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Ranking the Panthers’ Best and Worst-Case 2023 NFL Season Scenarios



The Carolina Panthers underwent a massive overhaul of their franchise this offseason. Now led by head coach Frank Reich and quarterback Bryce Young, the Panthers are going for broke with a completely new offense. Will the Panthers return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017?

Let’s dive into the best and worst-case scenarios for the Panthers’ 2023 season.

Predicting the Best-Case Scenario for the Panthers’ 2023 NFL Season

Setting expectations can be difficult when a team has a rookie quarterback and a new head coach. While a coach in his first year with a team has won the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award in four of the last six years, we’ve also seen four coaches fired after one season over the last two seasons.

Reich should be able to avoid a disastrous campaign in 2023 since he was the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach for five seasons and gained valuable experience along the way.

Carolina’s win total at DraftKings Sportsbook is 7.5, and they’re -260 to miss the playoffs. Even though the NFC South is weak, the Panthers are viewed as a mediocre team. It should help that the Panthers have the sixth-easiest schedule in the league.

The best-case scenario for the Panthers is to be very good. Reich was once one of the hottest head coaching candidates in the NFL for a reason, and he enjoyed solid success with the Colts despite dealing with bad quarterback play across his tenure. He had a top-10 scoring offense in three of his five seasons and a top-16 defense each year.

MORE: Carolina Panthers 2023 Schedule

All of the focus will be on Reich’s offense with Young. Though Andy Dalton will get first-team snaps, for now, Young’s time is coming. Both Reich and Dalton had ridiculously high praise for Young after Day 1 of OTAs, saying Young was already correcting his teammates on play calls.

If Young is capable of handling the offense sooner than later, and he settles into a scheme that properly balances his ability to deliver accurate passes outside of structure and protects his body, the offense can be better than their finish in 2022. Carolina was 20th in points scored last year — better than most would expect considering the atrocious quarterback play they saw all season — but was a run-heavy unit that no longer exists.

The decision to swap out DJ Moore at receiver for DJ Chark, Jonathan Mingo, and Adam Thielen will have to turn out favorably. If Chark stays healthy and Thielen has more left in the tank than it seemed in 2022, then the receiving corps has upside. Terrace Marshall Jr. and Mingo might define the unit’s ability to elevate Young from a decent rookie quarterback to a flat-out good quarterback, which is rare in Year 1.

The running game will look different but can still be quite effective. For as well as D’Onta Foreman played, Miles Sanders is a better fit for Reich’s zone offense. Getting Sanders 50 catches may not work out as well as the team hopes, but he’s a good player who can carry a solid ground attack.

MORE: Carolina Panthers 2023 Season Preview

Carolina’s defense will need to take a reasonable step forward in order to help the offense more than what they have. It’s a more talented unit than their results, so the addition of Ejiro Evero as defensive coordinator could be massive. Evero was fantastic with Denver, and he has playmakers at key positions to maximize.

Known stalwarts like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Shaq Thompson, and Jeremy Chinn must continue to be reliable studs and improve. But the defense’s best case can be immense if the other guys step up. Jaycee Horn has shown promise in limited playing time, and fellow defensive backs Vonn Bell, Xavier Woods, and Donte Jackson should round out an average or better unit.

More playmaking is a must, though. The rotation of Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes Sr., and DJ Johnson has to produce another legitimate sack artist, and Carolina can’t rank 27th in forced turnovers. They simply won’t be a decent defense with only 35 sacks and 10 interceptions.

If Young and his surrounding cast exceed expectations relative to the age of its featured core and the defense becomes more impactful, the Panthers can compete for an NFC South crown with New Orleans. Nine wins will take a lot, but this can be an average team that wins with timely playmaking and by catching others off guard.

Frank Reich speaks at his introductory press conference.

Predicting the Worst-Case Scenario for the Panthers’ 2023 NFL Season

The risk that goes along with taking a quarterback who is laughably small in photos when he’s standing next to any other NFL player is immense. Young was incredibly productive at Alabama, and Carolina has been extremely clear that his intellect sold the organization on taking him despite his size concerns.

It’s possible that Young can stay healthy and be a good starter despite his minuscule frame, average arm strength, and reliance on breaking out of the pocket to make plays, but it’s also possible Young really struggles like most rookies do.

If Young suffers a major injury or continues struggling with anticipation as he did through much of 2022 at Alabama, and if his receiving corps doesn’t play to its upside, the Panthers’ offense will slog. There’s a lot that can go wrong and quickly put the Panthers’ worst-case to fear.

Though Chark has been excellent when he’s healthy and on the field, he’s missed 19 games over the last two years. Thielen looked absolutely done in 2022, and for as smart as Young is, his film was littered with missed pre-snap cues and late throws. The best player you can give him is the opposite of Thielen since he no longer separates quickly.

