For most NFL teams, the offseason is a time of change, and in most cases, change brings either excitement, or resentment. For the Carolina, widespread organizational changes are bringing excitement about this team across North and South Carolina. Coming into the 2018 season with a new owner, new defensive coordinator, shiny new skill position players, and Super Bowl aspirations, the Panthers should be one of the most intriguing teams in the league in 2018.
For Panthers fans, the crux of this excitement is the departure of former offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who was replaced with the steely veteran Norv Turner. Turner has been at the helm of many successful offenses in his career, and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has described Turner as "Boogie approved." Like many Panthers fans, Panthers fans are both excited and nervous about the potential of a Norv Turner led offense. He has the tendency to push the ball downfield, and while the Panthers have the playmakers for that to be a successful strategy, they've lost two All-Pros from 2017's already weak offensive line with Andrew Norwell, signing a massive deal in free agency with the Jaguars and Darryl Williams going down with a Patella/MCL injury in the first day of padded practice, there's potential for Cam Newton to be running for his life behind what is turning into a makeshift line. However, if everything breaks right, I think this Panthers offense could look similar to a past Norv Turner offense, the 2008 San Diego Chargers. There aren't many exact comparisons between skill players, but there are some similarities between some of the Panthers offensive pieces and that Chargers team. While Norv Turner hasn't coached a top 15 offense since the 2011 Chargers, his teams in Cleveland and Minnesota weren't the most dynamic offenses talent-wise. I think with Cam Newton at quarterback, and young, speedy pieces as all of the skill positions, Turner has the potential to put together a darn good offense.
This article is the beginning of a position-by-position preview of the 2018 Carolina Panthers offense, and I'll be using the 2008 Chargers offense to guide my expectations for what this Panthers team will bring to the table in 2018.
In a recent interview, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said that he expects McCaffrey to touch the ball 25-30 times per game, which if you stick to the low end of Rivera's projection, would equal 400 touches for 2018. This is a little optimistic, and realistically McCaffrey will be touching the ball somewhere between 18-23 times a game, coming out to 320, a significant increase from 2017 where he finished with an average of 12.3 touches per game. In 2008, Tomlinson ended up with 374 touches (292 carries, 52 receptions). 374 touches is steep for someone as young and small (for a three-down running back) as McCaffrey, but it shows Turner's willingness to feed a talented back until the cows come home. With 80 receptions as a rookie, you would expect McCaffrey's receptions to increase if he's going to realistically touch the ball 320+ times.
I'm interested in seeing how Turner's offensive philosophy matches up with the skill-set McCaffrey possesses. McCaffrey has proven himself as a dynamic back who can line-up all over the field, and if the Panthers want him to accumulate 400 touches, he needs to catch the ball around 100 times this year. Matt Forte currently holds the single season record at 102, and it's possible there's a chance McCaffrey pushes the single season record if he stays healthy. Nobody questions McCaffrey's receiving chops, but it's tough to think the Panthers will let him carry the ball 200+ times this coming season. They brought in C.J. Anderson to take over the Jonathan Stewart role, and Anderson carried the ball almost 200 times by himself last season. Let's say McCaffrey ends the season with 175 carries, averages 3.5 YPC, and ends the year with 100 catches at 6.5 YPC. He would end the year with 275 touches and 1,263 yards, which would have ranked tenth in yards among running backs in 2017. It's not as many as Tomlinson in the 2008 season, a number which seems optimistic for McCaffrey, but if Turner and Rivera are on the same page with the amount of touches they want him to end up with, this projection may end up on the low end of his potential.
What does this mean for Anderson? If you add up the carries between Tomlinson and Sproles from the 2009 Chargers and subtract the 175 which McCaffrey will receive, this leaves 141 for Anderson. However, if the Turner takes a more run based approach similar to previous Panthers teams, Anderson could receive a similar number of carries to McCaffrey. A power run game is in Ron Rivera and the Panthers' DNA, and it's hard to think they'll shy away from such a strategy. Fantasy owners should hope for Anderson to carry the ball around 150 times, and work in tandem with McCaffrey to bring a thunder and lighting duo like the Panthers had in the past with Stephen Davis/Deshaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart. Both of these backs deserve to be rostered in all formats, and there's a chance we may see a special season for McCaffrey.
If you want to reach out to me, you can find me on Twitter at @Matt_Alquiza8 - I look forward to writing more about this Panthers team and what to expect fantasy wise from one of the most interesting offensive arsenals they've had in awhile.