When the Carolina Panthers signed star running back Christian McCaffrey to a $64 million extension this offseason, making him the highest-paid ball-carrier in NFL history, they probably did not envision 2020 unfolding as it has. Set to return from a three-game absence due to a shoulder ailment this week, McCaffrey suffered a separate quad injury "while training on his own," per NFL Network, prompting him to sit out Thursday's practice. Now, coach Matt Rhule says McCaffrey is doubtful to suit up against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
"He's doubtful," Rhule told reporters Friday. "We do not expect him to play."
While notable considering the way McCaffrey opened the week, with sights set on an anticipated return to the starting lineup, the news continues a 2020 trend for the Pro Bowler. The multipurpose back lasted all of two games this year before sitting out more than a month -- from Weeks 3-8 -- thanks to a high-ankle sprain. Then, in his first game back, the Panthers' Week 9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, McCaffrey went down again. While the initial prognosis was that he could return sooner rather than later, he proceeded to miss another three games before this week's setback.
"I know how much Christian wants to play," Rhule said. "I know how much he wants to be out there. As I've told him, and as I've told any player who gets hurt, these things happen, and everything happens for a reason. Take it, deal with it, and move on with it, but nothing good comes from getting frustrated. Nothing good comes from emotion. Just deal with it as it comes.
"I'm sure for Christian, growing up as a young kid watching the Denver Broncos and watching his dad, I'm sure he wants to play in this game, but it just wasn't meant to be. He's done everything he could possibly do, and I respect the heck out of Christian, and he'll be out there cheering on his teammates."
McCaffrey, who was limited at practice on Wednesday, will be replaced once more by veteran backup Mike Davis. The latter, who'd be making his 10th start of 2020 as McCaffrey's fill-in, has been involved in both the run and pass game for Carolina, but he's also seen a slight drop-off in production since a hot October. Davis has averaged fewer than four yards per carry in five of his last seven matchups, with No. 3 back Rodney Smith logging at least seven carries in two straight games.
Davis and Smith will be up against a Broncos defense that's surrendered more rushing yards than all but six teams in 2020, although Denver's unit has also improved in recent weeks.