2013 Team Outlook: Carolina Panthers
WR Steve Smith, BAL - Solid/Safe Pick
Before the arrival of Cam Newton, it appeared that Steve Smith would go gently into that good night. Now, even at age 34, he is a reliable and relatively safe choice as a WR2. Carolina and most fantasy owners for that matter are waiting on Brandon LaFell to emerge as more than just an afterthought. This allows Smith to receive a ton of targets from Newton with only Greg Olsen as a direct competitor for production. Smith makes for an even better WR3 or possibly a flex option if he falls far enough. Given fantasy owners' propensity to seek out the next best thing, this former Utah alum is a safe bet.
UPDATE (11/4): Smith has seem to hit the wall. His numbers haven't dramatically declined; however, he has not yet tallied 100-plus yards or even more than six receptions in a single game. Fantasy owners can plug him in just about every week as a WR3 without hesitation despite the lack of any big games. It seems Smith's age has finally caught up to him, even if only slightly.
WR Ted Ginn Jr., ARI - Not Draft Worthy
The former No. 9 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft says he can still play wide receiver. Well the 49ers were paper thin at receiver even before Michael Crabtree's injury and felt differently about that. Ted Ginn hasn't caught more than 20 passes since 2009. The speed and straight line speed are still relatively intact, but the fluidity and grace to be a full-time route runner appear to be long gone. Cam Newton will probably connect with Ginn on a couple deep routes, but there have been no recent signs that this seven-year vet can contribute to your fantasy squad.
UPDATE (11/4): Your likely extremely low expectations of Ginn have already been outpaced. With Carlina, he is producing his best receiving totals since he left Miami back in 2009. With perfect lineup management, Ginn can fit in as a WR3 or flex. Beyond that kind of clairvoyance, the former Ohio State receiver isn't a regular fantasy contributor.
WR Brandon LaFell, NE - Sleeper (undervalued)
When the Panthers selected Brandon LaFell in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, they likely knew then that he was a possession receiver with the frame and length to potentially blossom into an Anquan Boldin type player. So far, LaFell hasn't lived up to those expectations, but the talent is there. This will be his fourth season and year after year, many fantasy analysts will suggest that LaFell has breakout potential. That might be a stretch as the window of bigger upside appears to have nearly closed. The former LSU receiver does not see enough targets (76 a year ago) to have a realistic opportunity at fantasy stardom. If that number at least approaches 100, which would be a significant increase in a single year, then LaFell would be worth more than a late flier. For now, he is best left untouched except for very deep leagues.
UPDATE (11/4): As one might expect, there have been brief shimmers of talent. The majority of his playing time has been spent underwhelming the fantasy masses. With the season now half over, LaFell is on pace to slightly improve upon his season-bests which is great for him. It just doesn't offer much to our fantasy contests. He is a bench player on his good days.
WR Domenik Hixon, FA - Not Draft Worthy
When the New York Giants added Rueben Randle in the 2012 NFL Draft, the writing was on the wall for Domenick Hixon. The eighth year veteran will now be competing to secure the No. 3 spot in Carolina. Hixon did show some signs of promise when injuries beset guys like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Unfortunately, Carolina doesn't have the same history of producing more than one productive fantasy wide receiver. Hixon shouldn't be under consideration for a fantasy spot.
TE Greg Olsen, CAR - Stud (low risk)
If you missed out on Jimmy Graham, it may be best to wait for Greg Olsen. The former Miami Hurricanes stud is essentially the No. 2 wide receiver in Charlotte. He should finish close behind Steve Smith in targets, receptions and most of the other receiving stats. A year ago he caught a career-high 69 receptions on 104 targets for 843 yards and five TDs. Assuming Cam Newton continues to develop and grow as a quarterback, Olsen's numbers should continue to trend upward.
UPDATE (11/4): Olsen's strong grip on the No. 2 fantasy receiver role in Carolina is tenuous at best. He's been missing out on targets typically designated for him as they head to DeAngelo Williams, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn. He has scored two TDs in his last two games though and this has helped his point totals recover. Olsen is a low TE1, so use him as such.
TE Ben Hartsock, FA - Not Draft Worthy
Who is Ben Hartsock, you ask? You mean, THE Ben Hartsock. This former Ohio State wunderkind has two touchdowns in his ten-year career. He even caught two receptions last season. If you need to remain completely anonymous, assume Hartsock's identity. No one will know the difference!