MORE: Best NFL Offenses | Best NFL Defenses

If Marshall and Mingo aren’t ready to make an impact and if Chark suffers any physical setback, the Panthers lack the explosiveness to help Young. Hayden Hurst is as milquetoast as any starting tight end can be. Sanders was quite good in Philadelphia, but the Eagles had no qualms about letting him walk, and maybe he’s not nearly as effective when he’s not behind their elite line.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” but Carolina’s banking on risky players who were considered expendable from their previous situations for good reasons.

The Panthers’ defense is largely banking on internal improvement and Evero’s impact. There’s a decent floor with the unit as long as they’re not ravaged by unpredictable injuries. The secondary, at worst, should be competent, even if they’re not a playmaking bunch.

But if the front seven can’t create enough pressure to help goad quarterbacks into turnover-worthy throws, the defense can’t help the offense with favorable field position. The worst case is it’s a below-average unit that simply wasn’t impactful. That could lead to a massive overhaul next offseason, but we can confidently say that side of the ball needs more investment in it anyway.

The worst-case is Young is a bad rookie quarterback, even if he won’t be as bad as Zach Wilson was. Young will be the team’s starter next year, barring injury, because they don’t have a first-round pick in 2024 after trading up for him, so there’s no controversy coming.

But if Young struggles mightily or is injured enough to cast doubt on his durability, the Panthers could finish this season lacking any long-term certainty at several key offensive and defensive positions.

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Players To Target Include Alexander Mattison, Jordan Addison, Adam Thielen, and Others




Kirk Cousins has been nothing short of royalty this season. He is the focal point of the Week 4 Minnesota Vikings fantasy football preview, while the passing game is the driving force behind what I’m interested in regarding the Carolina Panthers’ fantasy outlook.

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Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers

  • Spread: Vikings -3.5
  • Total: 45
  • Vikings implied points: 24.3
  • Panthers implied points: 20.8


Kirk Cousins: Fantasy’s top-ranked quarterback through three weeks is on an absolute tear, and it doesn’t look that crazy; he’s simply maximizing the tools at his disposal. In the Week 3 loss, half of his targets went to Justin Jefferson or T.J. Hockenson — that’s just smart football.

With Jordan Addison or K.J. Osborn turning in a splash play every week, the weapons on this roster, combined with the defensive limitations, put Cousins in a fantasy-friendly position more often than not.

I don’t think the Carolina Panthers (425 yards allowed to the Seattle Seahawks last week) are what slows this offense down, though I do have my concerns about the Carolina offense pushing Minnesota the way the Los Angeles Chargers did last week.

No, I don’t think Cousins throws for over 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns like his September pace would suggest, but I do think he is a top-10 option until something changes.

Andy Dalton: With Bryce Young sidelined last week, the Panthers elected to open up the playbook — and guess what? It worked. Well, sort of. They held a halftime lead as a 4.5-point underdog in Seattle and flirted with 400 yards of total offense when all was said and done.

Sure, they lost by 10 points, but it certainly wasn’t the fault of the offense, and it’s not crazy to think something similar could happen again this week. Dalton had 20 more completions than the Panthers had rushing attempts, something that simply was never going to happen with how this offense was operating with Young at the helm.

We will get to what this offense could look like when Young returns when the time comes, but with Dalton penciled in, it’s clear that this coaching staff is comfortable airing it out. I find it unlikely that he will repeat his QB7 finish from Week 3, but a top-15 effort is very possible and a great find for Superflex managers or DFS risk-takers.

Running Backs

Alexander Mattison: He’s still seeing north of 80% of the RB work in Minnesota, and until I see that change with my own two eyes, Mattison will be ranked as an RB2 for me. He set season highs in carries (20), catches (five), targets (seven), and scrimmage yards (125) last weekend in the crazy loss to the Chargers, flashing a usage level that only a handful of backs can claim.

His productive day could have been even better if not for a dropped red zone pass that could have turned into a touchdown with one missed tackle. The addition of Cam Akers looks like a depth move more than one of true competition to me.

That’s my view from a distance, given the draft capital spent and the limited success of Akers in Week 1 with the Los Angeles Rams (22 carries for 29 yards).

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Could I be wrong? Of course. It wouldn’t be the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last, but until I have a tangible reason to fear Akers, I refuse to do so. In a spot like this or in the Week 4 Cheat Sheet.

Cam Akers: Follow the money. It may be cliche, but in a world where we often have to react to how a team uses a player to inform us what they think of him, the cost associated with acquiring a player is as good a sign of what the team anticipates that player to offer as anything.

Akers was acquired from the Rams last week, along with a 2027 seventh-round pick for a 2026 sixth-rounder. At that cost, the Vikings are not committed to making Akers work. They identified an underpriced asset and took a shot. Akers should be on the field and get some work in his Vikings debut, but he’s nothing more than roster depth until proven otherwise.

