Though Crowded with Robby Anderson, All Panthers WRs Could Still Explode in Fantasy - Roto Street Journal
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Though Crowded with Robby Anderson, All Panthers WRs Could Still Explode in Fantasy

The Panthers didn’t have a glaring need at wide receiver.  DJ Moore is already toeing the line of the elite. Curtis Samuel still possesses top-end athleticism, but has been largely shackled with inadequate QB play. Fresh off an NFL-record 116 receptions and just the third 1,000/1,000 yard RB in NFL history, Christian McCaffrey is the definition of a hybrid back.

Even still, Carolina added Robby Anderson, a top-three 2020 WR Free Agent and one of the NFL’s premier deep threats.

Now, new HC Matt Rhule (who previously coached Anderson at Temple) and OC Joe Brady are equipped with one of the NFL’s most explosive weapons cabinets. If Brady is the wunderkind we expect, the fantasy football fireworks should be grand finale levels in Carolina.

The move is an obvious boost to Teddy Bridgewater, who we had already labeled as the 2020 Late Round QB Cheat Code.

Moreover, the entire complexion of the Panthers’ offense changes with Anderson’s field-stretching, 4.34 burner presence. He will drastically open up the entire playbook and underneath field quadrants in equal measure.

Yet, how are his and the other Panthers WRs fantasy values impacted?

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More Target Competition… But a Healthier “Aerial Pie” Under Joe Brady

Indeed, Anderson presents another hefty mouth to feed at a table already filled with hungry weapons.

Yet, the feast Joe Brady is about to prepare should keep most bellies filled, and quite heartily.

Outside of Joe Burrow, no LSU players gained more from Brady’s addition than the WRs, the position he directly coached in addition to calling most of the plays.

In 2018, the year before Brady arrived, not a single LSU WR hit 900 receiving yards. Justin Jefferson‘s 54 catches, 875 yards, and 6 TDs were the standout effort. No second pass-catcher hit 400 yards or topped 3 TDs.

Enter Brady. Jefferson exploded for 111 receptions, 1540 yards, and 18 TDs… and ranked second on the team. Ja’Marr Chase paced the Tigers with 1780 yards and 20 TDs, a season after hitting just 313 yards and 3 scores as a freshman. Third WR Terrance Marshall tossed in 13 TDs, because why not?

Simply put: Brady and Burrow concocted an Aerial Bonanza. The key was ensuring all WRs could play any position at any time, allowing Brady to roll out his multiple-look packages and use relentless motion to find constant mismatches:

“We don’t want any of our guys learning a position. They’re learning concepts. We can move everyone around the field. Ideally, the receiver can play all three or four positions. Now we have the ability to move a guy from the boundary to the slot, the slot to the field, motion them.

“At the end of the day his job doesn’t change, he just knows the scheme. We’re not teaching, ‘You’re strictly an X receiver or you’re strictly a Z receiver.’ I feel if people know exactly where people are going to be, defenses can dictate what they want to do and take guys out of the game. If we can move guys around, if we can get guys in positions that we want to get them into to attack people in the coverages, now we’re at the advantage as opposed to defenses knowing exactly where our guys are and now they’re at an advantage.”

Creating this confusion, and capitalizing on the mismatches it affords, is the backbone of Brady’s attack. Detailed in far more depth here, this philosophy mimics Sean Payton’s with the Saints. Brady will rely on five man protections and four and five WR sets to unleash as many routes as possible on nearly every play. He’ll package his players up in endless groupings,  and utilize a variety of motions, with a key goal:

“Applying pressure, getting your speed in space, making defenses defend every blade of grass and just let your players do what they do best.”

Between Anderson (4.34), Moore (4.42), Samuel (4.31), and McCaffrey (4.48), Brady now has plenty of speed at his disposal. The latter three — especially Moore and McCaffrey — are incredibly crafty and dangerous with the ball in their hands in space. Anderson can open this up as well as any in the league.

Holistically, this offense is now equipped to hum at perfect levels, with a signal-caller well-versed in the terminology and philosophy already.

How do they all individually shake out though?

DJ Moore Still Likely to Ascend to the Elite

The first Panthers WR to top 1,100 yards since Steve Smith, Moore had a sensational sophomore season. Despite horrendous QB play, Moore ranked 10th in both targets (135) and receptions (87), while racking up the 8th most receiving yards (1175) in only 14 games. Pegged as a potential “full-time slot option” as a draft prospect, Moore has instead dominated on the outside at every layer, showing impressive ball-tracking when not being ridiculously over or under-thrown by his QBs. He was also extremely clutch and the Panthers go-to-guy to move the chains, recording the fifth-most receptions that resulted in a first down among wide receivers.

