2013 Outlook: Newton's numbers decreased in '12, but he made progress. He was a better intermediate thrower, and made fewer passing mistakes. But if you're drafting the big guy to be your fantasy starter, you care less about his passing and more about those juicy rushing yards and TDs. You won't be disappointed. Now, Newton was actually more effective in the season's second half, when the Panthers deemphasized read-option runs. Yet Cam still was solid with his legs from Week 9 forward, averaging 7.7 fantasy points per game from rushing alone. And the great thing about Newton is he comes with fewer health worries than your typical running QB, because of his size. Without fail, he should deliver 600-plus rush yards and eight-plus rush TDs.
2013 Outlook: Smith will be 34 this season, but he's still among the fastest and most furious WRs in the game. He's always been the exception to a rule about receiver size: Most 5-foot-9, 185-pound wideouts can't get off the line against NFL cornerbacks and need to play from the slot, but in '12 Smith ran just 50 of his 572 routes from inside. Alas, the Panthers haven't had a complementary wideout eclipse 677 yards receiving since '08, which is hard to believe given how much safety help Smith attracts. That can lead to month-long droughts for Smith, especially in a season like last year where TDs were few and far between. Another 1,000-yard campaign is likely. Elite-level production probably isn't.
2013 Outlook: There are too many mouths to feed in the Carolina backfield. Now that the Panthers have renegotiated with DeAngelo Williams, the talented Stewart, who's coming off left ankle surgery but is still only 25, continues to be blocked. The team still has a four-way backfield consisting of Stewart, Williams, Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert, which means there's just not enough work available to make any of them starting fantasy RBs, especially because Newton and Tolbert dominate goal-line touches. And that's a shame, because Stew Beef averaged 5.4 yards per carry as recently as '11.
2013 Outlook: Olsen set career-high single-season marks in receptions and yardage in '12, essentially serving as Cam Newton's No. 2 receiver and operating out of the slot on about two-thirds of his routes. He's mammoth and faster than most inside linebackers, which helps him get open down the seam, but despite seeing the sixth-most targets among TEs last year, Olsen posted only one 100-yard game. Plus in an offense where Newton and Mike Tolbert dominate in goal-to-go situations, Olsen only saw five end-zone targets last year, and caught one of them. In a deeper league, we view Olsen as a steady late-round starter at TE. But in standard leagues, he's best-suited to be a reliable backup.
2013 Outlook: How bad was former Panthers GM Marty Hurney's strategy when it came to running backs? Williams and Jonathan Stewart have had the primes of their careers ruined by the world's most frustrating platoon, to say nothing of Mike Tolbert's presence on this roster. If Carolina could have economically cut D-Willy they would have, but instead they renegotiated with him this summer, so the entire band is coming back in '13. You know what that means. There might be games when Williams goes loopy, as he did rushing for 210 yards in Week 17 last year. But those efforts will be few and far between.
2013 Outlook: This veteran vulture got eight carries inside an opponent's 3 last year and converted seven into touchdowns. Believe it or not, Tolbert has more TDs since '10 (28) than Frank Gore, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte. At 245 pounds in an offense that also features Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, "short-yardage hammer" is just about the only role in which Tolbert will get carries. Plus with Cam Newton under center, you never know when those bunny TDs will be taken away. Still, Tolbert has scored at least seven TDs in three straight seasons. He can steal you a week as a deep-league fantasy fill-in.
2013 Outlook: LaFell had a nice year in his first go-round as a starter opposite Steve Smith, but his production still hasn't caught up with his physical gifts. He's a big kid with decent speed and good hands, but in three pro seasons he's still only topped out at 44 catches. LaFell ran two-thirds of his routes out of the slot last year, which may be part of the problem: Greg Olsen has a similar slot workload, and the middle of the field can get crowded in this Panthers offense. We'd be intrigued with LaFell if he transforms into more of an outside guy.
2013 Outlook: Hixon regularly received sleeper hype during his time with the Giants, but never caught more than 43 passes in a season. New Panthers GM Dave Gettleman hails from the Giants' front office and brought Hixon along with him to Carolina, which could lend credence to a decent-sized role for Hixon in '13. But we don't believe he's at the same level as No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell, which means Hixon would probably occupy the No. 3 role. In an offense that scored 21 TDs on the ground and 19 via the air last year, such a role isn't exciting for fantasy.
2013 Outlook: The Panthers have the beginnings of a strong defensive core. Charles Johnson had 12.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles last year, Greg Hardy broke out with 11 sacks and was terrific against the run, and Luke Kuechly led the league in tackles as a rookie. But the supporting cast is full of questions. Chris Gamble retired leaving behind a rogue's gallery of mediocre corners. The safeties, Charles Godfrey and Haruki Nakamura, aren't any better. We're hopeful that rookie DT Star Lotuleilei can be a difference-making run stuffer in the middle, but this defense must prove it before you should consider them.
2013 Outlook: Gano, the former Redskins whipping boy, jumped onto the Panthers roster after the team had seen enough of Justin Medlock last November. In the season's final six games, Gano converted 9-of-11 field-goal attempts. But we recall those tormented years in D.C., when the big-legged Gano was a special-teams boon on kickoffs, but couldn't hit the broad side of a barn when it came to the uprights. Assuming he keeps the job into September, he's got a promising young offense behind him. But we're skeptical that at age 26 Gano has finally found accuracy.