Christian McCaffrey is back. On Saturday, the Carolina Panthers activated the all-world running back from his latest stint on the team’s injured reserve list, the team announced. This puts him in line to return Sunday against the New England Patriots, and that would add an explosive weapon back to an offensive-needy offense that is also not sure Sam Darnold will be available. While Darnold cleared concussion protocol Saturday, it’s still undetermined if he’ll be active in Week 9, especially considering he’s also nursing a shoulder injury.
Should Darnold be ruled out, it’ll be P.J. Walker getting the nod. Walker took the reins initially when Darnold was benched by Matt Rhule recently, but it was Darnold who started in the Panthers’ victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week.
For McCaffrey, it’s not simply about returning to the field, it’s about staying on it. The Panthers have been very pleased with the performance of Chuba Hubbard as the starter, and while that’s not to say Hubbard could beat out McCaffrey — who is also one of the best receiving running backs in football — it is to say the more often he goes down with an injury, the more valuable Hubbard becomes. McCaffrey hasn’t played since Week 3 due to a hamstring injury, and with Hubbard having rushed for 272 yards in his past four games, the plan for the Panthers will likely not include putting Hubbard completely on ice.
They’ll need to figure out how to capitalize on the presence of both and hope McCaffrey can stay healthy going forward after missing the last five games in his attempt to return from a 2020 season, which saw him play in only three games after signing a record-setting contract extension. He missed time with both a high-ankle sprain and then season-ending shoulder injury.