The Carolina Panthers have one of the best running backs in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey. The third-year running back is a threat to break the game open every time he’s on the field. The problem is after 731 touches at Stanford and 523 in two years with the Panthers, Carolina has to find a way to save his body without sacrificing their performance on offense.
It appears Ron Rivera and co. are serious about finding a backup that teams will have to account for when McCaffrey is taking a breather. The somewhat surprising release of Cameron Artis-Payne allows a younger player to step in and have an opportunity to shine.
Enter Jordan Scarlett, a fifth-round pick who is poised to outplay his draft position after flashing in the preseason. His 81 rushing yards this preseason led the team, and he did it in only three games after missing the opener to a lower back injury.
Among fans, he’s earned the misguiding label of just being a power back. His rocked up 5-foot-11, 210-pound frame certainly fits that bill. However, his 4.47 40-yard dash is faster than McCaffrey’s (4.48) and tied for third among all running backs at the combine this year.
Scarlett has a similar athletic profile to Dalvin Cook, his closest comparison on MockDraftable. Though he lacks the lateral agility that has made Cook a productive back, Scarlett’s has the athleticism to keep up with some of the most electric playmakers in the NFL.
One knock on his game is his catching ability. NFL analyst Lance Zierlein went as far as calling his hands “dreadful” in his NFL Draft Profile. Though that statement is a little harsh, Scarlett wasn’t a consistent threat catching the ball in the backfield at Florida. In 35 games with the Gators, he only caught 15 balls. With the Panthers, he’s proving he can be more than just a runner.
In the preseason, Scarlett caught five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 9.4 yards per catch and displayed softer hands and more confidence in turning the ball upfield than he did at Florida. In an ESPN interview with running back coach Jake Peetz, the first-year coach said Scarlett’s drop issues were easily coachable.
”When you watched the film ... all of the drop issues his hand placement was off,” Peetz said. “… He’s put in the work.”
If Scarlett is to be the primary ballcarrier behind McCaffrey, he will have to beat out fellow running back Reggie Bonnafon. Bonnafon has the early edge as the more experienced player and superior pass catcher. However, Scarlett sheds tacklers with more ease. His ability to not go down on first contact should prove valuable around the goal-line.
Fans’ expectations for Scarlett should be tempered as McCaffrey will still be on the field for an absurd amount of snaps. However, there is still an opportunity for the rookie back to see 25+ carries and 10+ targets this season. If all goes well, 200 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns would be an optimistic and reasonable expectation for Scarlett.
Who will be the Panthers most productive backup running back?
This poll is closed.
Jordan Scarlett(564 votes)
Reggie Bonnafon(228 votes)
Other (Free agent? Holyfield?)(47 votes)