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Strickly Panthers: Fantasy field day for Smith, Newton


Perhaps no one enjoyed wide receiver Steve Smith's scintillating performance Sunday more than the man who ranks second to Smith in terms of tenure with the Panthers.

"He was getting into it with the defensive guys, talking trash and doing celebration dances," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "That's what you want to see 89 doing. That's when he's his most dangerous.

"He looked like his old self."

It's interesting that Gross used the word "old" because that's a word that some have starting using in reference to Smith of late. On opening day of training camp, Smith himself even acknowledged it.

"Thirty-two is an age where people think you lose a step," Smith said. "Most of last year I played hurt, and I looked very slow at times."

Sunday, however, Smith quieted any doubters when he caught seven passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

"Haters need to get a new hobby because I'm not on their list anymore," Smith said.

Smith is back on another list: the list of top fantasy wide receivers.

In most fantasy football scoring formats, Smith was the top-scoring receiver in Week 1, coming off a year in which he scored two touchdowns the entire season. He no doubt spent Week 1 on many a fantasy bench, but he should return to many a starting lineup when the Panthers host the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.

Smith dropped crazy-low in some fantasy drafts, as some wondered whether he still possessed the skills that made him a fantasy phenom for much of the last decade. Some folks didn't doubt Smith but rather cast doubt on the Panthers' passing game as a whole.

That was certainly understandable going into the season. The Panthers threw for 35 fewer passing yards per game last year (143.1) than Smith amassed by himself Sunday, and they finished the season with just nine touchdown passes – both NFL lows.

With a rookie starting at quarterback, few fantasy owners believed a change was imminent, but Cam Newton sure changed that perception in a hurry. His 422 passing yards – with two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown – broke several rookie records, and in fantasy world it ranked him as the No. 2 quarterback for the week behind only Tom Brady.

The Panthers' passing game is off to a surprisingly fast start, but what does the immediate fantasy future hold for Newton, Smith and some other Panthers involved in the passing game? It is, of course, difficult to predict, but here are a few things to keep in mind.


On the fantasy platform, Newton is currently leading a poll asking which of four Week 1 surprises is most likely to continue his success. He was owned in less than one-third of fantasy leagues as of Tuesday, but that surely will change this week.

Considered a backup fantasy option at best by most rankings entering the season, Newton could work his way into being a viable starter. He's not going to throw for 400-plus yards every week, but he is going to run for more than 18 yards a lot of weeks. It's that unique dual-threat ability that had Michael Vick ranked ahead of Brady, Aaron Rodgers and the like in the preseason, with some even putting Vick at No. 1 overall – rare air indeed for quarterbacks.

What about Newton's receivers? Smith should remain the undisputed top option, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, he's obviously the Panthers' most proven wide receiver. He only caught one pass in the one preseason game where he saw extensive action but was targeted eight times. No one else had more than three targets.

In addition, Smith's greatest competition for targets - the Panthers' talented tight ends - form a dynamic duo on game day but get in each other's way in fantasy terms. If you combined the numbers posted by Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey on Sunday, it would have qualified as a top-10 tight end performance. Of course, that's not the way fantasy works.

Keep an eye on the situation, though. If one tight end emerges because of performance or injury, he could become a standout fantasy option.

The potency of the Panthers offense, from an on-field and fantasy perspective, still is to be determined. After Week 1, though, Smith is back on the radar and Newton has joined him.

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