How Does Teddy Bridgewater Impact the Carolina Panthers' Fantasy Football Outlook?
It took a loooooong time. But he's back.
The Panthers and Teddy Bridgewater are negotiating a 3-year contract in the $60 million range, per source. The deal is not done as they work out details but it is expected to be complete when new league year opens Wednesday.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) March 17, 2020
Three and a half years after a practice injury nearly took away his leg, Teddy Bridgewater is a starting quarterback in the NFL once again. In what has been a largely hideous month for news, we've got a reason to smile at least for today.
Bridgewater joins the Carolina Panthers, signaling the end of the Cam Newton era and ensuring the team won't be saddled with another year of the Kyle Allen experience. Although there are plenty of unknowns with Bridgewater, we knew what to expect with Allen. And it wasn't great.
So, what does this all mean for the Panthers in fantasy? Let's check it out.
Hope for an Upgrade
We could have assumed all offseason that Allen would not be the Panthers' starting quarterback for 2020. The only scenario that would have led to that would have been a full "Tank for Trevor" stampede. Still, knowing there will be changes is a good thing.
Allen finished 2019 ranked 30th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back out of 42 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. NEP is the efficiency metric we use at numberFire to track the expected points added or lost on each play. Passing NEP includes deductions for expected points lost on plays like sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. Allen was a bottom-rung passer by these measures.
As a result, most changes would represent an upgrade for the Panthers, and any increase in efficiency bodes well for all of Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, and Curtis Samuel. The unknown with Bridgewater is how big that upgrade will be.
It's tough to put a ton of stock into Bridgewater's six games at quarterback last year because his situation was very different. With the New Orleans Saints, not only did he have Michael Thomas catching passes, but he had one of the league's best offensive lines and an elite mind in Sean Payton running the show. With how dependent quarterbacks are on their situations, Bridgewater's stats are fully tainted.
One thing that does help with Bridgewater, though, is that he faced a tough schedule in the games he played. His average drop back came against the 14.7-ranked pass defense, based on numberFire's metrics, sixth-toughest of all quarterbacks with at least 200 total drop backs.
In Bridgewater's 73 drop backs versus top-10 pass defenses, he averaged 0.37 Passing NEP per drop back. That ranked second among all quarterbacks, nestled right ahead of Patrick Mahomes and behind -- not coincidentally -- Drew Brees. It's a small sample. But that small sample was really solid.
It also helps that the cupboard is far from bare in Carolina, at least for now. In addition to McCaffrey, Moore, and Samuel, the Panthers figure to have a respectable tackle duo in Russell Okung and Taylor Moton up front, helping nullify the loss of Trai Turner. The situation isn't as good as what Bridgewater had in New Orleans, but it's certainly not bad.
As a result, we should expect Bridgewater's efficiency to be decent with the Panthers. That's more than Allen provided, and it helps steady the assets tied to this team. Everyone here benefits.
The one area where Bridgewater is a downgrade from Allen is in his aggressiveness. Bridgewater threw only 11.7% of his passes at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage last year. That was the lowest in football among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. It was in line with Brees, meaning some of it may have been system-related, but Bridgewater was relatively conservative when he was with the Minnesota Vikings, as well.
Allen was more in the middle of the pack, going deep 19.0% of the time, ranking 17th out of 42 qualified quarterbacks. He added only 0.12 expected points per deep attempt -- Bridgewater was at 0.45, and the league average was 0.50 -- but this offense will likely live closer to the line of scrimmage in 2020.
That's the main reason it's hard to get jazzed about Bridgewater himself as a fantasy asset. The two avenues for upside at quarterback are chunk plays and rushing, and neither projects to be a strength for Bridgewater. You can support viable pieces elsewhere without being an elite outlet yourself, and that's how things look for Bridgewater as of right now.
Because of Bridgewater's short-tossing tendencies, people may view this as being an upgrade for McCaffrey. It is, but not for those reasons.
