RB #1: Jonathan Stewart
Last year he ran for 809 rushing yards in the regular season however 486 of those yards came in the final five games. He was one of the leading rushers in the NFL over that stretch and was averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He didn’t slow down much in the playoffs either with 193 rushing yards and once again was averaging over five yards per carry.
The biggest concern with Stewart has to be his health and whether or not he can carry the ball like a featured back. He has only been able to play a full season once over the past five years.
At 28 years of age, he is getting close to that dreaded 30-year old mark for running backs. Although, Stewart may not be hit with the curse due to the fact that he has been able to split time with Williams. He doesn’t have the same kind of mileage as some of these other running backs and has only carried the ball more than 200 times in a season once.
RB #2: Fozzy Whittaker
After Stewart, the depth chart is very much up in the air. There isn’t a running back who has proven to be a reliable 10-15 carries a game type player. For right now, Whittaker should get the first crack at this role due to his experience in this offense.
Last season he only ran for 145 rushing yards but also only received 32 carries. The biggest play of the season for Whittaker came against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional round when he took a screen pass 39 yards for a touchdown.
He has proven to be an effective change of pace back however this offense wants to rely on the run. It will be interesting this offseason and into training camp to see if Whittaker can show he can be that second back.
RB #3: Jordan Todman
The Panthers signed Jordan Todman, mostly due to the fact that he was one of the better kick returners a season ago. However, he can also contribute out of the backfield and had similar numbers to Whittaker while with the Jacksonville Jaguars (32 rushing attempts, 186 yards).
The area that gives Todman a slight edge over Whittaker is his pass catching ability out of the backfield. Last year, he caught 25 passes and averaged 7.9 yards a catch. He also is a little more explosive than Whittaker when he gets the ball, whether that’s on the ground or through the air.
RB #4: Cameron Artis-Payne
The emergence of Cameron Artis-Payne could help elevate a lot of problems at the running back position. He is the one player who has the potential to help Stewart split the work load at running back. The fifth-round rookie will have to work for that role, as the Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Jones tweeted, Artis-Payne is currently fourth on the depth chart.
Last year at Auburn, Artis-Payne was a workhorse for their offense and carried the ball over 300 times. He has a similar build to Stewart and is the type of running back who is tough to tackle, will grind out yards but does not have that home run ability. He is not the type of player who can run away from defenses and take it to the house.
While he is currently fourth on the depth chart, it would be a surprise if he is not the main back-up to Stewart when the Panthers open the regular season against the Jaguars.
RB #5: Darrin Reaves
Reaves was an undrafted rookie last year but saw some significant playing time early in the season when the Panthers had both Williams and Stewarts out with injuries. However he was largely ineffective and in two games against the Baltimore Ravens and the Chicago Bears he carries the ball 22 times and only gained 62 yards. He also didn’t have a run longer than 10 yards in either game.
To be fair to Reaves, when he was asked to fill in early in the season the offensive line was a mess. There probably wasn’t many running backs who could have been effective behind that group. The Panthers saw enough in Reaves last year to re-sign him this offseason.
This won’t necessarily guarantee him a spot on the roster, especially with the additions of Todman and Artis-Payne. He will have to show the coaching staff something this offseason if he hopes to make the roster.
RB #6: Brandon Wegher
Ron Rivera described Brandon Wegher as “a nice diamond in the rough”, according to Ron Clements of Sporting News. Wegher joined the Panthers as an undrafted free agent and seems to be a perfect candidate for the team’s practice squad.
Wegher started his college career with a bright future playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes and ran for 641 yards as a freshman. He left after his freshman year and with stops in Oklahoma and Iowa Western Community Collge in Council Bluff found a home at NAIA Morningside College in Sioux City. In two seasons there he averaged 200.8 yards per game.
Wegher was invited to the Panthers’ rookie camp back in May and made enough of an impression to earn a contract. However, with how many players are currently vying for spots at running back it looks like a tough challenge for him to make the roster. If he performs well over the next three months, it would not be a surprise to see him sticking around on the practice squad.
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.