With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books and Free Agency mostly wrapped up, it’s time to turn our attention to the upcoming season. Throughout the off-season, I’ll be looking at some position groups that featured new additions and could have a new look come September. Today, I’m turning my attention to Carolina, but not for the position you might think. We’re not talking quarterbacks, but rather running backs.
2021 Carolina Panthers
Last season, like each season since he was drafted, the Panthers went into the campaign banking on a top season from Christian McCaffrey. The star RB – limited to three games in 2020 – saw the field for just seven games in 2021. In his stead, the Panthers largely turned to rookie Chuba Hubbard, who saw 172 carries over ten starts. The problem is, he wasn’t particularly efficient. Hubbard finished with 612 yards and five touchdowns, catching 25 passes for 174 yards despite appearing in 16 games and starting 10. McCaffrey, in just seven games, caught 37 passes for 343 yards and rushed for 442 yards on 99 carries. It’s clear McCaffrey is a difference-maker for the offense, when available.
A Veteran Workhorse
This off-season, the Panthers added a piece to the backfield. While McCaffrey is still there and hopefully healthy, and the team still has Hubbard, the team added D’Onta Foreman. Foreman began his career with the Houston Texans, but an Achilles injury derailed him for a few seasons. For the past two years, he’s been in Tennessee. While he didn’t make much of a splash in 2020, when Derrick Henry went out with injury, Foreman helped carry the ground game for the No. 1 seeded Titans. Foreman saw 133 carries and ran for 566 yards and three touchdowns, starting three games. His signing in Carolina was interesting. While he’s a great hedge against McCaffrey missing time for a third straight season, it could be more.
The Panthers will roll into the season with three good candidates at RB. In 2021, a big part of the rushing attack also came from the quarterback—with Sam Darnold adding 222 yards and five touchdowns while Cam Newton added 230 yards and five touchdowns. If Baker Mayfield wins the job, it’s less likely quarterback rushing will be a piece of the offensive attack. It also seems like the Panthers are looking to protect McCaffrey by being more strategic with his workload. That’s where Foreman comes in.
In 2018, McCaffrey saw 219 carries and 124 targets over 16 games. He finished as RB2 in that span. Newton carried 101 times for 488 yards and four touchdowns. In 2019, with Newton gone, McCaffrey jumped up to 287 carries and 142 targets. While it made him the top fantasy RB, he has played only ten games in the two seasons. I suspect in 2022, the Panthers want to keep McCaffrey on the field and producing. Instead of expecting him to get 300 carries and 150 targets, I suspect the team is looking at more of a 2018 model. McCaffrey carrying 200-225 times and seeing 100-125 targets would still make him a Top 5 RB and still boost the Panthers’ offense.
Meanwhile, I don’t suspect Mayfield or the QB position will pick up the slack. Instead, I think that’s precisely why the Panthers snagged Foreman. He could come in and shoulder the load at RB, seeing around 100 carries, while Hubbard can help shoulder the load on some of the backfield targets. If Foreman indeed gets a solid percentage of rushing work, that gives him some appeal as an RB3/4, making him a great player to slot in if McCaffrey misses time again.
Matthew Fox is a member of the FSWA. He’s a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ Homer. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.