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Strickly Panthers: Fantasy steals


One of the keys to success in any fantasy football draft is to seek out value, to locate players that drop well below where they're forecast to be selected and snatch them up.

But just ask any fantasy owner that "stole" Colts quarterback Peyton Manning when he fell to the fourth round because of his injury concern what they think about value.

The true values of the 2011 season have clearly emerged as fantasy teams embark on their playoff push, and the Panthers can stake claim to arguably the two biggest steals of the season.

When Carolina quarterback Cam Newton went in the 10th round of a friend's draft, the mocking so synonymous with draft day began. It wasn't meant as a knock on Newton but rather a questioning of his value at that point for an owner who had spent his first-round choice on Drew Brees in a draft that still had proven performers like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco on the board.

No one is mocking now.

Earlier in the 10th round, an owner finally pulled the trigger on a perennial favorite that had recently fallen out of fantasy favor: Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. The receiver picks leading up to Smith's selection included the likes of Nate Burleson, Jacoby Ford and Mike Sims-Walker.

No one was doubting Smith's clearly proven ability when passing on him. Rather, they instead were questioning who would be passing to him, one season after the Panthers averaged an NFL-low 12.2 points per game.

No one is questioning now.

Newton ranks second to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in fantasy scoring on, regardless of position. Smith ranks third among wide receivers, trailing only Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions and Wes Welker of the New England Patriots.

In the real world, Smith's strong season has him closing in on a couple of notable marks. He needs 124 receiving yards to become the 35th player in NFL history to reach 10,000, and just 8 yards for his sixth 1,000-yard season.

Newton, in addition to becoming valuable himself, has elevated the fantasy value of Smith and others. Tight end Greg Olsen, even with contributions from fellow tight end Jeremy Shockey in the mix, ranks ninth at his position in fantasy points.

It's a little bit of a different story from a fantasy perspective at running back. The two-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has always made for a tricky situation for fantasy owners, and Newton has magnified that by scoring nine of Carolina's 12 rushing touchdowns.

In the real world, though, it's all good. There's been much discussion about whether Carolina's running backs have been getting the ball enough, yet their contributions along with Newton's able legs has the Panthers quietly ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing yards.

Down the stretch of the fantasy season, Newton might be a good target for a trade. Given the way many drafts went this season, there's a decent chance that Newton's owner took another top-flight quarterback before picking Newton as a back-up. Unless the league allows two starting quarterbacks, an owner fighting for a playoff spot might be interested in acquiring help at another position for Newton.

As for Smith, most owners will view him as untradeable – a far cry from where he started the season.

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