Not much has changed for the Panthers in the running back room from last season. This position was not one of need during the draft and when you have No. 22 on your club, you’re in good shape. It is a no-brainer that the Panthers again will rely heavily on Christian McCaffrey. However, Head Coach Matt Rhule has stated that he would not like to use McCaffrey as much as he was last season. So who will fill that backup running spot? There are a few options available.
Most predicted depth charts have Reggie Bonnafon as the first one up to give McCaffrey a spell. Bonnafon has shown spurts over his two seasons but with a limited sample size. A majority of his work was garbage time when games were out of reach and towards the end of the season when former head coach Ron Rivera decided to give McCaffrey less playing time as postseason chances were eliminated. Bonnafon does have versatility in the passing game which may be beneficial for first year offensive coordinator Joe Brady. After Bonnafon there is a trio of running backs that will be in competition to land a spot on the roster and win the backup role.
Jordan Scarlett was drafted in 2019 out of Florida and saw action in only 9 games last season. He is a tough running back and a banger. His foot skills are not the best and it takes him a couple of moves to get up to speed. Scarlett needs a little work on his pass catching abilities. That would be a great asset to have especially in what is to be an uptempo offense.
Mike Davis is going into his 6th season in the NFL. After stints with the 49ers, Seahawks, and Bears, Carolina claimed the former South Carolina Gamecock off waivers back in November. He only appeared in 5 games last season, all primarily on special teams. The Panthers are hoping Davis can show some of his talents like the ones displayed during his 2018 season in Seattle. It also won’t hurt to have a veteran presence in the locker room. Davis will have something to prove after not living up to his two-year, $6 million dollar deal with the Bears. There is chance that Davis could jump over Bonnafon and Scarlett to win the backup job.
Undrafted free-agent Rodney Smith was in the running back mix, but the Panthers recently released him. There were thoughts that the rookie out of Minnesota could contribute this season. He is diverse and could have served as the goal-line or short yardage back. The former Golden Gopher garnered 4,127 rushing yards, 65 receptions, 521 receiving yards, and 29 touchdowns during his college career. However, Smith may have been a victim of the current climate. With practice time being limited, and no preseason games, there would have been no opportunity to show what he had to offer. I have a feeling that situation could be the case in a lot of NFL camps.
On the heels of Rodney Smith’s release, Tuesday the Panthers added running back Trenton Cannon off waivers after he was cuts by the Jets. Cannon was a sixth round pick of the Jets in the 2018 draft. As a rookie the Virginia State product appeared in all 16 games. That season he tallied 113 rushing yards on 38 carries along with 144 receiving yards on 17 receptions. Last season he battled injuries and was placed on injured reserve November 1st. There is a good chance that Cannon lands on special teams as a kick returner.
Playing time for whoever lands the the backup role will all depend on how Joe Brady handles the load for Christian McCaffrey. I highly doubt that Carolina will throw 400 combined touches again at the franchise known as RUN CMC.