Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard must remove rookie stigma in larger role

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports) Chuba Hubbard
(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports) Chuba Hubbard /

Chuba Hubbard must remove the rookie stigma surrounding the running back if he’s given a larger role by the Carolina Panthers after Christian McCaffrey’s injury.

It seems as if Chuba Hubbard might be thrust into the limelight far sooner than originally anticipated. The fourth-round pick could become one of the main beneficiaries from another disastrous injury to star running back Christian McCaffrey, who went down with a hamstring problem during the team’s convincing win at the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football.

This is the worst-case scenario for the Panthers. McCaffrey missed 13 games in 2020 after signing his big-money extension, so the last thing head coach Matt Rhule needed was the All-Pro getting hurt when the organization was starting to build some real momentum.

Considering how heavily McCaffrey featured before his latest setback, it’s going to be an uphill task for the Panthers with their schedule set to get a little tougher in the coming weeks.

That being said, taking Hubbard early on Day 3 was a strong indicator they were preparing for this eventuality. But the former Oklahoma State standout needs to buck up his ideas if he wants to generate a heavy workload until McCaffrey is ready to return.

According to Pro Football Reference, Hubbard is averaging just 3.3 yards-per-carry from 19 attempts. A poor offensive line can be blamed for this to a certain extent, but the player needs to avoid going down at the first sign of contact to help his team in a potential starting role.

Although Hubbard is the favorite to assume the position in McCaffrey’s absence, it’s not set in stone as yet.

Carolina has Royce Freeman to call upon if needed. The veteran has NFL experience during his time with the Denver Broncos and did flash with the carries that came his way at the Texans.

The Panthers could also bring in another proven player in free agency. Something that would take the immediate heat off Hubbard if they feel he isn’t ready for starting-caliber carries.

The running back situation is a precarious one for the Carolina Panthers.

This is a precarious situation that the Panthers need to get right.

Otherwise, their outstanding 3-0 start will be for nothing.

One thing Carolina has going for them is some extra time. Their mini-bye week before taking on the Dallas Cowboys gives them breathing space to form a concise plan that will hopefully ensure little momentum is lost without their face of the franchise.

If they choose to stick with Hubbard rather than doing something more drastic, then the player has to respond in a positive fashion and repay this faith.

He is a talented young player that will have a good career. But the jury is still out as to whether the first-year-pro is ready for such a responsibility.

Throwing Hubbard in at the deep end is the only way to find out for sure. There might even be a little more space to work in with opposing defenses unlikely to stack the box in the same way now McCaffrey is hobbled.

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Hubbard does have that working in his favor. But coming in and replicating what Mike Davis managed to produce filling in for McCaffrey last season is asking a lot.