Here we go again for Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. For the second year in a row, McCaffrey will miss a lot of time on the field due to injury. The Panthers have placed their All-Pro running back on injured reserve with a hamstring strain, and will not be eligible to return until Week 9.
McCaffrey has only played in three games this year. The Panthers got off to a good 3-0 start, but have lost their last two games without McCaffrey on the field. It’s such an important part of Carolina’s offense, and such a welcome safety blanket for quarterback Sam Darnold as a double threat running back who can run and catch the ball out of the backfield. Taking McCaffrey out of that equation is an extreme disadvantage for this team.
Fortunately for the Panthers, McCaffrey will be able to return in a few weeks. But hamstring injuries can be tricky. It initially strained him in the team’s Week 3 win over the Houston Texans. McCaffrey had participated in a handful of practices (in a limited capacity) since the initial tension before adjusting it again recently, prompting the Panthers to officially place him on IR over the weekend.
It seems that once a player starts accumulating so many injuries, begins to snowball, especially in the running position. Every player in the NFL is dealing with some kind of lingering injury, for the most part, but it’s the ones that keep the guys out for weeks that worry the teams and fans.
Sunday will be McCaffrey’s third lost game this year, when the Panthers host the Minnesota Vikings. This sounds like a game Carolina should win, but so did the game against Philadelphia last week. And the Eagles won, 21-18.
The Panthers offense is different without McCaffrey, and rival teams know it. In her first three games this season, all with McCaffrey, and all victories, Carolina averaged 390 total yards on offense. And McCaffrey hurt his hamstring in the second quarter of that third game. But in Carolina’s two subsequent losses since McCaffrey fell, her offense is averaging just 323 yards per game.
Hopefully, McCaffrey doesn’t end up being one of those players who misses multiple games each year with pesky hamstring injuries like this. We see this all too often, especially with running backs who are such an important part of his team’s offensive scheme. In 2018, McCaffrey’s sophomore year, he rushed for 1,098 yards and added another 867 yards per reception. McCaffrey was then named to the NFL All-Pro team in 2019, when he rushed for 1,387 yards and amassed 1,005 receiving yards, becoming the third player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. Such high usage is precisely why most workhorse racers don’t last long in the NFL. Teams use these guys within their first 3-4 years, then they’re never the same again after that.
If the Panthers want this kid to last long-term, they’ll need to find a way to lower his shot count a bit. Without a doubt, he is one of the best young running backs in the league. Still, as we’ve seen, injuries seem to be mounting and he’s starting to spend more time on the bench than on the field. But we know that the machine tends to chew them up and spit them out. Hopefully these two years are an anomaly for McCaffrey and not the norm going forward.