How much better will the Panthers be with Christian McCaffrey?

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) Christian McCaffrey
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) Christian McCaffrey /

87. 8.20 PM ET. 44. FOX/NFL NETWORK/AMAZON. Sunday, Oct 29. 1-6. 3-4. Panthers -3

How much better will the Carolina Panthers if star running back Christian McCaffrey is able to make his long-awaited return against the Atlanta Falcons?

It won’t be long now before the Carolina Panthers get their star player back into the lineup. Christian McCaffrey might be able to make his return at home to the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football providing he proves to the coaching staff that his high ankle sprain is fully healed.

This would be a significant boost for the Carolina Panthers, who missed their face of the franchise in no uncertain terms during their 27-24 defeat at the New Orleans Saints. Having McCaffrey shouldering the load is something that could take their offense to even greater heights, with the group progressing substantially since the All-Pro went off in Week 2.

Ankle injuries are some of the trickiest to come back from. However, the Panthers are now at a real crossroads regarding their short-term aspirations this season and if they don’t manage to get a victory against an Atlanta team that has won just once in 2020, their immediate outlook looks bleak with back-to-back games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Carolina has been right to air on the side of caution where McCaffrey is concerned. Another flare-up would be catastrophic for the player and organization in equal measure and it appears unlikely that the former first-round pick will accumulate the same sort of touches as he works his way back to 100 percent.

Which might be a good thing.

The Carolina Panthers cannot over-rely on Christian McCaffrey.

The Panthers have relied a little too much on McCaffrey getting the job done. He tallied more than 400 combined touches in 2019 during a historic campaign that saw him become only the third running back in NFL history to go over 1,000-yards rushing and receiving in the same season.

This is a trend that simply cannot continue.

Playing such a violent nature position has been felt by the dual-threat weapon for the first time in his career just one-and-a-half games after signing his four-year, $64 million deal with a $21 million signing bonus and $38 million guaranteed. Giving McCaffrey fewer touches doesn’t diminish his importance, but it will preserve his longevity.

There are enough weapons on the Panthers to ensure McCaffrey’s return will be a smooth one. Adding the Stanford product to a unit that includes Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a mouth-watering prospect and one that should strike fear into any NFL team coming up against them.

Finding the right balance is going to be crucial. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady has grown in stature with every passing game and it’s vital he doesn’t go away from what is currently working when McCaffrey returns to the fold.

This is an exciting time in Carolina. They are becoming increasingly competitive against the top teams without quite getting over the line and bringing back a workhorse who is among the best in the business is going to benefit them enormously.

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McCaffrey is also walking into a situation with the best supporting cast he’s probably had during his time in the NFL. It will be fascinating to see how much of a difference the player makes and if he performs at anything like the All-Pro level of last season, then watch out.