Ian Thomas was drafted in the 4th round in 2018 by the Panthers out of Indiana University. Despite some high-level measurables, Thomas hasn’t quite lived up to expectations – he only has produced 52 receptions and 469 yards in his two professional seasons. However, he has been playing behind Greg Olsen for the entirety of that stretch, something that is no longer the case after Olsen signed a contract with the Seahawks. Carolina is going to look completely different in 2020 after bringing in Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Rhule, and Joe Brady. Could all of that be to Ian Thomas’s benefit in terms of fantasy football relevance?
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 18, 2018
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The Panthers’ offense was already pretty incompetent in 2019, ranking just 20th in scoring on the year. Ian Thomas was hardly a contributor at all, ending up with just 16 targets on the year. He ranked as just the TE53 in PPR fantasy scoring and was irrelevant in fantasy football leagues. However, with Greg Olsen no longer on the roster, Thomas has a ton of opportunities to excel.
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With all of the changes to the Carolina offense, I believe Ian Thomas has a strong likelihood to break out this season. Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore should both demand at least 120 targets, but the Panthers will be one of the most pass-heavy offenses in football this year. I have Ian Thomas putting together career-high numbers across the board, and these stats make him the TE14 in my season-long projections.
— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) December 30, 2018
ADP: 162, TE31
Auction Value: $1
Ian Thomas is mostly being undrafted in fantasy leagues this season. That’s not exactly surprising to me, but it underscores the significant depth at the tight end position that hasn’t existed in quite some time. There are several players like Thomas who are lasting well into the later rounds of drafts and can be good bets to finish with starting value at the tight end position. I would be excited to land a combination of Thomas along with someone like Tyler Higbee, Hayden Hurst, Jonnu Smith, or T.J. Hockenson at the end of my draft.
It’s hard to get a great read on what Ian Thomas’s baseline is heading into this season, given he hasn’t produced anything of note to this point in his career. However, Greg Olsen is leaving behind 82 targets, which, combined with Thomas’s 30 targets from last season, would clear the path for 100+ targets this season. Let’s assume Thomas plays on the same number of snaps as Olsen in the previous season and sees the same target share. His career catch rate of 65.8% would put him down for 54 receptions, and his career yards per reception would put him down for 485 yards. Add in a few touchdowns, and he’s good for about 120 fantasy points – that would have made him a top-15 tight end in fantasy last season.
Much to the dismay of Panthers fans, Ian Thomas only played on an average of 6% of snaps per week over the first eleven weeks of the season – he didn’t have a single catch during that span. He finally started producing over the last few weeks of the season, and with the new coaching staff in tow, it’s unlikely those snap concerns will persist. The Panthers didn’t add any competition for Thomas at the tight end position, so 100+ targets could be in the cards. That would set him up for 65 catches for 700 yards. If he adds a handful of touchdowns through the air, he could be looking at top-ten fantasy value at his position.
Hell of a catch and toe-drag by TE Ian Thomas pic.twitter.com/8lBX8mnQIF
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 1, 2017
Carolina Panthers Offense
Teddy Bridgewater is the new quarterback for the Panthers and should offer a significant improvement from the trio of an injured Cam Newton, mediocre Kyle Allen, and inexperienced Will Grier from last season. Bridgewater hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2015 when he helmed a playoff Vikings team. However, that team was one of the most run-heavy in football – they ranked 4th in rushing attempts and last in passing attempts. They rode Adrian Peterson and the 5th-ranked scoring defense to the playoffs that season. Bridgewater produced more compelling numbers in limited time with the Saints over the past couple of years and could be set up for career-best production as he appears to be in the best shape he’s been in since his gruesome injuries with the Vikes. Joining Bridgewater in the offense, of course, is All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who set the league on fire last year to the tune of 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns. Third-year wide receiver D.J. Moore had career-high production last season despite such inconsistent quarterback play as he put up 87 catches for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns. The Panthers’ other two notable wideouts, Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson, have had mixed levels of success throughout their relatively short careers. Still, their deep-threat ability should open up a ton of room underneath for Ian Thomas to exploit. The Panthers could be one of the most underrated offenses in football talent-wise, and the presence of Joe Brady can’t be overlooked. The team’s new offensive coordinator previously led the Saints to excellent offensive production and recently led the LSU offense that broke several records this past year.
Strength of Schedule
It’s always tricky to confidently extrapolate fantasy defense numbers, but this is especially true for points allowed to the tight end. One great cover linebacker or safety can make a world of difference in this regard. Still, the Panthers’ schedule seems to set up nicely for Ian Thomas. The NFC South is a division that should feature a ton of shootouts this season, and while the Saints finished 10th in points allowed to TEs last year, the Falcons (16th) and Buccaneers (26th) finished much worse. The Panthers also take on the AFC West this season, a division that houses the fearsome secondary play of the Chargers and Broncos. Those two teams have two of the better coverage safeties in the NFL in Derwin James and Justin Simmons. That is balanced out by the presence of the Raiders (25th) and Chiefs (28th), who could not call tight end coverage a strength last year. Luckily for Panthers’ offensive players, their slate features the other bottom-feeders from their divisions of last season. That means Ian Thomas will be able to take on the putrid tight end defenses of the Bears (24th), Redskins (29th), and Cardinals (32nd). Rounding out the Carolina slate is the other teams from the NFC North. The Vikings ranked 7th in tight end fantasy defense while the Packers (18th) and Lions (15th) were middle-of-the-pack.
— ✊🏾 (@TacosNSlurpees) April 28, 2018
Ian Thomas only has 52 catches in two seasons and was a non-factor last year, so he’s not likely to be on the radar for many fantasy football owners this season. He might go undrafted in many leagues, which I believe would be a mistake. I think there’s a solid chance he finishes with top-15 value or even higher in an offense built to air out the ball. The additions of Teddy Bridgewater and Joe Brady, as well as the departure of Greg Olsen, point to breakout potential for Ian Thomas this season, and the athletic upside he has always possessed could shine through for fantasy owners.
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