Depth was one of the questions surrounding the Panthers backfield after releasing franchise leading rusher DeAngelo Williams this offseason. With training camp and two pre-season contests in the books, the position is quickly looking to be one of the tougher cuts to make in getting to the final 53-man roster.
With Jonathan Stewart getting limited reps in the first two exhibition games, the backups have seen their fair share of reps. Three of these five other backs are rookies, two of which went undrafted (Brandon Wegher and Lee Ward).
Wegher has become an instant fan favorite through these first two games after propelling the Panthers to two 4th quarter comeback victories. His tremendous burst and knack for following his blockers has raised some eyebrows over the last couple of weeks, especially following the 42-yard touchdown reception that ultimately defeated the Bills. His rushing numbers haven't been flashy (39 yards on 10 attempts), but the three touchdown scores in clutch situations has caused a buzz among fans and coaches. Ron Rivera described Wegher as a "diamond in the rough" during mini-camps, and fans have definitely seen him sparkle.
Carolina drafted Cameron Artis-Payne with their 5th round pick in this years draft for depth and with the goal of him maybe one day taking over Jonathan Stewart's lead role. Payne finished his senior year at Auburn with 1,608 rushing yards to lead the SEC, the hardest conference in college football. The only negative thing we have really heard about him out of camp was his trouble with blitz pickups, but has been highly praised for his hard running style. He has rushed for 57 yards on 12 carries through the first two preseason games, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt . Payne has been impressive running the ball so far and with Fozzy Whitaker only gaining 7 yards on 6 carries thus far, he may just jump into the number two spot by the regular season if he keeps up the good work.
One of the guys who seems to be flying under the radar is Jordan Todman, who came to the Panthers from Jacksonville, where he averaged around 7 yards per attempt last year. While he didn't have nearly the attempts as the other starters with the Jaguars, it's still an impressive stat. He's put up 48 yards on 8 carries with his time in the two pre-season games, which averages 6 yards per attempt. Impressed yet? Keep an eye on him moving forward, he should also help a lot with special teams.
Now while a lot of the reps for these players came against second and third team defenses, that shouldn't undermine what they have done in the opportunities given. Artis-Payne got reps with the first team against the Dolphins this past week and ran the ball well; he followed his blockers, bursting through holes, and made good cuts. From what I've seen at this point, Payne has my vote for the number two spot behind Stewart. We could certainly see some surprising cuts at this position if this kind of play continues.
Don't let me be the only judge, vote for what you think the depth chart should read after 2 games.
By Tripp Morgan
Follow him on Twitter @RRGVegas