Miles Sanders: Carolina’s feature back has seen both his touch count and his yards per carry decline each week this season, obviously ominous trends. While those numbers are moving in the wrong direction, he is still the clear-cut option in this backfield and on a 68-catch pace.

He’s no different than a guy like James Conner: limited per-touch upside in a bad offense but a secure role that carries a reasonable floor. I’m not telling you Sanders will win you this week or a title this season, but I’d be surprised if he let you down in such a way that neither was possible. He’s right back in that RB16-20 range for me this week.

Wide Receivers

Justin Jefferson: What do you want me to say about this guy? Even in a week where he barely catches half of his targets, he turned around and gave you 24.4 half-PPR fantasy points, highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown where he showed route-running expertise in dismantling the Chargers’ zone coverage.

MORE: PFN Consensus Rankings

With 117 yards this week, he will bump his career per-game average to 100 yards. How crazy is that? For most receivers, 100 yards is a benchmark that deserves recognition. For Jefferson, it’s just another day at the office.

Jordan Addison: Was Week 3 a turning point? I’m not making an overly aggressive ranking move yet, but it is possible that in two months, we look back and circle Week 3 as the beginning of a serious run.

Yes, Addison scored in each of the first two weeks and didn’t in Week 3, but he finally out-earned K.J. Osborn in a significant way (eight targets to three), potentially signaling the earning of a role. We will see if the WR2 role is truly his moving forward (a role I have a top-25 spot in my WR ranks reserved for should an option emerge). I have him ranked as a low-end WR3 this week and am ready to move him up should we get reports of a role upgrade.

K.J. Osborn: His 36-yard touchdown featured a perfectly timed dive to the pylon, but it was his only reception of Week 3 (three targets). We’ve seen a secondary Viking receiver haul in a 30+-yard touchdown in all three games this season, and as long as Osborn’s name is in that mix, he deserves to be rostered.

I do think Addison wins this role, but I acknowledge that it is still a competition. Osborn is on the outside looking in at my top 45 at the position as I am reading more into the low usage from last week than the singular big play.

Adam Thielen: The veteran receiver has posted consecutive top-20 finishes and has hauled in 80% of his passes this season. The veteran is a proven touchdown maker, so if we get to blend efficiency and volume with that profile, we might be onto something. Assuming Dalton is under center, and thus the entire playbook is available, Thielen makes for a decent Flex play in PPR formats.

If you’ve made it this far, first of all, thank you. Thank you to the editors for the patience it takes to get to this point and to you, the reader, for listening to me ramble about fake football in a long form. I’ll reward you the only way I know how to: with a quirky stat!

Since 2019, one of every 6.9 Thielen catches has resulted in a TD. Let’s put some context on that. We are talking about the same rate as Randy Moss’ first five seasons and better than Calvin Johnson’s first five (7.5). Thank you again for your loyalty in reading this piece: now take that nugget to your Week 4 watch party and be the star of the event!

DJ Chark Jr.: Big receivers who see targets in bulk are a reasonable roll of the dice in a pinch, and the 6’3” Chark seeing 11 targets last week certainly has me interested.

The opportunity is more likely than not to dry up when Young returns, but if you’re chasing upside without any concern for downside (DFS GPP, an undermanned team in a survivor format, etc.), you could do worse (career: 14.5 yards per catch).

Jonathan Mingo: A concussion limited him to just 18 routes last week, and if you’re playing in an ultra-deep league, Terrace Marshall Jr. was the fill-in option. Neither is worth a look in most leagues, but if you want a cheap piece of this game for DFS, there’s your depth chart update.

Tight Ends

T.J. Hockenson: The fact that he averages 7.8 yards per catch isn’t great for his ceiling, but are you chasing a ceiling? No. No, you’re not. You want him to be consistent and to give you an edge on 90% of your league at the tight end position.

He’s doing just that. He is currently pacing for 130 receptions, and while I don’t think he gets there, the fact that you can lock him in for 10 points per game is unbelievably valuable at the tight end position.

Hayden Hurst: From a process standpoint, Hurst deserves a mention. He doesn’t carry much upside, but considering that he ran a route on 81.3% of his snaps in Week 3, he’s on my list of punt TE plays for Week 4.

Should You Start Jordan Addison or Garrett Wilson?

It was Osborn with the score last week, but as mentioned above, it was Addison filling the WR2 role in a significant way. That has me optimistic about his outlook for both this week and moving forward.

I can’t say that about Wilson and a Jets offense that is stuck in the mud. He is always going to carry elite, one-play upside, though this team is clearly having a hard time capitalizing on it. If I can bet against the Jets’ offense, I will, and getting to do so with the league’s leading passer makes this an easy call.

