Running back by committee is a concept that has grown from fad to necessity within the NFL. The Carolina Panthers are an organization that has thrived with this method since the days of the DeAngelo Williams-Jonathan Stewart tandem. Their Week 3 matchup against the visiting Minnesota Vikings features the next chapter in the development of that group as Cameron Artis-Payne is set to compete against Fozzy Whittaker for the role as the lead-backup.
While Stewart is a respected running back throughout the league, his battles with injuries are well-documented. Just two games into the 2016 NFL season and he’s expected to miss multiple weeks due to a lingering hamstring issue. The injury knocked him out of the win over the 46-27 victory over the San Francisco 49ers and gave Whittaker the opportunity to earn a career-best 100 yards on the ground.
Payne has watched from the sideline as he’s been inactive the first two games of the year. Still, he’s expected to be the “lead” running back, as described by Coach Ron Rivera in a report by ESPN. Even though he may have that designation, the Vikings—while dealing with their own injury issues with Adrian Peterson—should expect a healthy dose of both men in conjunction with running plays by Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert.
Rivera has praised the inside running ability of Artis-Payne. The coach called the Auburn-back “stout” on more than one occasion when describing his presence in that regard.
The Panthers consistently run the ball with all four men at some point in the game. Two weeks into this season and Carolina has used five running backs in both games. Newton will get his designed run plays, but the compelling storyline will revolve around whether or not Whittaker or Payne emerges are the true second man on this running back group. Stewart currently has the designation as the primary runner, but he leaves the door open very often to be replaced by someone more durable. Week 3 is an audition for both players.
Coming into the season, many expected Artis-Payne to be the main option when Stewart is not on the field. But being listed as inactive two games into the year raised the alarm for fans and experts closely watching this team. Many thought it was due to his mediocre production during the preseason and Whittaker’s long-term position as a multi-option weapon on this offense. Still, it was anticipated that Artis-Payne would see some time on the field due to the fact that Stewart consistently misses time at some point in each season.
Rivera described the stylistic differences between Whittaker and Artis-Payne. Thus, he set the stage to closely watch how the Panthers run the ball on Sunday. When Stewart and Williams were used in this role, the partnership was fairly close to being split down the middle. It wouldn’t be too much of a shock to see the same standard set in this game and others going forward. However, it would be more telling to see which player is tapped as Stewart’s backup if he makes a full recovery and takes his spot back as the starting tailback.
The Panthers are perhaps the best example of the benefits of a team using a running back by committee. Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings welcomes a healthy competition between Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker as they battle to become the number two man behind the oft-injured Jonathan Stewart.