Fourth in a series
The biggest question for the Panthers surrounds offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and whether he's able to land a head-coaching job this offseason. If he does depart, the value of Carolina's skill-position players will take a hit if there's a new offense to learn. If Chudzinski isn't back, I can see head coach Ron Rivera bringing in a coordinator with a similar style to keep the growth going with as minimal a setback as possible.
QB Cam Newton: Will he suffer a sophomore slump or continue to improve?
The big fear is Newton suffering the dreaded sophomore slump. There's a season of film on him but his agility, size — at 6-5, 248 pounds — and the strength of his legs to extend the play and use them as a weapon always gives players like him greater fantasy value. Just look at other quarterbacks with agility, such as Michael Vick, Steve Young and even Tim Tebow.
Newton ended the season with an average of 253.2 passing yards, 1.3 TDs and 1.1 interceptions in 16 games but it was his legs that made the difference. He averaged 7.9 attempts for 44.1 yards and 0.9 TDs. He scored 2.2 TDs per game and ended with 35 total.
He'll be a top-tier fantasy QB, but watch to see what happens to Chudzinski, and if the coach does leave, who replaces him.
RB DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart: What should we expect to see?
Williams has a $43 million contract with $21 million guaranteed and Stewart has a five-year, $14 million contract with $10.8 million guaranteed so look for both players to return. If I were Stewart, I would probably be a bit upset at the pay difference. Stewart gained 73.4 yards from scrimmage per game with five total TDs to Williams' 60.7 yards from scrimmage per game and seven total TDs. These numbers reflect quality use by the team but a nightmare for fantasy owners. This will continue making both players flex-position players with only injury giving either player greater value.
WR Steve Smith: Can he post another season like 2011?
Smith had his best season since 2008, averaging 4.9 catches for 87.1 yards and 0.4 TDs on 8.1 targets per game. That comes out to 1,394 and seven TDs on 129 targets, making him one of the more productive WRs in the league. He'll be 33 years old next season but takes great care of himself and has the mental capacity to succeed on this level. His speed as a deep threat could slow a step, but with QB Cam Newton entering his second year in the same offense and able to extend the play, Smith will still have low-end No. 1 fantasy value.