When DeAngelo Williams is released, the Carolina Panthers will have only two running backs under contract (Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert). It is expected that Fozzy Whittaker will be back next year but he is currently an exclusive rights free agent.
The offense’s run game should look very similar in 2015 like it did at the end of 2014 with Stewart being the team’s featured running back. He played excellent in this role and was one of the top rushers in the NFL the final five weeks of the year.
The concern with Stewart though is he does have an injury history and has played in only 28 out of a possible 48 games the past three years. The Panthers should try and find a running back who can be effective with minimal carries but step in as a featured back if Stewart goes down with an injury.
These five running backs would seem to be the right fit for that and be an excellent addition to the Panthers’ backfield.
2014 Stats: 78 rushing attempts, 300 rushing yards, 19 receptions, 125 yards, 1 touchdown
C.J. Spiller is one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL and is an excellent target out of the backfield. He is coming off a down year with the Buffalo Bills which was due to a collar bone injury as well as Spiller never seeming to be a good fit in Doug Marrone’s offense.
In 2012, while playing for Chan Gailey the former Clemson running back exploded onto the scene with 1,703 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. If the Panthers understand Spiller’s limitations, which is he is not a between the tackle running back, he could excel in this offense. He also would be a welcomed addition as a returner on special teams.
The biggest issue with Spiller could come down to money. After DeMarco Murray and Justin Forsett, Spiller should be the most sought after running back on the free agent market. The positive is that the running back position has taken a huge hit in terms of their value and he might be available for a bargain.
2014 Stats: 155 rushing attempts, 534 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 212 receiving yards
Similar to Spiller, Darren McFadden is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and could be a great compliment to Stewart. The biggest concern with McFadden is his durability and if he can stay healthy. This past season was the first time in seven-year career that he was able to play a full 16-game season.
Darren McFadden’s career stats won’t excite many fans. He has a career 4.1 yards per carry and has been higher than 3.4 yards per carry the past three years. However, McFadden has played his entire career on the Oakland Raiders and running behind a below average offensive line. It would be interesting to see if McFadden could be more effective with a supporting cast around him in Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen.
2014 Stats: 31 rushing attempts, 148 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 1 reception, 8 receiving yards
Knowshon Moreno’s one-year stint in Miami did not go as well as he would and was cut short after three games due to an elbow injury as well as a torn ACL. In Moreno’s six years in the NFL he has played only 16 games twice as he also has dealt with injuries line McFadden.
When Moreno is healthy though he is the type of running back that would be able to compliment Jonathan Stewart in the Panthers’ backfield. He also has shown an excellent ability to catch the ball out of the backfield averaging 2.5 receptions per game in his career and 8.9 yards per reception.
2014 Stats: 74 rushing attempts, 330 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, 9 receptions, 69 receiving yards
Ryan Mathews is the one running back in this group that has shown he can be a featured back crossing the 200 rushing attempt and 1,000 rushing yards mark twice in his first four seasons. He missed 10 games last year with a sprained MCL and sprained ankle later in the season.
The stumbling block with Mathews is whether or not he would be willing to take a back-up role in Carolina. After being the featured back in San Diego for the past few years, he may be looking for an opportunity to show he can still be that workhorse for a team.
2014 Stats: 58 attempts, 217 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdowns, 29 receptions, 173 yards, 1 receiving touchdown
Jacquizz Rodgers may not be able to step in for Jonathan Stewart as the team’s featured running back if Stewart is hurt. However as a back-up, in a Darren Sproles “type” role he would be a perfect fit. He also would probably be the most cost effective of the four running backs listed.
Prior to 2014, Rodgers had two consecutive seasons with 50+ receptions and has a career average of 7.1 yards per reception. He also has experience as a punt returner with 49 returns over the past three years. At only 25 years of age, Rodgers could still have his best football ahead of him and if the Panthers are confident in Stewart staying healthy the whole season, the guy they should try and sign is Rodgers.