The Carolina Panthers’ firing of Matt Rhule has led to questions about the organization’s future, including that of running back Christian McCaffrey.
The sixth-year pro is one of the best dual-threat playmakers at his position, ranking fifth in scrimmage yards per game (108.1) since the start of the 2021 season. There could be concerns surrounding his injury history with McCaffrey missing 23 games over the course of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. There are potential salary cap hurdles, as well, but there are a number of NFL teams that should have already picked up the phone to inquire about McCaffrey ahead of the Nov. 1 trade deadline. As of Monday, the day of Rhule’s firing, Carolina had not had trade talks about McCaffrey with any team, according to NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero. In my opinion, Carolina should welcome any such calls because a trade for the All-Pro back would likely net significant draft capital for a team that looks to be headed for a rebuild.
While they could certainly use McCaffrey’s services, you won’t see the Arizona Cardinals (2-3), Los Angeles Rams (2-3) or Baltimore Ravens (3-2) on this list. I believe each has more pressing areas to address than running back. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these teams at least kick the tires on a potential deal in the coming weeks.
Now, let’s get to my list of four teams that should inquire about McCaffrey ahead of the deadline.
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The Bills are in position to make a run at a championship, and they should be willing to go all in. The next step is making a splash move — not for Odell Beckham Jr., but for McCaffrey. I realize Buffalo ranks first in yards heading into Week 6, but it ranks 14th in rushing. The Panthers’ running back would better suit the Bills’ offense because he can help control the clock. McCaffrey’s skill set meshes perfectly in the Bills’ scheme as a playmaker in the pass game and on the ground. I believe he’d be a guy who can get the Bills over the playoff hump — just like Beckham did for the Rams last season.
The Chiefs have the top-ranked scoring offense despite parting with Tyreek Hill in the offseason, but McCaffrey could be the truly explosive element the attack has been missing. Sure, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon are getting the job done, combining for 7 scrimmage TDs in 5 games, but just imagine McCaffrey in the backfield. With McCaffrey lining up behind Patrick Mahomes, defenses would be forced to honor the run game, making Andy Reid’s offense that much more difficult to stop. The Chiefs’ 18th-ranked run game would benefit from adding another versatile runner and their top-five passing attack would welcome another elusive playmaker who can win matchups out of the backfield, in the slot or out wide.
This feels like the least likely destination for McCaffrey of the four teams listed here, with the Bucs also in the NFC South. However, there’s no doubt Tom Brady and the Bucs would welcome a versatile playmaker like McCaffrey. Tampa Bay’s offense has been plagued by injuries this season, with players constantly going in and out of the lineup. No offense to Leonard Fournette, who has stepped up in the pass game and leads the Bucs with 26 receptions this season, but Brady desperately needs a third-down back. McCaffrey averaged 101 receptions in his first three seasons — the only instances when he’s played a full regular season. He would provide Brady with another checkdown option and threat to take a 5-yard route 70 yards to the house. McCaffrey would slide seamlessly into Byron Leftwich’s offense and give the Bucs a two-headed monster in the backfield.
Yes, the Eagles already feature one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL with Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott, but do you remember the Panthers’ offense when Cam Newton was paired with McCaffrey early in the running back’s career? They just shredded opponents on the ground. We could see that type of success for Philadelphia if McCaffrey were to link up with Hurts, the center of the Eagles’ run game with 6 rush TDs and 4 games with 10-plus carries this season. Adding McCaffrey to an Eagles offense that features A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert would open up so many possibilities. This offense would be explosive.
Top 15 running backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2022 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 6.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
2022 stats: 5 games | 98 att | 593 rush yds | 6.1 ypc | 7 rush TD | 6 rec | 37 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
At this point, the pole position in my list is Chubb’s to lose. He’s playing at an elite level right now, with his latest performance being a 134-yard, two-TD effort on the ground. Chubb leads the league in rush yards and rushing touchdowns.
2022 stats: 5 games | 97 att | 533 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 3 rush TD | 18 rec | 143 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
I said earlier this season that Saquon was back to old form. That is still true in mid-October. Watching him dice up the Packers’ defense live in London, I was in awe of the highlight reel he put together: a 41-yard run, a 41-yard catch and run, and a TD run out of the Wildcat formation. He did it all. He’ll have to do it again against another top team on Sunday.
