McCaffrey, Samuel makes Panthers way more versatile

Carolina drafted the two hybrid players in the first two rounds. Sam Monson shows how the team could use the two new weapons.

| 3 weeks ago
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

McCaffrey, Samuel makes Panthers way more versatile

The Carolina Panthers could have one of the league’s most exciting and creative offenses in football in 2017. They have been unique for some time now with Cam Newton at QB and the things that he is capable of doing and they are prepared to allow him to do in terms of carrying the football. No other team in football runs QB-Power with any kind of regularity – a bruising, between-the-tackles run into the teeth of a defense – but the Panthers do it with Newton.

They went big in the draft with versatile playmakers, snagging Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey in the first round and then Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel in the second.

Each player has been employed across a couple of different positions in college, but it is their skill sets that allows the Panthers to get exceptionally creative with their offensive personnel in the NFL, and become the hardest offense to match up with any defense is going to come across.

Carolina personnel

The Panthers are, by and large, a one-back offense. Over the past two seasons they have had one back on the field in 11 or 12 personnel (one back, one TE, or one back, two TEs) on 81.9 percent of their snaps. The complexity that these versatile weapons gives them is not having both in the backfield at the same time, but in what the team can do from a motion standpoint to create mismatches with the defense.


Here the Panthers have already created a mismatch in personnel by splitting TE Greg Olsen out to the left of the formation while the WRs form a bunch formation on the other side. The defense (Tampa Bay in this case) has elected to defend the receivers with their corners and bring the strong safety across to cover Olsen one on one as if he was a corner. This is a mismatch the Panthers exploited for an easy completion and a first down.

Now imagine the running back is Christian McCaffrey, and he is automatically matched up against a linebacker. Even if he is just used out of the backfield that’s a favourable matchup, but if they put him in motion and line him up outside Olsen at wide receiver, the Bucs suddenly find themselves with their middle linebacker playing one on one on an island with a player that could play like a true wide receiver.

Now add in the wrinkle of Curtis Samuel. The Panthers ran 14 reverses, end arounds or jet sweeps last season, and all of them went to Ted Ginn, to try and take advantage of his speed and ability in space. Samuel can replicate that role, and bring the extra versatility of being able to line up in the backfield. Samuel averaged 7.9 yards per carry last season on 97 carries for the Buckeyes, with 3.2 of those yards on average coming after contact. He forced 20 missed tackles (one every 4.9 carries) and was a legitimate backfield weapon.

Carolina Ginn

At 5-foot-11 and under 200 pounds, his future in the NFL is at receiver, but he has the speed (4.31 40 time at the combine, faster than Ginn’s 4.37) to replicate Ginn’s big-play threat on these manufactured touches.

Ginn averaged seven yards per carry on the 14 trick runs he had in 2016, but Samuel at Ohio State averaged 10.9, more than three yards higher than the NCAA average on those plays.

Carolina Samuel

With Samuel able to run the speed role that Ginn was used in for the Panthers in the past, the team shouldn’t lose any big-play threat in that regard, and it comes with extra versatility in the backfield in the shape of McCaffrey.

But the key again becomes what the position versatility of those two players allows the Panthers to do from a matchup standpoint. Samuel isn’t just a threat to come in motion and run a trick play or not, he could also suddenly be brought into the backfield, and McCaffrey sent out to line up at wide receiver or in the slot in his place, forcing the defense into a quick re-shuffle or switch in assignments.

Defenses are going to have to decide before the huddle what they are treating Samuel and McCaffrey as when it comes to personnel (likely receiver and running back, respectively), but that puts them in a potential bind from a matchup standpoint because each player is capable of playing the opposite role better than any defender they are going to be matched up with.

With Newton under center, the Panthers already have one of the league’s most unique and versatile offensive weapons. They added two more in the first two rounds of the draft, and now have several months to dream up creative ways of using all three together.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • JudoPrince

    With the additions of Samuel and McCaffery the Panthers should be implementing a system of quick 3 step drop routes for Cam. This will dramatically impact Newton’s hits from last season, as the Panthers relied on far too many deep progression routes. Adjusting to patterns that allow for a quick release is the sensible adjustment; it’s the best way to compensate for a less than stellar offensive line. I predict the Panthers to be the league’s best offense next season, as they were in 2015.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Cam Newton is one of those handful of players that are legitimate “game changers”. The addition of McCaffery expands the offensive options in several ways. Scoring shouldn’t be a major problem for the Cats this season.

