One word has summed up the Carolina Panthers off-season for fans, media, and analysts alike... "EVOLVE." Ever since Rivera muttered the phrase in regards to the offense at the end of the season, the outside world has been trying to figure it out. As we have gotten closer to the draft, we may be getting a pretty good idea judging by a few of the prospect visits the Panthers have brought in.
Each season NFL teams are allotted 30 draft prospects to bring in for visits and/or workouts at the team facilities. In most cases, in the Panthers case anyway, these are the players you can start getting the best judge of interest in. There have been three particular players the Panthers have shown interest in that fit roughly the same mold and could help "evolve" this offense and give Cam Newton another weapon. They are RB/WR Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR Curtis Samuel, and RB Alvin Kamara.
In a year where Jonathan Stewart is turning 30 and has battled injuries, seeing Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera hosting running back prospects isn't surprising. But each of these running backs offer something new to the Panthers offense, and that's the ability to line up outside or in the slot at receiver.
Having a running back with the ability to line up as a receiver can create all kinds of mismatches for opposing defenses. Many question whether offensive coordinator Mike Shula can properly use a player like this, but who really knows as the most versatile player he has had with Carolina was Ted Ginn, who now resides with NFC SOuth rival New Orleans. Between Shula and Cam Newton, Ginn has had the best years of his career in Charlotte. During the 2015 season Shula constantly used Ginn's speed to create mismatches. Like the one here (fast forward to 1:55) where a linebacker was covering Ginn. Good times.
With Ginn in the slot and the Falcons sending a blitzing safety from the left, it left Ginn matched up alone with the linebacker. There was one safety left up top, but Ginn is the only receiver on the three wide set who crosses field, leaving the safety in no man's land with two other receivers to his right. As soon as Newton realizes the safety doesn't adjust, he lofts it up downfield for Ginn to use his speed to go get it.
Now, I'm not comparing Ginn to prospects like McCaffrey, just simply showing what the use of proper mismatches with players who create separation can do. The hottest name surrounding the Panthers draft right now, Christian McCaffrey, has been a master of this in college. You can look up highlights all day, but here's one where he runs a route out of the back field and breaks a linebacker down one-on-one and takes it all the way after finding the seam.
Alvin Kamara shot up teams boards after posting explosive combine numbers. His versatility in both the running and receiving game is what helped land him at Tennessee. That along with his combine performance is what will help him in the NFL as well.
This isn't the big play like McCaffrey's above, but it's a good example of the mismatch caused by the running back motioning out of the backfield. Tennessee scored twice in this game on this exact same play. You'll notice two defenders on one receiver near the back of the end zone leaving Kamara wide open.
Chances are you saw Curtis Samuel of Ohio State play at some point last season. He dominated the final drive in double overtime that propelled the Buckeyes over arch rival Michigan.
Another play where the linebacker matches up with the running back coming out of the back field. The quarterback slightly under-throws the pass here causing a contested catch that Samuel still comes down with. A little more on the pass and it's an easy touchdown catch.
The Panthers have visited with all of these running backs along with Leonard Fournette, who is another hot name associated with the Panthers. These takes here are not a spite to Fournette and his game. I still like Fournette and think he can be successful in the NFL. I also believe he has better hands than many anticipate, but the Panthers need versatility if they are going to truly "evolve" the offense. Having another power running back wouldn't really do that.
With that said, it's also entirely possible Carolina brought in the likes of Curtis Samuel and Alvin Kamara in case they chose not to go McCaffrey at eight. It seems pretty evident the Panthers like Fournette just as much as they do McCaffrey and if he falls to eight, we could see them take him and get either Samuel or Kamara later. They could also go defense at eight if a guy they really like is still there and get one of the two later. The only problem with that is McCaffrey is much more polished in running, receiving, and returning than the other two. Not to mention you are then tying up two draft picks on running backs.
When it all boils down to it, we can only guess what Rivera meant by "evolve." Hell, Gettleman said in his post season presser that it wasn't really the proper term to use, so who knows? Nobody but the people in the front office really know what direction they want to go a week out from the draft. Even they probably still don't know. It could all come down to who falls and who doesn't.
Written By Tripp Morgan
Article thumbnail photo by Jesse Fraetis.