2022 stats: 5 games | 72 att | 324 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 2 rush TD | 26 rec | 188 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
It’s been a rough week for the Panthers, who fired head coach Matt Rhule after falling to 1-4 on the season, but McCaffrey is on a tear. Against the 49ers, he led the team in targets (12) and receptions (seven) amassing 104 total yards, including a 19-yard touchdown on a fourth-down play.
2022 stats: 5 games | 104 att | 408 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 5 rush TD | 10 rec | 121 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
It’s been nice to see Henry get into a consistent habit of running over people again. (Sorry, Commanders.) He got a 30-touch workload that included two goal-line touchdowns in the Titans’ third straight victory. Tennessee is now in first place in the AFC South.
2022 stats: 5 games | 86 att | 412 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 3 rush TD | 13 rec | 57 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
I was getting flashbacks of Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Quake when watching Pierce against the Jaguars. The rookie forced 13 missed tackles on rushes, the most by any player in a game this season, per Pro Football Focus. Pierce dragged numerous defenders (seriously, it seemed like 10 guys) during a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter that helped set up his go-ahead 1-yard touchdown run.
2022 stats: 5 games | 61 att | 313 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 3 rush TD | 31 rec | 214 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Ekeler earned this massive jump in the rankings this week. The man went total rock star against the Browns: 16 carries, 173 rush yards, two total touchdowns. By the way, he averaged an absurd 10.8 yards per carry.
2022 stats: 5 games | 91 att | 490 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 3 rush TD | 17 rec | 129 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
We’ve had back-to-back weeks of Josh McDaniels fully utilizing Jacobs. I love to see it. He posted a season-high 154 rush yards against the Chiefs on Monday night. This should be an indication that the Raiders need to stick to their run game and let Jacobs eat.
2022 stats: 4 games | 72 att | 356 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 3 rush TD | 8 rec | 35 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Sanders came back down to earth in Week 5 as the Eagles relied heavily on Jalen Hurts in the run game. That will happen from time to time, but Sanders is still a dangerous weapon in the open field.
2022 stats: 5 games | 61 att | 390 rush yds | 6.4 ypc | 1 rush TD | 14 rec | 98 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The Giants’ tough run defense did no favors for Jones and Co. He should be able to bounce back at home this week against the Jets, as he’s averaged 7.8 yards per carry with 3 total TDs in 2 games at Lambeau Field this season.
2022 stats: 5 games | 81 att | 373 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 3 rush TD | 11 rec | 74 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
In a tight contest against Chicago, the Vikings followed through with a very balanced attack. Cook contributed with 121 total yards and a pair of TDs. I would like to see him get a 100-yard rushing game on the stat sheet, but having three out of five games with 90-plus rushing yards this season isn’t too bad either.
2022 stats: 5 games | 74 att | 280 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 1 rush TD | 26 rec | 194 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Fournette has been a bruising, clock-consuming back for much of the season. Last week, though, he put up wide receiver-type numbers with 10 receptions, 83 receiving yards and one touchdown. He now has more receiving TDs than rushing TDs on the season. Go figure.
2022 stats: 5 games | 74 att | 375 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 2 rush TD | 8 rec | 70 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Wilson has been great when filling in for injured teammate Elijah Mitchell. Benefiting from Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme, Wilson quietly ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing through Week 5.
2022 stats: 5 games | 56 att | 275 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 2 rush TD | 17 rec | 213 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The second-round pick is off to an extremely promising start, leading the league with 6.7 yards per touch (min. 70 touches) entering Week 6. In fact, Hall and Saquon Barkley are the youngest players since at least 1950 to post 250-plus rush yards and 200-plus receiving yards over their first 5 career games, per NFL Research.
2022 stats: 5 games | 69 att | 286 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 3 rush TD | 8 rec | 45 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Robinson had such a strong start to the season, then the Jaguars decided to not feed him the ball, as he’s averaging just 9 carries per game over the last two weeks. To make things even more bleak, they have another divisional game on tap against the Colts’ rushing defense, which ranks fourth in the league.
2022 stats: 4 games | 81 att | 328 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 9 rec | 44 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Despite missing last week’s game due to an ankle injury, Taylor is still a top-15 running back in terms of rushing yards this season. If he’s able to return against the Jaguars on Sunday, a good performance versus the league’s sixth-best run defense could have Taylor moving in the right direction on this list again.
DROPPED OUT: Khalil Herbert, Bears (previously No. 8); Rashaad Penny, Seahawks (No. 14); Jamaal Williams (No. 15).
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