25 catches in 11 games last season. The 20-year-old also racked up 1,139 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 187 attempts. Those 187 attempts were 136 more than he had in his previous two seasons. Brooks didn’t receive a lot of work before 2023 with Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson on the Texas squads.

With Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders and Rashaad Penny to contend with, Brooks is immediately Carolina’s best running back in their room. Keep in mind, Sanders lost his job midway through last season. Brooks has great vision and can make things happen with the ball in his hands, which is exactly what Bryce Young and the Panthers need. All reports suggest Brooks being ready for training camp. It may take a few weeks to fully take over the backfield given the injury and the fact it’s his first season, but HC Dave Canales leaned heavily on Rachaad White as a runner and as a receiver as the OC in Tampa Bay last season. Brooks has the upside to be an RB2 in year one, and he’s someone who could finish the fantasy season strong. 

Cam Akers and Javonte Williams were two backs who started off very slow in their rookie seasons, but if you had them on your squads in the second half you had success. White’s 272 carries last season were the third most in football, and his 64 catches ranked fourth at running back. I don’t think Brooks will get that type of volume, but I’d be patient with him in his first season in the NFL. Come the second half, Brooks could touch the ball 15-plus times a game. He has more to offer in the receiving game than Sanders and Hubbard, and Carolina will be playing from behind most of the season. 

Kelley: Jonathon Brooks

Jonathon Brooks would have comfortably been the first running back off the board (admittedly, in a bad RB class) in this year’s draft had he not torn his ACL in early December. He still went first at the position, just lower than he might have otherwise. And while I might quibble with the Panthers’ strategy of going RB with their second pick (Y’all know you have lots of roster issues, right? And high-drafted RB is kind of a luxury?), Brooks shouldn’t have a tough time rising to the top of this depth chart ahead of, in some order, Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders and Rashaad Penny. And with the Panthers dedicating a lot of (necessary) money to the offensive line this offseason, there’s a chance whoever claims the starting job has some nice cushions to work with.

Busts

Meaney: Diontae Johnson
GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 08: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) smiles after running back a punt for a touchdown during the NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals on December 8, 2019 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

Johnson finished as WR42 last season and WR39 in half-PPR points per game. In 2022, he finished as WR39, WR52 per game. There’s no question he’s taken a big step back since Ben Roethlisberger retired in Pittsburgh. Johnson had his best season in 2021 (Ben’s final year) when he hauled in 107 of the 169 balls thrown his way for 1,161 yards. He scored a career-best eight touchdowns that season and finished as WR9. It was his only season with 1,000 yards and the only season he averaged double-digit fantasy points. 

Touchdowns are hard to predict, but Johnson only has five over his last 30 games, and now he joins a team that finished last in points per game (13.9). His lack of production isn’t the only reason I’m off him. I fully expect him to flirt with 100-plus targets for the fourth time in his past five seasons, as he doesn’t have much competition in the Panthers’ WR room. However, Young was 10-19 on throws of 20-plus air yards and Johnson will mostly play outside in Carolina. I believe this was a great real life get for Young and the Panthers, and the offense will be different in Carolina, but I can’t get behind the price (WR44 with an ADP of 81.3). Wideouts like Jameson Williams, Mike Williams and Brian Thomas Jr. have a similar price as Johnson, and I think all three have a higher ceiling than the former Steeler. 

Kelley: Diontae Johnson

This offseason, the Panthers desperately needed to get a receiver who can separate so Bryce Young could find some open targets. They traded for Johnson. And now … they desperately need to get a receiver who can separate. That might be a little oversimplistic, but after averaging 3.6 yards of separation in 2019 (per Next Gen Stats, fifth in the league), Johnson’s separation average has dropped each year, down to 2.9 yards last year, 54th among receivers, tied with … holdover Panther Adam Thielen, who dirt refers to as an elder. Johnson should continue to command a load of targets, because there isn’t much else in Carolina, and for that he will still offer PPR value. But he has just about the lowest upside of any receiver with a floor as high as his.

Bold Predictions

Meaney: Bryce Young Is a Top-20 QB

Bryce Young’s 9.8 fantasy points per game ranked 40th at the position, and his 156.38 points resulted in a QB23 finish. He finished his first season in the NFL with an 11:10 TD:INT ratio, and he only threw for 2,877 yards with a 59.8% completion percentage. It’s way too early to write him off, but that’s not what you want to see out of your first overall pick. 

Last season was a mess. The playcalling was awful, and Young had very little to work with. He hardly pushed the ball down the field and didn’t have anybody who could separate. As much as I’m out on Johnson, he can separate (never mind what my colleague said above). Carolina also brought in Brooks, Xavier Legette and Ja’Tavion Sanders — all three players can make things happen with the ball in their hands. Adam Thielen had a very strong first half but slowed down in the second. He won’t be asked to do as much this season, and he can still be leaned on as a reliable target. 

CHARLOTTE, NC – OCTOBER 01: Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) during an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Carolina Panthers on October 1, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire)

New head coach Dave Canales did some great things with Geno Smith in Seattle in 2022 and Baker Mayfield last year. My bold take with the Panthers is that he makes Bryce Young fantasy relevant at times. I know, very bold of me. However, Young was not even worthy of a roster spot in superflex leagues last season. He will return value on draft day, and he’ll be worthy of starts in two-QB leagues, given the new talent and playcalling in Carolina. 

Kelley: Andy Dalton Starts at Least 5 Games

Bryce Young started 16 games last year. His best weekly fantasy finish was QB9, and he topped 15 fantasy points in a game 12.5% of the time.

Andy Dalton started one game last year. His best weekly fantasy finish was QB7, and he topped 15 fantasy points in a game 100% of a time.

No, it’s not that simple, but Young is a second-year quarterback coming off a hugely disappointing rookie year. Those who still believe in him are just relying on his pedigree, because the Alabama product offered very little to get excited about from his rookie year. Pedigree still matters, of course, but the point is that he didn’t show much to build off of as a rookie, and he did that for an increasingly impatient owner and now has a new front office and coaching staff that did not pick him. And of course Dalton is maybe the best backup quarterback in football. And of course, Young is the smallest quarterback in the league, which arguably increases his injury risk. I expect to see the Red Rifle for more than just a brief appearance in 2024.

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