Almost nothing in fantasy hurts worse than being let down by one of your top picks. In Dead or Alive, we’ll take a look at some of 2016’s most underwhelming performers and try to predict how they’ll fare in the upcoming season. (But if you get burned again, that’s totally on you.)

After a stellar 2015 season that saw the Carolina Panthers make it to the Super Bowl,1 hopes were astronomically high for 2016. Cam Newton was coming off an MVP year in which his top wide out was Ted freaking Ginn and the Panthers’ stud wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, was primed to make his return after missing an entire year with a torn ACL. Things were looking up on offense and, even with the (bewildering) offseason departure of one of the league’s top defenders, Carolina was still projected to have one of the game’s top defenses.

Then the 2016 NFL season actually started and that once-promising future turned into one disappointment after another. Cam Newton looked like a shell of his 2015 MVP self. Their defense gave up an average of 25.1 points per game.2 And Kelvin Benjamin? Despite the fact that his season totals were similar to his breakout rookie year, he was maddeningly inconsistent — only twice did he score a touchdown in a game where he also had at least 55 receiving yards.

…only six of the top 70 most targeted receivers in the league finished with a worse catch rate.

For fantasy owners, that translated into 7.9 points per game.3 Those numbers simply don’t measure up to his average draft position and his highly-touted WR2 – or even WR1 – potential. His 11 games with fewer than ten total points made his season infuriating to watch. And that rapport with Cam Newton that seemed so promising in 2014…just didn’t exist. Benjamin finished with 118 targets on the year and caught only 53.4% of balls thrown to him — only six of the top 70 most targeted receivers in the league finished with a worse catch rate.

As the 2017 season approaches, it seems like Benjamin’s approaching a crucial juncture:4 can he improve on his numbers and fulfill his potential as one of the better receivers in the game or will he fade into mediocrity as another occasionally serviceable bench play?

Luckily for Benjamin and his fantasy owners, the Panthers play in one of the worst defensive divisions in the NFL5 and Benjamin is still one of the most naturally gifted players in the league. And during the draft, Carolina focused on shoring up their backfield and slot receiver positions, taking some attention away from Benjamin and forcing opposing safeties to play more responsibly.

That being said, concerns about Newton’s shoulder and the ability of the Panthers line to give him enough time to get the ball to his play makers could interfere with Benjamin’s opportunities. While Carolina nabbed Taylor Moton in the second round of the 2017 draft and Michael Oher should be returning to strengthen the line this year after missing all but three games in 2016 giving Newton a much needed boost on his line, Benjamin – who has never been a fleet-footed burner capable of creating easy separation – will still need time to get open and catch the ball. Despite his lack of foot speed, he’s still been a deep threat, averaging about 14.9 yards per catch last year, but running a lot of deep routes doesn’t bode well for an improved reception percentage either.

Our Verdict: Alive

Here at The Read Option, we’re pretty big Benjamin fans, even if he’s burned us before. He’s not likely to be a WR1 or even a strong WR2 this year, but he has the potential to gain over 1,000 yards, put up a handful of touchdowns and be a very strong WR3 or Flex play on a weekly basis. Hell, there’s even a chance that – another year removed from his torn ACL – he’s better than advertised and manages to become a low-to-mid range WR2. In any case, his stock is likely to be down after how he’s looked the last couple of years, so if you can be patient and grab him a little deeper in your draft, we say go get him.

  1. And get completely crushed.
  2. Sixth worst in 2016.
  3. 10.8 in PPR leagues.
  4. From a fantasy standpoint, at least.
  5. The division, on average, gave up nearly 26 points per game in 2016.

Alex Schillinger is an editor and contributor at The Read Option.

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