  • Malachi

    good stuff! would love to be a fly on the wall of mike shula’s office as he draws up plays this year more than ever

    • crosseyedlemon

      Not sure Mike will be able to produce chalkboard artwork as pretty as Sam’s though. That masterpiece should be hanging in the Smithsonian or Louvre.

  • Carpanfan95

    There hasn’t been a playbook built to the scope of what the Panthers offense could be. There is no key for the Defense. This article only really touched 3 players. You add in WR’s KB, Funchess, TE’s Olsen, Dickson and new FB Alex Armah 6’2 253 lbs, that played DR, TE & H back.

    See what most analyst and fans are missing if you start comparisons of McCaffrey to the Small great RB’s he has that skill set. You are missing the WR/RB Curtis Samuel is IMO a better version of Percy Harvin. Both coached by Urban Myer.

    The icing on the cake is FB Alex Armah if you look at NYG RB Brandon Jacobs 6’4 265 Armah is a better catch FB/TE/H Back at 6’2 253 lbs.

    The candles on the cake that makes this a party is the Panthers revamped o-line to Keep Cam Newton in the up right position. Gettleman is a master at the slide of hand. While everyone was screaming o-line he addressed in a huge way last year and this year. Look at the roster. “Hog Mollie” Heaven. O-lineman he has signed are guys who blocked for Andrew Luck in college, Dak Prescott, Kurt Cousins etc. They sat on the roster and developed for this year. Even signed the LT that played opposite to RT Daryl Williams from Oklahoma. That doesn’t include signing LT Matt Kalil or drafting Taylor Moton. Then there is a RT who is 6’7 335 lbs.

    What I’m saying is if Gettleman gets the o-line and depth of o-line figured out a 3 or 4 man rush will not get to Cam. That o-line could average 6’6 320 lbs.

    That means if Cam gets 3 seconds In the pocket clean. Games over for the opposing team. That’s just the offense.

    Defense has been address while people slept on the Panthers last season. Note this: Gettleman didn’t draft a safety after signing SS Mike Williams. Then to think he cut Tre Boston. What do the Panthers know that no one else does? I do.

    No player changes and can play 3-4, 4-3, 326 cover zone. Figure that out. Watch how the Panthers develop DE Deashon Hall.

  • Andre Taylor

    The Panthers should be a much improved offense this year, that is if LT Matt Kalil is able to revert to his rookie form. I do think playing with his brother and fellow USC alumni, Pro- Bowl Center Ryan Kalil will make a world of difference. Mainly because the Panthers run a power based offense and are a run first team, asking their O-Linemen to move forward more times then not, which should benefit Kalil and rookie RT/RG Taylor Morton. The key will be Cam Newton getting the ball out of his hands as fast as possible, whether it be handing off to Stewart, McCaffrey, or Samuel, or passing the ball underneath to ALL-PRO TE Greg Olsen, or to McCaffrey or Samuel out of the backfield. OC Mike Shula will have the option to play Stewart and McCaffrey at the same time, or Stewart and Samuel at the same time. The options are endless when you have to athletes with the speed, agility, and skillset that McCaffrey and Samuel possess, either can play in the slot, out-wide, or in the backfield. As long as the line messes and develops as it appears it will, the Panthers could very well be back in the Super Bowl. Carolina will not have to rely on the long ball down the field to get chunk plays, instead getting the ball to McCaffrey and or Samuel in space and allow them to create for themselves. The improvements that were made on the defensive side of the ball should help return the Panthers back to elite or at least top 10 form. Bringing back future HOFer, DE Julius Peppers even in 3rd down and passing situations will help the pass rush. Along with rookie Daeshone Hall, and the resigning of DE’s Charles Johnson, Wes Horton and Mario Addison. Getting alot of guys back from injury will also have a hugh impact on what type of season Carolina has.

  • Jeremy Hall

    Cam Newton will win the MVP this year

  • Phil

    Anyone have any idea whats going on with Kelvin Benjamin? Rumor has it that he weighs 280lbs!? Is there any merit to this? Cant find anything about it other than some tweets I read earlier this week. If hes in shape I think the Pathers will have a top 5 defense for sure but if not whos gonna be the number 1 receiver?