During the 2018 season, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was on the field for an astounding 91.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. By comparison, no other running back took more than 83.0 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. As good, and as valuable, as McCaffrey is, the Panthers must be able to find production aside from their lead back. In hopes of doing that, Carolina has undergone an entire running back overhaul this offseason. Below are the other four running backs on the current roster, and the impact they can have in 2019.
Panthers Backup Running Back Options
Perhaps the surest roster “lock” among the backup running backs is rookie fifth-rounder, Jordan Scarlett. During his collegiate career at Florida, Scarlett rushed for nearly 2,000 yards, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He was noted as one of the strongest backs in this year’s draft class, and so far in camp, Scarlett has shown that he’s not afraid to run through contact. On top of the power, he has the speed to back it up. In fact, Scarlett’s forty time at this year’s combine was faster than McCaffrey’s was back in 2017.
The downside for Scarlett is that he doesn’t have much experience catching the ball out of the backfield, and he has had multiple run-ins with law enforcement. He caught only 15 passes in three years at Florida, and missed the entire 2017 season due to suspension. If he wants the Panthers organization to take him seriously, he’s going to have to prove that he can stay out of trouble and on the field. Assuming he gets better in the passing game, Scarlett can be the perfect complement for McCaffrey in 2019 and beyond.
Aside from McCaffrey, the only other back to have prior regular-season experience with Carolina is Cameron Artis-Payne. “CAP” as he’s affectionately known, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Panthers, and recently signed a one-year deal to return to the team. The coaching staff has always seemed to like him, and for the most part, he has produced in the past when the team needed him to. Just as he has produced on the ground, he has also proven that he has reliable hands.
While most of his playing time has come on special teams the last couple years, Artis-Payne provides the younger guys with a veteran presence who is already familiar with what the Panthers want to do. Although he has been a solid player for Carolina in years past, CAP turned 29 in June, and is on a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal, which could make him expendable by the end of preseason. Carolina could choose to keep Artis-Payne as a veteran safety blanket, or opt to cut him in favor of developing the younger backs.
Son of former heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield, Elijah Holyfield joined the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, and was named one of six Panthers to watch during camp. The younger Holyfield led the Bulldogs with over 1,000 rushing yards as a junior in 2018, while averaging a whopping 6.4 yards per carry. He lacks the speed of the other backs on the roster, but he runs extremely hard, and isn’t the least bit afraid of contact. If Holyfield makes the roster, he would present the Panthers with their first true short-yardage back since Mike Tolbert.
Like Jordan Scarlett, Holyfield doesn’t have much experience catching passes, and needs to prove to the team that he can improve in that area. Holyfield has already impressed the Carolina coaching staff with his hard-nosed running style. His toughness and physicality would offer the Panthers a nice change-of-pace back with room to grow as a pass-catcher. If the Panthers choose to move on from Artis-Payne, Holyfield would almost certainly make the team. If not, the practice squad seems like a likely destination for him.
After spending camp with the Panthers in 2018, Reggie Bonnafon is back in Spartanburg for the second-straight year. Although he has yet to be promoted to the active roster in the NFL, Bonnafon was as versatile as anyone in college. In a span of four years, he was converted from a quarterback to a receiver to a running back. He found decent success at each position, and established himself as both a rushing and receiving threat. Bonnafon spent last season on the Panthers practice squad, and likely will be back there in 2019. However, if injuries pile up, he could see himself promoted to the 53-man roster in a backup/special teams role.
Last Word on Panthers Backup Running Back Options
Behind McCaffrey, the Panthers have three backs who each have a legitimate shot at making the roster, while a fourth has experience in Carolina’s system and is athletic enough to make the practice squad. Scarlett and Holyfield are similar in that they run hard, however both need to improve as receivers, and neither are a polished prospect. Artis-Payne is a reliable veteran who the Panthers have counted on in the past, and knows the offense as well as anyone. Ultimately, Carolina will likely only keep three backs on the 53-man roster, with one being McCaffrey. The final two spots will be determined by preseason performance and whether or not the organization decides to go with depth or with youth.
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