Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey on concerning pace

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey on concerning pace for number of touches.

The Carolina Panthers drafted running back Christian McCaffrey eighth overall during the 2017 NFL Draft. As a rookie, McCaffrey was eased into his current role, splitting time and operating as a change of pace type back from veteran Jonathan Stewart. However, McCaffrey proved capable of shouldering a full load and coach Ron Rivera gladly handed him a ton more responsibility during his sophomore season.

During his rookie campaign McCaffrey accumulated a total of 197 touches – 117 carries and 80 receptions but only seven total touchdowns. The numbers increased in his second season as McCaffrey became the featured back and a key component to offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense. Jumping up to 326 touches in 2018, the results were impressive – 13 total touchdowns and over 100 receptions from the running back position.

There is no doubt McCaffrey is a special athlete able to produce both on the ground and through the air. He rarely comes off the field and created nightmare mismatches for opposing defenses when aligned in the backfield with quarterback Cam Newton. However, the Panthers lost their starting quarterback early in the season and McCaffrey was quickly tabbed to pick up the slack.

He currently leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,123), rushing touchdowns (12) and with a 102.1 yards-per-game average. Through the air McCaffrey has 68 catches, 586 yards and four more touchdowns. He’s totaled 289 touches, nearly 100 more than his rookie season, in just 11 games.

On pace for well over 400 touches this year, there should be concern for McCaffrey’s future performance. An interesting comparative analysis completed by Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice shows just how alarming a high number of touches can be for running backs in the NFL. Of the 18 occurrences since 2000, where a back has generated 400-plus touches in a single year, only once was that individual able to increase his yards-per-carry the following season. LaDainian Tomlinson improved nearly a full yard from 2002 to 2003 but every other player went in the opposite direction, averaging a one-yard drop off.

With Carolina essentially eliminated from playoff contention and McCaffrey a long-shot for the MVP award, coach Ron Rivera is going to be faced with some difficult decisions moving forward. Play McCaffrey in hopes of continuing to compete and salvage his own job or limit one of the best backs in the game to preserve him to make an impact when it counts.

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If handled similarly to Newton over the past few seasons, expect McCaffrey to surpass 400 touches in a few more weeks and hope he breaks the current trend of declining production next year.

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