Carolina Panthers Offseason Preview: Running Backs

Panthers Running Backs

For the first time in a long time, the Carolina Panthers running backs are a major question on the roster. With Christian McCaffrey in San Francisco, the Panthers head into the offseason without an established starter on the roster.

More Offseason Previews: Panthers Quarterbacks

Carolina Panthers Running Back Situation Entering the Offseason

On the Roster: Chuba Hubbard, Raheem Blackshear, Spencer Brown

Carolina’s three rostered running backs aren’t exactly seasoned NFL veterans. Chuba Hubbard easily has the most experience of the lot, but that says more about Blackshear and Brown than it does Hubbard.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Hubbard has had every opportunity to establish himself as the future of Carolina’s backfield. However, after two seasons of play, it’s clear that he’s better as a change of pace back. Throughout his NFL career, Hubbard has shown some flashes in the passing game but has not shown the consistency required for a larger role. He’s a good guy to have on the bottom of a roster, but he should never see too much playing time.

Raheem Blackshear and Spencer Brown, meanwhile, are nothing more than emergency backups and special teams players. The two combined for just 33 carries last year, and it would be a surprise if both players are even on the Week 1 roster next year.

Impending Free Agents: D’Onta Foreman

D’Onta Foreman was everything the Panthers could have possibly hoped for in 2022. Originally signed to compete for the backup spot, Foreman became the unquestioned starter after the Panthers traded away Christian McCaffrey.

Foreman was up for the challenge, finishing the season with 914 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 203 carries (4.5 YPC) with most of that production coming after McCaffrey departed. Had he started the entire season, there is no doubt that he would have crossed the 1,000-yard threshold.

This is the second straight year where Foreman has filled in for one of the best running backs in the league and effectively matched the rushing production, having done the same for Derrick Henry in 2020. While he doesn’t offer much in the passing game, there is no denying that he is a starting-caliber running back, even if he doesn’t have a three-down skill set.

The Panthers should definitely be interested in bringing back Foreman, but there is a chance that his impressive play has priced him out of Carolina. The Panthers have too many needs to invest too heavily in a running back, so if Foreman gets a big payday, then they might have to look for help somewhere else.

The Outside Options

Fortunately for the Carolina Panthers, both free agency and the NFL Draft are loaded with talented running backs. As far as free agents go, elite talents like Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard are all set to hit the open market. While some of those players are likely to return to their original teams, the Panthers could make a splash and acquire a big name like that.

Of course, there is a strong case to be made that a team with as many needs as the Panthers shouldn’t put too many of their resources into the running back position. With that in mind, they could still sign a starting-caliber running back like Damien Harris, Devin Singletary, David Montgomery, or Alexander Mattison if Foreman prices himself out of Carolina.

Any of those aforementioned names would be a fine short-term starter, but the Panthers could still look to upgrade the position via what is supposed to be a very strong running back draft class. Bijan Robinson is unquestionably the best of the bunch, but again, Carolina shouldn’t be spending high-end resources on running backs.

Assuming Robinson is off the board the Panthers would be wise to select him, the Tier 2 running backs are Blake Corum, Zach Charbonnet, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Sean Tucker. At least one of these players should fall to the back of the second round, and the Panthers can use one of the picks they acquired in the Christian McCaffrey trade to grab their running back of the future.