The Carolina Panthers have found themselves in an entirely too familiar situation: their offensive production is derived solely from the talents of one player. From 2011 through 2017, that player was Cam Newton. 2019 is poised to be the year of Christian McCaffrey. In an effort to hide Newton’s injuries through the first two weeks and Kyle Allen’s inexperience over the last two weeks, McCaffrey has racked up an alarming share of offensive touches.
Against Houston, he out touched the rest of the Carolina Panthers offense combined. He received 27 carries to Curtis Samuel’s one and everybody else’s zero. He led the team with ten receptions out of Allen’s 24 total completions. Yes, the Panthers won, but that is not a sustainable model of victory.
If nothing else then the Panthers have at least dispelled the myth that McCaffrey is not durable enough to run between the tackles. Concerns at the draft had him as too small to play the kind of old school, ground and pound football for which his position was intended.
Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was a transcendent talent at the absolute height of the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ era. He played from 1957 to 1965 and averaged approximately 262 carries and 29 receptions, or 291 touches overall, across a 12 or 14 game season. The NFL switched from a 12 game season to a 14 game season in 1961, which was about the middle of Brown’s career.
McCaffrey is on pace for 344 carries and 100 receptions in 2019, or 444 touches overall, across a 16 game season. He will have out touched Brown’s average season in 11 games, or just have carried the football more within 12.
Eric Dickerson (1984 Los Angeles Rams), Adrian Peterson (2012 Minnesota Vikings), Jamal Lewis (2003 Baltimore Ravens), Barry Sanders (1997 Detroit Lions), and Terrell Davis (1998 Denver Broncos) hold the top five rushing seasons, by yards, in NFL History. They also present more modern comparisons for McCaffrey.
Only Dickerson (441 touches in 1983, 430 in 1986) and Davis (417 touches in 1998) approached McCaffrey’s projected numbers (444) for 2019. Dickerson’s years were his first and fourth in the league. He had two more productive seasons before injuries hobbled him for the rest of his career. Davis’ monster year came in his fourth. He was similarly unable to stay healthy afterwards and was out of the league within three seasons of his rushing title.
The Panthers rode the hot hand of Newton right into the ground and have been paying for that over the last two and a half seasons. Now that he is finally taking the time he needs to get healthy, Carolina seems poised to commit the same mistake with McCaffrey in his stead.
Rumor has it that Jordan Scarlett, Reggie Bonnafon, and Alex Armah are both healthy and currently employed by the Carolina Panthers. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner even showed a talent in 2018 for using wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel as runners out of the backfield. The team has options. Let’s hope they don’t choose to run McCaffrey into a grave that was dug in the 1960s.