NFL

What Happened to Christian McCaffrey and Why Isn’t He Playing for the Carolina Panthers?

Christian McCaffrey has firmly established himself as one of the league’s top talents. However, the 2020 season hasn’t transpired in a promising manner for McCaffrey or the Carolina Panthers. As the Panthers take on the Washington Football Team in Week 16, the team won’t have their star running back in the mix.

Christian McCaffrey’s rise to NFL stardom

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It didn’t take long for Christian McCaffrey to prove that he is the real deal in the NFL.

McCaffrey quickly became the centerpiece for the Carolina Panthers’ offense behind his dual-threat production. The Pro Bowler has been a massive asset in the passing game in a record-breaking fashion. He has set the league mark in back-to-back campaigns as the first running back to post more than 100 catches in each season.

The 24-year-old is coming off a career-best campaign where he became only the third player with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same year. McCaffrey is also the second running back with at least 2000 receiving yards in his first 42 career games, joining Hershel Walker.

However, he hasn’t kept that momentum rolling as the 2020 season hasn’t unfolded as expected due to the injury bug.

Why isn’t Christian McCaffrey playing for the Panthers?

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McCaffrey entered the 2020 season looking to build off his career-best campaign, but injuries have marred it.

The All-Pro running back has struggled to find his footing as he has only taken the field in three games through the first 14 weeks of the season. McCaffrey initially suffered a foot injury in the Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that forced him to miss the next six games.

The 24-year-old returned in Week 9 action against the Kansas City Chiefs but suffered a shoulder injury in the contest. Since then, McCaffrey has been on the mend as he’s set to miss his sixth straight game and 12th overall this year, according to David Newton of ESPN.

He initially missed the first three weeks after Week 9 due to the shoulder ailment, followed by the last three contests because of a quad injury that came about in practice during the Week 13 bye. Before the 2020 campaign, McCaffrey proved to be quite durable as he played in all 48 regular-season games over his first three years.

The Carolina Panthers have handled the situation with much precaution, given his importance to their long-term future. With the playoff out of the picture entirely, Carolina could lean toward keeping him off the field for the rest of the year.

Long-term piece in the Panthers’ future

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When the Panthers signed Christian McCaffrey to his record-setting extension last offseason, the franchise cemented their commitment.

Before this season, McCaffrey more than proved to be an elite talent in the league that Carolina Panthers can build around. The 24-year-old is in the prime of his career with potentially several highly productive campaigns ahead.

Although the injuries woes this year should draw some concern, the Panthers could take it as a sign to fill out the roster around him. The offseason addition of Robby Anderson has worked wonders as he’s strung together a career-best campaign with 85 catches for 1,017 receiving yards, marking his first 1,000 receiving yard year.

Teddy Bridgewater has had his moments in his first season with the Panthers. However, the team will need much more steady play under center to make playoff contention feasible. In other words, if Carolina hopes to maximize McCaffrey’s game-changing talent, Bridgewater will have to hold his own to guide them in the right direction firmly.

With head coach Matt Rhule’s first season with the Panthers nearly complete, the upcoming offseason may see the roster tinkered further toward his preference. Within all of that will see McCaffrey’s role in the offense remain the most prominent.