Analysis: Panthers’ options to back up McCaffrey with Mike Davis being a free agent

No workforce within the NFL final yr acquired a higher lesson on the significance of getting a reliable backup operating back than the Carolina Panthers. With Christian McCaffrey lacking 13 video games due to three totally different accidents, assist was wanted in a means that would not have been anticipated coming into the yr.

Mike Davis began 12 video games in his place and undrafted rookie Rodney Smith began in Week 17 with each Davis and McCaffrey sitting out due to accidents. Health was clearly a problem on the place in 2020 past McCaffrey, as backup Reggie Bonnafon additionally missed a possibility to contribute due accidents of his personal that stored him out a lot of the yr.

The Panthers completed 2020 ranked twenty first in speeding yards per sport (106.5), twenty second in yards per carry (4.2) and tied for tenth in speeding touchdowns (19). Joe Brady’s first yr as offensive coordinator concerned being with out the workforce’s greatest offensive participant, which restricted the workforce’s explosiveness on the bottom.

But Davis crammed in properly, ending with 1,015 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns. As he heads into free company, the Panthers can be left to deal with a potential void at backup operating back. Fullback Alex Armah can also be scheduled to turn out to be a free agent however had a restricted function in 2020 as a blocker and rusher.

Running back coach Jeff Nixon stated he can be searching for somebody who can play all three downs to play behind McCaffrey. Who might work and what gamers are nonetheless on the roster? Here is the primary of a position-by-position take a look at the Panthers’ 2021 roster.


Christian McCaffrey: Playing three video games in 2020 following his 1,000-1,000 season the yr prior, expectations will excessive be for the All Pro’s return to the sector.

While his title has been tossed round in hypothetical commerce packages for a potential new quarterback like Deshaun Watson, buying and selling McCaffrey prior to June 1 this yr would go away the Panthers with $17.2 million in lifeless cash, virtually $5 million greater than his $12.5 million cap hit this yr if he’s on the roster, per Over the Cap. The lifeless cash goes down to $4.3 if he’s traded post-June 1.

McCaffrey, 24, is the face of the franchise, a part of why he acquired an extension to turn out to be the NFL’s highest-paid operating back final offseason. Trading him appears much less possible with potential defensive cornerstones on the roster, however it could be a vital loss for the offense and never probably the most financially logical scenario, particularly because the Panthers have cleared cap area not too long ago, however that speak has been hypothetical up to this level.

Carolina Panthers operating back Reggie Bonnafon (39) connects with Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) for landing catch throughout the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, October 4, 2020. Jeff Siner [email protected]

Reggie Bonnafon: After dropping the backup job to Davis in coaching camp, Bonnafon appeared in two video games in 2020 and was positioned on season-ending injured reserved in November. Also a contributor on particular groups, Bonnafon has proven potential however hasn’t proved whether or not he may be a three-down back behind McCaffrey.

Bonnafon performed quarterback, large receiver and operating back at Louisville and may very well be an attention-grabbing contributor to Brady’s offense, even when he’s not the No. 2, when wholesome.

Rodney Smith: On and off the roster at the beginning of the season, Smith completed his rookie yr on a optimistic observe, scoring his first profession landing in his solely begin. He might compete for the backup job in 2021.

Nixon views the expertise from his first yr within the NFL as a optimistic and was inspired going into Year 2.

“Rodney was somebody that we were very high on going into the draft,” Nixon stated. “We were very fortunate to sign Rodney as a free agent and I thought he played excellently, lived up to his billing. He’s a three-down guy, and he got valuable experience playing his rookie year, he really did a nice job when he got his opportunity to play.”

Trenton Cannon: Cannon was signed by the Panthers principally due to his skill on particular groups. He took over kick return responsibility from Pharoh Cooper and was used briefly on offense due to the mounting accidents. Penalties have been a problem with Cannon getting three unsportsmanlike conduct or pointless roughness calls throughout the season.

Depending on how the Panthers deal with the returner job, he might discover a roster spot in 2021 on particular groups.


Carolina Panthers operating back Mike Davis (28) celebrates after a landing throughout the second quarter of their sport Sunday, December 13, 2020. David T. Foster, III

Mike Davis: In a great world, it might make a lot of sense to deliver back Davis to pair with McCaffrey. He proved that he can fill in when mandatory and be a stable weapon as a rusher and receiver. Davis led all operating backs with 22 pressured missed tackles on receptions final yr, per Pro Football Focus.

After the season he put collectively, there can be a number of groups his providers. He might get higher compensation and a probability to make an impression elsewhere. If Davis and the Panthers half methods, they’ll want somebody who the workforce is assured can fill in equally.

Other intriguing suits:

Mark Ingram: The Baltimore Ravens sat him on the finish of the yr due to the emergence of youthful backs, however Ingram nonetheless has talents at 31-years outdated. He rushed for greater than 1,000 yards in 2019 and nonetheless averaged 4.2 yards per carry final season. With the wants on Carolina’s roster, they aren’t possible to overspend at backup operating back and Ingram could also be compensated properly, however one other veteran back can be beneficial on the roster.

James White: White isn’t the three-down back the Panthers want as a No. 2, however he was utilized by the New England Patriots primarily for his abilities as a receiver. He can be an attention-grabbing slot in Carolina’s offense.


With the wants on the Panthers’ roster, it’s unlikely that they would choose a operating back prior to Day 3 of the draft, if then. Signing a participant as an undrafted rookie labored properly with Smith final yr, and that may very well be one thing the workforce does once more in 2021.

A few names to regulate to be out there late within the draft or in free company: Gerrid Doaks — Cincinnati, JaQuan Hardy — Tiffin, Jaret Patterson — Buffalo


Running back stays removed from the Panthers’ greatest place of want, however the workforce wants a dependable backup to McCaffrey. Smith can be within the combine it doesn’t matter what, however he nonetheless has some improvement forward. It’s not a place that Carolina goes to make investments a vital sum of money in. Re-signing Davis on the proper value, bringing in a cheaper veteran free agent or taking somebody late within the draft ought to all be on the desk. As lengthy as McCaffrey’s on the workforce, which he’s almost definitely for the foreseeable future, it’s all about constructing round and supporting him at operating back.

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