Should You Start Adam Thielen or Rashid Shaheed?

Benching Thielen for Shaheed after two different Week 3 performances may sound crazy, but that’s fantasy. Last week is in the past, and for this week, Shaheed takes on a poor pass defense with an aggressive quarterback.

Meanwhile, Thielen’s offense could go back into a shell with Bryce Young back under center.

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Why Did AD Mitchell Transfer? Explaining the WR’s Decision To Leave Georgia for Texas




Adonai (AD) Mitchell is one of the most explosive playmakers in college football. The junior wide receiver plays for the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Conference. He transferred from Georgia in 2022, where he was a contributor for two seasons. Mitchell is known best for catching four touchdowns in four College Football Playoff games for the Bulldogs.

But why did the future NFL Draft prospect transfer? And what was his reasoning behind his decision?

Why AD Mitchell Transfer From Georgia

Mitchell started 12 out of 15 games for the Bulldogs in 2021, catching touchdowns in both the playoff semifinal and championship games, and helped the team win their first title since 1980.

Although sidelined by an ankle injury for most of the 2022 season, Mitchell returned in time for the playoffs and caught touchdowns in both games, helping Georgia win back-to-back titles.

Shortly after winning the championship game against TCU, Mitchell transferred schools with his two-year-old daughter, Icylinn, in mind.

In less than a fortnight, he declared his plans to go to Texas. While he could have remained in Athens and basked in the applause as a Bulldog, he returned to Texas due to family reasons. Mitchell had spent most of his high school football career in Missouri City, Texas — close to Houston — until he relocated to Tennessee before his final year.

He closed the 900-mile distance to reunite with his family and join the explosive Longhorns offense. Being a draft-eligible junior made it an important decision.

Mitchell’s transfer announcement on social media included a photo of himself with Icylinn in his lap. She was holding a football, and both were dressed in Longhorns gear.

Now, instead of just FaceTime calls with his daughter, Mitchell can jump in the car for a two-hour drive for visits, which Norman Mitchell said happened often during the offseason.

“That’s honestly been the best part,” Mitchell said when asked about coming home to family. “When I was away, you know, I didn’t get that. I didn’t get that time with my mom. I didn’t get that time with my family and, most of all, my daughter.”

Mitchell joined a Texas team that was already well-stocked with receivers. His coaches were aware of his abilities, and Mitchell quickly sparked excitement among fans with an impressive one-handed catch during the spring game. He quickly brought that same energy on the field, racking up 78 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in Week 2.

“He’s been in the fire, has been in the big games with big plays,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He brings instant credibility and backs it up.”

MORE: FREE Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

Standing 6’4″ with blazing speed, Mitchell is a legitimate home-run threat. But he is also a precise route-runner, able to line up inside and outside and attack both in the vertical passing and quick games.

Mitchell is incredibly gifted, and he’s made his way into our 2024 NFL Draft big board as a top-100 talent. He could make his way into the first round due to his unique blend of size and speed.

Ian Valentino is a Fantasy and Betting Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Ian’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy.

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What We Know About the Colorado Safety




Colorado Buffaloes safety Shilo Sanders, son of head coach Deion Sanders, has been dealing with an unknown, undisclosed injury that has left his status up in the air against USC in Week 5. Will Sanders play this week, and if not, when will he return to action?

Shilo Sanders Injury Update

Sanders has been downgraded to doubtful to play against the eighth-ranked USC Trojans on Saturday, per Pete Thamel of ESPN. Sanders didn’t practice this week after being taken to the emergency room following last week’s loss against Oregon. The senior safety told Well Off Media he was urinating blood due to a kidney injury.

“I can’t say I didn’t play hard. I’m peeing blood right now,” Sanders said after getting off the plane. “I made a tackle, and I landed on my kidney or something. I got to go to the ER to get checked.”

Sanders was marked as questionable to play throughout the week, but on Saturday, it was revealed that he was not expected to play. Rodrick Ward is expected to start in his place.

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Colorado already was at a major talent disadvantage in this game. Star receiver and cornerback Travis Hunter is out with his own lacerated kidney, and USC is one of the most powerful offenses in the nation. Losing Sanders further complicates things for a team that ranks 111th in passing defense.

Sanders has racked up 26 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble in 2023. Previously an unheralded defender, the 6’0″, 195-pounder began his career at South Carolina before transferring to Jackson State when his father took the head coaching job. Sanders followed his father and his brother, Shedeur Sanders, to Colorado.

Shilo has emerged as a potential 2024 NFL Draft prospect in his own right. He has another year of eligibility, so there’s no guarantee he’ll come out this year.

We’ll continue to update this article as new information emerges.

Ian Valentino is a Fantasy and Betting Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Ian’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy.

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List to the PFN Scouting Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Scouting Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Scouting Podcast on our Scouting YouTube channel.

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