The Panthers would love to lighten Christian McCaffrey’s load in 2019. Unfortunately, that would require finding a backup who can replicate his skills.
Christian McCaffrey isn’t the biggest running back in the NFL by any stretch of the imagination, but he still managed to play 75 more snaps than any other back in the league last season. In a perfect world, the Panthers would like to reduce his workload in 2019.
The trouble for GM Marty Hurney is that McCaffrey is insanely difficult to replace. He also set a single-season record for the Panthers last year with 1,965 all-purpose yards. 1,098 of those yards came on the ground, but the former Stanford star also caught 107 balls for 867 yards. There isn’t a running back in the league who can threaten opponents in more ways than McCaffrey.
That puts head coach Ron Rivera and his coaching staff in a really tough spot. Whenever they elect to take McCaffrey off the field it makes their offense much less dangerous. It also makes the play calling much more predictable. Guys like Cameron Artis-Payne, Elijah Hood and Reggie Bonnafon all have their specific strengths, but none is capable of impacting the run and pass game like McCaffrey. Every time one of those guys steps on the field it gives the defense a great hint about what the Panthers want to do on that particular play.
That’s not an ideal scenario for offensive play caller Norv Turner. He wants to keep defenses off-balance as much as possible. That’s precisely why McCaffrey was forced to play so many snaps last season.
The obvious solution for Carolina is to find another running back who can serve as a legitimate dual threat. They’re not going to get that guy in free agency which means the draft is the only avenue the franchise can realistically pursue.
Expect Carolina to strongly investigate the possibility of drafting a running back somewhere in the middle rounds. The draft always harbors value at the position on Day Three, but the trick is finding the right prospect. It’s much easier to draft a journeyman in the fifth round than a Pro Bowler.
Guys like Devin Singletary, Justice Hill, and Bryce Love are names that Panthers fans should monitor closely. No one in that trio is a perfect prospect, but each guy has a chance to develop into a well-rounded running back at the next level. The Panthers don’t need them to emerge as stars, they just need to find a player who can play meaningful snaps when McCaffrey can benefit from rest.
In the end, this will be an extremely difficult needle for the Panthers to threat. McCaffrey is a unicorn and that makes taking him off the field a tough choice even when a quality backup exists. Don’t look for his workload to decrease too much next season even if Carolina hits on a good running back in the draft.