Considering Brady’s desire to “get speed in space,” Moore should thrive. He racked up the 8th most Yards After Catch (392), a year after ranking second in YAC per reception as a rookie. Moore will now be in position to compile even more in this scheme.

He only underwhelmed in the TD department (4), though that was far more a byproduct of his surroundings. He miraculously finished as the WR16 despite the low scoring totals, and truly drips in Top-7 upside under Brady.

Though he can certainly burn deep, Moore mostly works a whole different field level compared to Anderson. Without much overlap, the Anderson addition shouldn’t hurt Moore’s lofty upside. In fact, the greater space Anderson will create might even give Moore a higher ceiling.

Curtis Samuel to Finally Be Properly Utilized

Meanwhile, pegged by many as the breakout WR of 2019 (including us), Samuel simply face-planted. Sure, his 627 yards and 7 TDs weren’t that bad for a developing third-year WR. Still, they were a far cry from the expectations generated from an off-the-rails hype train, and his WR36 finish, below Larry Fitzgerald and Cole Beasley, was highly disappointing.

But so many of Samuels’ struggles came at no fault of his own. His 62.6% catchable ball rate ranked 105th in the league, resulting in insane inefficiency that saw Samuel rank 9th in Air Yards (1542) but just 52nd in actual yardage (627).

If anything, Samuel was over used as a deep threat, which has many mistakenly concerned that he and Anderson are redundant and will constantly eat each other’s cheese.

Not so.

Labeled as a Percy Harvin type of hybrid as a prospect, RB-esque shiftiness and agility were rarely utilized, with the speedster ranking just 74th in YAC. Essentially, Samuel was a field-stretching decoy for QBs who couldn’t deliver the mail, but is capable of far more.

Given Brady’s propensity to craft around his players’ strengths, expect a far different, far more appropriate role for Samuel in 2020. Though not quite as accomplished as Moore, Samuel is faster and similarly versatile to line up in multiple spots, including the backfield.

Beyond more timely deep looks and YAC opportunities, Samuel’s dangerous Red Zone abilities will be capitalized on; he scored all 6 of his receiving TDs within 20 yards of the end zone, and again, Brady is a master of building around his players strengths.

With most owners sickened by his 2019, Samuel could come at an amazing discount in 2020, making him one of the best Post-Hype Bounceback candidate of 2020.

So what’s this leave for the new guy?

As mentioned, Brady’s offense could easily concoct enough volume for three very viable fantasy WRs — he certainly did at LSU. Moreover, Anderson definitely has the speed his play-caller craves, and the Rhule connection can’t be underestimated.

Yet, of all the weapons here, Anderson is a bit more “one trick pony” as a deep ball specialist. He certainly does this trick as well as any in the NFL: according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Anderson ranked third (16.5) and seventh (15.3) in average targeted air yards in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He has 11 career touchdowns of 30 yards or more, third-most in the NFL since 2016.

Still, this more one-dimensional style of play seems likely to place Anderson fourth on the target totem pole, behind McCaffrey, Moore, and Samuel. From a fantasy and definitely a volume perspective, Anderson’s ceiling could’ve been a lot higher with, say, the Eagles or Packers.

Indeed, the real life fit is still gorgeous. Anderson will be a coverage magnet that opens up the field immensely. He’ll also have his fair share of blow-ups, matching up with weaker competition than he’s ever faced before

We also can’t rule out Brady unlocking YAC skills we haven’t seen yet in Anderson, expanding his route tree more than ever before. Anderson still drips in upside here, and shouldn’t just be erased from your draft list because it’s not the ideal spot at first glance.

The $12 million price tag certainly suggests a highly-defined role. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to yield much different fantasy results than we’ve become accustomed to: many explosions, with just as many disappearances, and a headache to project which is coming next.

Summary: Reason to Love All Three

In a division featuring explosive offenses with minimal defense, shootouts are abound for the 2020 Panthers. Brady could truly be the next great offensive mind, and it’s fully possible all three of these wideouts blow up.

If drawing comparisons to Brady’s LSU WR weapons (and they’re far from perfect), Moore seems to bring the physicality of Jefferson, Samuel the shiftiness and speed of Chase, and Anderson the field stretching, Red Zone presence of Marshall, all while McCaffrey feasts out of the backfield and out wide like Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Thus, all three WRs are high-upside fantasy picks. Moore comes with the highest floor, and is worthy of an early third (my WR11, 29 OVR). Samuel projects as a high upside 7th-8th Rounder (WR38, 87 OVR), and Anderson not too far behind (WR43, 100 OVR). Don’t be shocked if all three exceed those price tags.

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