No Receivers, No Problems for the Carolina Panthers: Are the Backs Poised to Breakout in 2014?

By Dan Rawlinson, UK
Dan writes for UK sports site, the Sports Breakfast. You can find his work also at

The Carolina Panthers offseason has been dominated with negative talk about their lack of a certified wide receiver, but what of the running backs? At one time, the Panthers running corps was a well oiled touchdown machine. However through a mixture of injury and offensive style changes, its numbers have dwindled slightly over the past few seasons. Could this season be the year they reaffirm their status as one of the best backfields in the NFL? I'm here to explain why it could just be.

Jonathan StewartBack in 2008 & 2009 Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams earned themselves the nickname 'Double Trouble'.  In 2009, they both rushed for more than 1,100 yards and scored 17 touchdowns between them. Fantasy players even took to drafting both as at least one of them would always get you a touchdown. Since 2009, the pair’s numbers have declined, with neither hitting the 1,000 yard mark again. In fact, in the four seasons since 2009, their combined figures make 4,820 yards. In 2008 and 2009 their combined figured were 4,601 yards. So why do I believe that this downward trend will stop this year?

Let's start with Jonathan Stewart. Those figures above are a little harsh on Stewart. Over the last two years he has struggled badly with injuries, including the ankle surgery that sidelined him throughout last year’s offseason. But consider these numbers - a healthy Stewart rushed for over 750 yards each season from 2008-2011 as a number two back. Stewart has recently been quoted as saying he is the healthiest he has been since the 2011 season. With Williams now 31, and Stewart just 27 you could see him given an increased number of carries. Throughout his career, his average yards per carry increases the more touches he has, so this improved role may see career high numbers. If he is indeed back to 2011 health, we can expect at least a minimum 700 yards from Stewart in 2014/15.
DeAngelo Williams
Moving on to DeAngelo Williams. An NFL running back has arguably the shortest shelf life of all the positions in the league. Many have been retiring and struggled to find a team from the age of 30 onwards, Williams is 31. Williams bucks this trend though, he may be 31 but he has shared carries his entire career. He has 1,370 career rushing attempts, at the same age Frank Gore has 2,187 attempts, more than 800 more. 800 carries is almost three season’s worth or wear and tear that Williams still has in the tank. We all know he can still make the big plays as we saw him burst through the Jets defense last season for the 72 yard touchdown. ( Only three times in Williams' career has he had more than 200 carries in a single season and twice he produced 1,000 yard seasons, the other was last season. Last season he didn't get too many scores but could always be relied on the keep the chains moving. With plenty left in the tank DeAngelo can be relied on to at least match his numbers from last season. If he does then we have a minimum 1,600 rushing yards from our two main backs.

Cam Newton is another factor that will help ‘Double Trouble’ reproduce the numbers that earned them their nickname. In his rookie season, Newton rushed 126 times, and in his second season he rushed 127 times. Last season this number fell to 111 rushes. As Cam matures as a quarterback, he will begin to pick and choose his rushes better, keeping himself healthy. This will undoubtedly lead to his handing the ball off to his backfield more often. Also when Rob Chudzinski was offensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012, he had his offense focusing on pass heavy plays. When Mike Shula took over in 2013 he made sure he utilised the run game much more. Whilst I think we can all expect Cam to continue producing the kind of magic he did against the Patriots on Monday Night Football, I think we will see it being limited more.

The Carolina Panthers also possess a massive red zone threat in the 'Toldozer' Mike Tolbert. Toldozer has 7 touchdowns in each of his seasons in Carolina, mostly from short and goal situations. Hand him the ball and he will smash through the defence. He earned himself a spot on the Pro Bowl last season. He isn't quick but in the situations where the Panthers use him he doesn't need to be, he can do enough damage without the speed. He provides a great rotational option. After last season, defences will fear him in the red zone which opens up play action options.

The Carolina Panthers offensive line has also come under some serious scrutiny over the offseason. The left tackle position is notably weaker after the retirement of Jordan Gross. But the inside possibly got stronger. With perennial Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil at center, the Panthers have Amini Silatolu returning from knee surgery. The Panthers also picked up Trai Turner in the third round of this years draft. Turner has impressed everybody at OTAs, players and coaches alike. With an offensive line that is thick on the inside and thinner on the outside Cam will probably choose to utilise his running game. The guards can open up gaps and Stewart and Williams will exploit them for huge gains.

Tyler GaffneyThe Panthers also have the option of calling on some talented youth in their running game. Kenjon Barner possesses electric pace and is a real weapon on special teams, especially now since the departure of Ted Ginn Jr. Tyler Gaffney was a surprise selection by the Panthers in the 2013 draft. Picked in the sixth round many questioned the team's decision to add another running back to an already crowded backfield. The answer ? Potential. Gettleman and Rivera obviously saw something in Gaffney. He is tough, durable and a great pass protector. A patient runner Gaffney will wait for the gaps to open up before smashing through them with his sheer brute force. He may see some playing time during preseason and if he impresses you never know.

In 2013, the Carolina Panthers finished in the bottom half amongst the NFL for total yards gained and total points scored. They used their incredible defense and the superhero talents of Cam Newton to earn them their 12-4 record. This will NOT be the case this season. If everyone stays fit then I believe we will see the return on the power running game putting up some huge numbers.

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