The NFL season is back – with a few pretty drastic changes of course. This year, the preseason was canceled and there won’t be many fans – if any – inside the stadiums. There’s still some familiarity of course. Sport bets are still available and as there is every year, some top teams have already been rocked by several high-profile injuries.
For instance, the Carolina Panthers have received the brutal blow that Christian McCaffrey is set to be out for some time. The eighth overall pick in 2017, 24-year-old McCaffrey is one of the very best running backs in the NFL. He is the highest-paid in his position, possessing explosive pace and power and enough tricks to deceive any defender in the league. He is also a superb receiver when required, being one of the few players to have ever registered over 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in a single campaign – which he completed in 2019.
So yeah, he’s certainly an important player for the Panthers. This is why it would have been so hard for Carolina fans to see him limping off the field following a touchdown towards the end of their recent game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, coach Matt Rhule cannot afford to rest on his laurels. He must now turn his attention to who can replace his star man.
The obvious choice is Mike Davis, the Panthers current backup running back. After McCaffrey limped off, Davis took all the remaining snaps in the game and performed fairly well, rushing and receiving for a combined 74 yards from eight attempts. Not exactly world-class numbers but an encouraging start nonetheless. Davis also had the gift of experience on his side. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 126th overall pick, he has enjoyed a nomadic career. His most notable spell came at the Seattle Seahawks between 2017 and 2018. He started eight games for the Seahawks during this time, gaining over 750 rushing yards in 21 games overall.
Davis will probably be the man to step into McCaffrey’s shoes in the short term, but he is not the only option available to the Panthers. Further down the halfback rotation is Trenton Cannon. Taken in the sixth round in 2018 by the New York Jets, Cannon’s NFL career has been pretty underwhelming thus far. Since a fairly encouraging rookie season, the 26-year-old has only featured on six occasions since, returning just one touchdown in his entire time in the league. It doesn’t sound great, does it?
There is also the option of recalling Reggie Bonnafon to the first team squad. He was snapped up by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and featured in all of their games during the 2019 season – albeit only sparingly. He will certainly return to the first team fold now McCaffrey is injured, but a lack of experience is likely to see him mainly be backup.
The Panthers are not the only ones with running back issues to contend within the near future. The New York Giants have also been hit with a significant blow with Saquon Barkley being ruled out for the season with an ACL injury. The impact of losing Barkley really cannot be overstated. Since coming into the league as the second overall pick in 2018, the 23-year-old has been exceptional. His rookie season saw him win Rookie of the Year, as he set a first season record of 15 touchdowns. Since then, he’s only got better. Finding a replacement is going to be very hard.
It is particularly challenging as the Giants do not possess a great deal of strength in depth in the position. Most likely to slot in on a short term basis is Dion Lewis. Taken in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 he has bounced around NFL teams a lot during the last decade. He has spent time at the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, and now, the Giants, during his career so far – never particularly impressing us. Saying that he’s never really been given an extended run in the team at halfback, frequently filling in as a kick and punt returner.
If Lewis fails to impress, the Giants may have to seek out a replacement in free agency as the rest of their running back options have next to no NFL experience. Free agency is not exactly brimming with talent currently, but there is enough out there to find a consistent role player if the Giants play their cards right. 24-year-old Jordan Scarlett is one option. Recently released by the Panthers, he enjoyed a promising college career and would provide good energy as a backup. A safer pair of hands would be 29-year-old Lamar Miller. A 2019 Pro Bowl selection who has suffered his own share of injury trouble, getting him fighting fit would be a challenge but it has the potential to pay off big over the course of the season.