The Carolina Panthers hit the reset button on the Matt Rhule experiment and completely cleaned house after the season, hiring Frank Reich to steer the ship.
Following a trade to the wide receiver DJ Moore and a load of picks to Chicago for the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Carolina’s command the board and will select their preferred quarterback of the future. In the short term, veteran Andy Dalton was added to help mentor and/or fill the gap.
That alone points to a strong emphasis on the ground game, as if Reich’s track record wasn’t a good enough source. Insert Sanders as the primary ball carrier, whereas third-year back Chuba Hubbard could see time as a spell but hasn’t shown enough to believe he will massively cut into Sanders’ share.
Prior to a 2022 breakout that saw the Penn State alum score the 15th-most PPR points on the strength of 1,269 rushing yards and 11 scores, Sanders had not topped 870 yards or six TDs in any season of his pro career. Since his 2019 rookie season, when he caught 50 passes, Sanders has not been targeted much the last three seasons. Securing no more than 28 grabs in any of those years is not indicative of his actual skills in this area of the game.
The system familiarity will be a strength for Sanders as the expected design is awfully close to what he knows from his first four years. The variations are nuanced, but the general themes will remain with Reich opting to call plays over coordinator Thomas Brown.
Fantasy football outlook
Carolina’s offensive line is pretty solid, and the sheer volume we’ll see from Sanders puts him into the RB2 conversation. Make no mistake, however, his fantasy results will regress from last year. A more prudent assessment puts Sanders in the No. 3 to flex range, and his injury history cannot be overlooked.
Working more against him in Carolina is the lack of an explosive offense around him to keep defenses honest. The Panthers obviously will draft help at wide receiver, and they probably aren’t done yet in free agency, but the leap of faith in the Year 1 quarterback-to-receiver relationship for productivity is one we’re not thrilled to make.
The lack of receiving targets at present time means we could see Sanders gain an uptick in aerial work, and that wild card could prove to be the difference between being a third fantasy back and a top-24 producer.