After professing as much during the preseason, the Carolina Panthers are using Christian McCaffrey as a workhorse back.
Christian McCaffrey was as advertised as a versatile weapon for the Carolina Panthers during his rookie season in 2017, with 80 receptions and usage as a return man. That also meant he got just 117 carries, while Jonathan Stewart got 198 to lead the team.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera put McCaffrey in line for 200 carries near the start of training camp, and later doubled-down by suggesting 25-30 touches per game. The low-end of that projection would put McCaffrey in the rare recent air of 400 touches this season, and through six games this season McCaffrey has 118 touches (78 carries and 40 receptions). That’s 19.7 touches per game, and projects out to 315 touches over 16 games.
McCaffrey is not on pace to get the touch volume Rivera suggested, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner backed up. But he is being deployed as a workhorse back in a broader sense.
A simple glance at the stat sheet shows McCaffrey’s heavy usage. C.J. Anderson, who was signed to replace Stewart as McCaffrey’s backfield mate, has just 16 carries and one reception through six games. The idea of anything resembling a carry split has been put to bed, and it’s backed up by snap count.
According to Football Outsiders, McCaffrey has played every offensive snap in each of the Panthers’ last two games. Overall he is leading NFL running backs in snap percentage through seven weeks, at 95.9 percent, with Ezekiel Elliott (89 percent), James Conner (85.3 percent), David Johnson (83.6 percent), Todd Gurley (82.3%) and Saquon Barkley (82.1%) the next five on the list and the only other running backs above 80 percent in snap share. It’s not a revelation, but Anderson has played just 8.7 percent of Carolina’s offensive snaps thus far.
The versatility he showed in college, and has shown through almost a season and a half in the NFL, makes it easy to dismiss McCaffrey as a legit workhorse back. But the Panthers have removed him from return man duties, and that action is being replaced by pretty much never coming off the field offensively.