I’m around a lot of Fantasy Football talk, yet I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard the name “Cam Newton” and not almost immediately heard “lack of weapons” or something to that extent. Yes, it’s true that the 2014 Panthers are not going to remind anybody, Fantasy owners and general football fans alike, of the 2013 Broncos, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sleeper receiver to be had.
Kelvin Benjamin was drafted with the intention of filling that role, and while I believe he is the most talented pass catcher on this roster, betting on rookie wide outs is simply difficult to do given the adjustment to the physicality of the professional game. Greg Olsen is a nice player, but we know what he is, and the top receiver in a successful offense he is not. He can move the chains and demand attention in the red zone, but his skill set is limited and his ceiling isn’t very high at this point in his career. That leaves us with 32-year-old Jerricho Cotchery, the same Jerricho Cotchery who might have recorded the quietest 10 touchdown season in NFL history last season for the Steelers.
Yep … he scored more touchdowns than Josh Gordon, Jordy Nelson, and my man, Alshon Jeffery.
Is this repeatable? Well, I don’t know if he scores ten times, but if he can find pay dirt a handful of times, he will far out produce his 17th round ADP and prove to be a reasonable bye week filler with upside. In his last four seasons with a decent workload (40-plus receptions), one he should at least match in 2014, Cotchery has scored on 58.3 percent of his red zone receptions. He’s a crafty veteran that has a nose for the endzone, a skill that was evident last season, when two-thirds of his two-plus target games included a touchdown.
Why am I focusing on his red zone skills? Well, this is where Cotchery rewarded Fantasy owners in 2013, and where he can once again make a name for himself in 2014. Cam Newton is battling a hairline fracture to his ribs, not to mention offseason ankle surgery, making it a very real possibility that his days as the Panthers de facto goal line vulture are a thing of the past. Superman has 19 career rushing scores on 70 attempts; attempts that I believe will be reallocated in an effort to keep the franchise centerpiece on the field for 16 games. One may presume that the talented, yet annual underwhelming running game would assume this red zone work, but not so fast. Not only has Cotchery proven the ability to finish scoring plays, Newton made significant growth last season in-close and under pressure. In 2012, he completed just eight of 31 passes inside the 10-yard line while tossing five touchdowns and two interceptions. Last season, he completed 11 of 23 passes with nine scores and zero interceptions. His improved numbers close to the goal line were a direct result of his ability to produce when under pressure, as he ranked sixth in accuracy and fourth in touchdowns when the defense applied pressure, a great improvement from a 2012 season that saw him below league average in both categories.
The Panthers are going to need to score points as the defense regresses, and Carolina faces the offensive oriented NFC North in addition to six divisional games against strong offenses. What is it exactly that you have to lose by rostering Cotchery? Don’t forget, Brandon Lafell and a 34-year-old Steve Smith saw 197 targets in this offense a year ago. There are looks to be had here, especially when you consider the amount of faith being placed on a rookie and the health concerns of a run-first quarterback. Cotchery, for me, could be the Shonn Greene of receivers: a player with limited talent in a situation that could result in Fantasy production that exceeds his skill level.
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