McCaffrey's pass-game workload really can't go up much from where it was last year. He had 142 targets (five more than any running back since 1992 and only the second back with more than 130), or 23.6% of the Panthers' overall looks. He had double-digit targets in six of the final seven games (with nine targets in the exception) as the team committed to trying to get him records. If you project a player to improve from an historic season, you're likely being too optimistic.
Instead, McCaffrey's increase comes from a jump in overall team strength. When a team is better (as they project to be with Bridgewater over Allen), they score more touchdowns. That benefits everybody involved, especially the running backs. We shouldn't expect McCaffrey's touchdown totals to necessarily rise (he had 15 rushing and 4 receiving last year), but we should have expected regression if Allen had returned as the starter. Now, that's less of a concern, and it just further locks in McCaffrey as the top fantasy option in the game.
With Moore and Samuel, their outlook is a tad tougher to dissect.
It's true that we should expect both to get fewer downfield looks this year, which is a negative. Moore had 33 last year, and Samuel had 35. But they didn't exactly do a whole lot with those deeper targets.
|Targets 16+ Yards Downfield||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns|
The deep balls represented 38.9% of the receiving yards for Moore and 38.3% for Samuel. They got looks deep, but a lot of their production (including all six of Samuel's touchdowns) came on shorter throws.
That's why transitioning to Bridgewater and seeing fewer deep looks may not necessarily be a bad thing for these two. If Bridgewater can give them higher-percentage targets closer to the line, it'll give both a steady floor, assuming they continue to see meaty overall target shares. And if Bridgewater increases the efficiency over Allen when he does throw deep (not a tall task), it'll help replace the production they got on those deep throws last year.
The one area where moving to Bridgewater may negatively impact the pass-catchers is on their weekly ceiling. Moore had at least 89 receiving yards in half of his 14 healthy games last year, including four times where he topped 100 yards, and it's harder to hit those lofty marks when you're not getting downfield targets. Thomas had a pair of 130-yard games with Bridgewater last year, but he's in another tier from a usage and efficiency perspective, so we can't use him as a model. If you're looking for true, difference-making totals, a player of Bridgewater's mold is less likely to provide them.
Although that's an issue for Moore, it doesn't lower Samuel in any way. Because Allen was so bad at connecting deep, Samuel didn't top 70 receiving yards in any game that Allen started. He had more than 50 receiving yards only five times. As such, the ceiling discussion impacts Moore much more than it does Samuel.
That's why Samuel seems like a quality buy in fantasy with Bridgewater locked in. He's currently a ninth-rounder in half-PPR leagues, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, and he's the the WR44 in startup dynasty drafts, according to DynastyLeagueFootball.com. The cost here is pretty low, accounting for the potential for a floor if Bridgewater struggles. However, there is always the chance that Bridgewater represents a significant upgrade for Samuel, and that upside may not be baked into where he's going.
You're not getting that discount on Moore. He's the WR8 in dynasty, and he's a second-round pick in re-draft. That's a hefty cost, meaning any risk with Moore is a whole lot scarier.
The way you view Moore should depend on what the rest of your team looks like, and unfortunately, you're not going to have a ton of info on that when we're talking re-draft. But for dynasty, if your roster has a number of high-variance players with low weekly floors, Moore is a good complement. Given Bridgewater's target distribution, Moore's floor figures to be an asset, and he can fit in well in that configuration.
He's less attractive if your other assets are also low-range-of-outcomes pieces. Having players with a ceiling is valuable in non-DFS formats, as well, and Moore's likely took a hit with the move to Bridgewater. We should account for that when making decisions with what to do with him.
But overall, adding Bridgewater to the fold is a plus for this team. He steadies the floor of production we can expect relative to someone like Allen or a rookie, and there is the upside for more if he can outperform expectations. The biggest winner here seems to be Samuel, but we can feel a lot more comfortable with everybody now that their starter is in place.