With the Carolina Panthers losing All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey to a high-ankle sprain, both Reggie Bonnafon and Mike Davis were expected to take over as the lead backs for the time being. And, through the first two games, the pair looked dominant. Veteran Mike Davis‘ hard running style paired with Bonnafon’s incredible running back vision made for a great one-two punch for the Panthers. However, the days of those two backs running hand-in-hand may be over. The Carolina Panthers placed Bonnafon on the practice squad injured reserve, citing the injury as a high-ankle sprain. Similar to McCaffrey, Bonnafon will miss three weeks minimum. With McCaffrey out another week at least, the Panthers had to reach into their bag to find yet another piece to fill his place.
Earlier in the week, the Panthers worked out former University of Minnesota running back Rodney Smith. Smith was signed to the Panthers’ original roster as an undrafted free agent, but never made the jump to the 53. Smith had been out on the open market prior to his workout with the Panthers. According to insiders, Smith is expected to sign with the Panthers following COVID-19 protocols. So, to familiarize ourselves with the Panthers’ likely-new running back, let’s conduct a quick film study.
Carolina Panthers Film Study: Rodney Smith
Hometown: Jonesboro, Georgia
College: University of Minnesota
Position: Running Back
Rodney Smith made quite a name for himself while attending Minnesota. After staying in college for six years, Smith finished as the program’s leader in all-purpose yards. Finishing with multiple All-Big Ten honorable mentions throughout his career, Smith has solidified his name in school history.
At the conclusion of his senior season, Minnesota was eligible for a bowl game. Smith had a good showing in the Outback Bowl but got a little beat up in the process. This caused Smith to miss the East-West Shrine Bowl, a big deal for players nowadays. After not receiving an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, Smith went undrafted. He soon signed with the Panthers for training camp but never made the final roster.
In our first example, Smith shows off one of his best skills. In this video, we see that Smith sticks his foot in the ground and breaks up the field. This area of his game has been often toughed as his strongest, with many scouts calling his one-cut runs his “highlight” plays.
Minnesota RB Rodney Smith rarely wastes any motion when he’s cutting, stopping, or making defenders miss pic.twitter.com/r8u0RXl4ss
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) April 13, 2020
In our second video, viewers can clearly see Smith’s elusiveness. One of Smith’s best traits coming out of college was his balance and recovery speed, allowing him to make swift cuts and dodge defenders while still staying upright and maintaining his speed.
Minnesota’s Rodney Smith likes the juke box. pic.twitter.com/eCKW6cV1W0
— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) November 12, 2017
Smith has often been described as being able to “pinball” off defenders, then regain body control once again and continue the run. This skill allowed Smith to rush for over 5,000 yards during his time with the Golden Gophers. The following video is a great representation of this skill in action.
— Mike Spencer Hrynyshyn (@MikeH_Draft) October 6, 2019
With McCaffrey and Bonnafon both out for the foreseeable future, Smith seems like a good player to split carries with veteran Mike Davis. Smith and Bonnafon have similar running styles, which should make the transition to the Minnesota product easier. Overall, the Panthers are getting good value out of signing Smith, who should be able to come in and produce right away. If they can get even half of the production we saw from Smith at Minnesota, Panthers’ fans will be pleased with this expected signing.