Christian McCaffrey should get most of the carries for the Panthers this season, but Ron Rivera can’t afford to overwork his talented back.
When the Carolina Panthers made the decision to part ways with Jonathan Stewart this summer it was obvious that Christian McCaffrey was going to become the starting running back. That doesn’t mean he should get all the carries from Ron Rivera. In fact, the Panthers need to be very careful not to overuse their versatile back.
Rivera’s latest comments don’t make it sound like he’s too concerned with overworking McCaffrey. He makes it very clear that he’s comfortable with McCaffrey taking on the same number of carries that Stewart had last season. That would take the former Cardinal star from 117 to 198 carries.
Specifically, Rivera points to how much Stanford ran McCaffrey between the tackles as proof he can handle the increased workload. The only problem with that logic is that NFL defenses are significantly tougher than what McCaffrey saw in the Pac-12. Smaller running backs have a much more difficult time holding up to pounding at the pro level.
Handing all of those extra carries to McCaffrey also could hamper what the running back really does best. He averaged a very mediocre 3.7 yards per carry last season, but he also led his team with 80 receptions. McCaffrey gave his team 8.1 yards per reception. It’s easy to see where he was most dangerous.
The sheer number of receptions McCaffrey is likely going to earn means River has to limit his carries in the run game. Even in his secondary rushing role last year he racked up close to 200 touches. Anything past 250 would put him in real danger of losing effectiveness towards the end of the season. The Panthers need to place a real emphasis on keeping McCaffrey fresh for what they hope will be an extended playoff run.
Fortunately for Rivera, the team’s front office has given him a back capable of soaking up a ton of extra carries. The signing of C.J. Anderson gives the Panthers a physical battering ram that can pound the defense. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him the same number of carries as McCaffrey. That would keep both backs fresh for the full season.
There should even be a few carries leftover for Cameron Artis-Payne. The former Auburn back has been waiting his turn in the Carolina backfield for years. This should be the year where he gets a legitimate opportunity to enter the running back rotation. Throwing 50 carries his way might help make sure the entire stable stays fresh.
McCaffrey is going to touch the ball a lot for the Panthers off this season. Rivera and the coaching staff just need to make sure they don’t overwork him as a conventional running back. That’s not where his talent can be truly maximized.