Carolina Panthers running back room tabbed as potential surprise package

Could things be looking up for Carolina's running back room?
Chuba Hubbard
Chuba Hubbard / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Canales' offensive intentions are clear. He wants the Carolina Panthers to be a physical, aggressive operation that depends heavily on the running game to set the tone. This plays to the strengths of his offensive linemen and should make things easier for quarterback Bryce Young during his critical second season along the way.

This wasn't just a catchy phrase. It's something Canales genuinely believes can spearhead the Panthers back to prominence. Those in power also strengthened the unit this offseason to lend further weight to the head coach's claims.

The Panthers traded up in the second round to land Jonathon Brooks at No. 46 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. They opted to give Miles Sanders a reprieve following an underwhelming first season with the franchise. Raheem Blackshear re-signed on a one-year deal. Canales also brought in someone he knows well in the form of veteran Rashaad Penny, who'll fight to earn his spot on the 53-man roster throughout the summer.

Carolina Panthers running back room has promise in 2024

Hopes are high for this group heading into the 2024 season. Although Trevor Sikkema from Pro Football Focus only placed them at No. 27 in his league-wide rankings, the analyst tipped them to become a potential surprise package if Brooks makes a full recovery from the torn ACL he suffered during his final college campaign at Texas.

"Chuba Hubbard placed 18th in PFF wins above average last season (0.18), and the [Carolina] Panthers also drafted who I believe to be the top back in the 2024 NFL Draft in Jonathon Brooks, who earned an elite 92.0 rushing grade last season. If Brooks can progress nicely and confidently after his ACL tear in November, this has the chance to be a sneaky good group with an improved offensive line in front of them."

Trevor Sikkema, PFF

We haven't spoken about Chuba Hubbard as yet, but his role could be the most integral of all.

The former fourth-round pick's progressed well every season he's been in the league. Hubbard looked like someone who could cope with lead-back responsibilities last time around. Brooks' arrival coupled with the added incentive of a contract year should be enough to keep the positive momentum building around the Oklahoma State product.

The more reliable running back options Canales has, the better. He's going to be stubborn in establishing the run. The Panthers also have two formidable bodies ready to create strong lanes after spending big sums on Damien Lewis and Robert Hunt to become their new starting offensive guard tandem in free agency. These improved concepts will also help Ikem Ekwonu bounce back after a lackluster 2023 campaign.

This sounds great on paper. However, proving this when the regular season arrives is the only way to inspire confidence among a fanbase who've been burned by false projections and wild offseason predictions under previous regimes.

Canales has more purpose in the way he goes about his business. But seeing is believing.

If his grand plans come to fruition, the running backs stand to benefit more than most. How the unit's dynamic shakes out as the campaign goes on - especially when Brooks gets the all-clear to participate - is another matter.