The surrounding talent is clearly a downgrade, but does Miles Sanders’ move from Philly to Carolina mean that much of a hit to his 2023 fantasy value?
Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer made a formidable Les Snead impression when he said “F**k them picks” and traded picks 9, 61, their 2024 1st, 2025 2nd, and receiver DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears to acquire this year’s number one pick, leaving no chance that they’ll lose out on their choice at quarterback.
At first glance, it’s hard to see the Panthers give up a haul of picks and its alpha wide receiver and not think that an already mediocre squad will be cellar dwellers for 2023 and possibly beyond.
And they still may be. To this point of free agency, the team signed Adam Thielen and DJ Chark to replace DJ Moore…meh. 33-year-old Thielen’s production has declined since 2018, and Chark hasn’t surpassed 54 yards receiving per game since 2019. They also brought in Hayden Hurst, who during his five years has topped out at 56 catches for 571 yards and six scores with the Falcons in 2020. Also, pretty meh.
The buzz around the 2023 draft class of quarterbacks has cooled off since last season and although the Panthers will get their guy (CJ Stroud is the current favorite), there doesn’t appear to be an Andrew Luck or Trevor Lawrence in this class.
THINGS MAY NOT BE AS BAD AS THEY MIGHT SEEM
Now, I’m not as optimistic (or, delusional?) as others about Carolina’s future…
…but all things considered, Miles Sanders hasn’t doomed himself to fantasy mediocrity by signing on with the Panthers.
THE CURRENT DRAFT PICK SITUATION
Despite giving away four picks in the first two rounds over the next two seasons, Carolina still has at least one pick in each of the first five rounds in 2023 (including two fourth-rounders), and one in each of rounds two through six in 2024 (including two fifth-rounders). You can largely thank the Christian McCaffrey trade to San Francisco for that.
STATE OF THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Sanders will notice a clear downgrade at the offensive line. However, the Panthers’ offensive line improved throughout the season and it has some young talent to build around.
The Eagles sported a top-five o-line, including two first-place rankings by PFF in 2019 and 2022. Philly’s line was so ravaged by injuries that year that it speaks to their overall strength that they were even able to salvage a 19th-place ranking. That said, Sanders was still able to put together 5.3 yards-per-carry that season, the second-best of his career, on his way to an impressive 5.0 YPC during his whole NFL tenure so far.
The Panthers’ O-line began near the bottom of the league (31st) but worked its way up toward the middle of the pack (as high as 11th and finished 14th) by the season’s end. Most relevant here, Carolina had the fifth-best rushing attack during its final 12 games, including the 11 games after the McCaffrey trade.
FAMILIAR COACHES AND COACHING SCHEME
New head coach Frank Reich has established himself as a run-heavy schemer utilizing his primary running back in a workhorse role, no matter the game script. His teams have been top-10 in carries and run rate his past three full coaching seasons, with either Jonathan Taylor or Marlon Mack as his workhorse, seeing an average of 17.5 carries per game.
Under Nick Sirianni, Sanders only saw 2.1 targets per game in 2021 and ’22. But in ’19 and ’20 under Doug Pederson, with Duce Staley on staff as running backs coach, that number was 4.1. Now, Sanders reunites with Staley, who he views as a father figure, and with that kind of connection they can hit the ground running compared to most instances where new players and coaches are working with each other for the first time.
“Miles is a tremendous back,” former Eagles OC and new Colts HC Shane Steichen said. “Great pickup for Carolina. I know he’s going to do good things there.”
Combined with Reich’s belief that Miles is a three-down guy, and Sanders’ four-year, $25 million deal to help back up that belief, we may have the most critical factor when considering a player’s fantasy value: volume.
BUT WHAT IF THE PANTHERS ARE ATROCIOUS?
There is a belief that you generally tend to want running backs on good teams, and wide receivers on teams with bad defenses, for obvious reasons. This article from Fantasy Index looked to fact-check that narrative using primary backs from 2001-2021 who were on teams that won three games or less.
Of the 46 backs in that list, 26 finished as at least a PPR RB2, with eight of those 26 as RB1s. They averaged out with 267.1 yards receiving and 5.4 total touchdowns, and an RB26 finish. Eleven of them had 1,000-yard rushing seasons, granted four of them were from the beast that was Steven Jackson.
If Reich wants to give Sanders roughly 17.5 carries per game, he would only need 3.42 yards-per-carry to reach the 1,000-yard mark, and Sanders’ lowest YPC in his career so far has been 4.6. So, this is definitely attainable. Give me the 25.2 receiving yards per game and 2.8 catches per game during his days with Staley to make it 47 catches for 428 yards for the year. Tack on five total touchdowns, and a middling 4.0 yards-per-carry to make it 1,190 yards rushing, and we’re at 229.8 PPR fantasy points, 13.52 points-per-game, good for the RB17 rate in 2022, between D’Andre Swift and Kenneth Walker. That sounds like a solid middle ground to me.
CONCERNING THE DEFENSE
Defensively, the Panthers were similar to the team as a whole, mediocre, but not terrible. They finished 18th in rushing yards per game, 22nd in passing yards per game, and 19th in points per game. Free agent signings Vonn Bell and Shy Tuttle could help improve that unit, and so could be bringing in Ejiro Evero from the Broncos, whose work as defensive coordinator there saw top-half finishes in defensive categories across the board last season.
So despite starting over at quarterback again, and now at receiver as well, Carolina is not necessarily a lock to be terrible in 2023 and even if they end up that way, Miles Sanders is not doomed for a significant drop-off in fantasy production.
Entering his age-26 season, he’s at a point where running backs typically peak before declining in subsequent seasons. But, he hasn’t been overworked, not seeing over 179 carries in a year until last season.
“Miles is an excellent running back,” Former Eagles HC and current Jaguars HC Doug Pederson said. “He’s still got a lot of tread on the tires, so to speak, and I thought it was a good decision for Frank to get somebody like Miles in there — a veteran running back.
He’s a sneaky dynasty buy-low for contenders and someone who could drop down redraft boards in leagues where people are overly concerned with Sanders’ new surrounding talent situation.
The Wolf currently ranks Sanders as his RB27. The offseason is young, so stay tuned to any and all the adjustments all the way up until the Week 1 kickoff.