The Carolina Panthers have been without football's most dynamic player the past five games, and whether or not Christian McCaffrey will be able to make his return for Thursday's NFC South showdown against the Atlanta Falcons is a subject of great intrigue.
McCaffrey is considered a "long shot" to play in Week 8, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. However, McCaffrey did return to practice on Monday, according to the Panthers' official website, indicating that there may actually be a chance he suits up for the game against Atlanta. Panthers beat reporter David Newton added that while McCaffrey reported to practice, he was in a red non-participation jersey.
Carolina has gotten by with Mike Davis, who has 517 total yards and four touchdowns in McCaffrey's absence -- but the Panthers are also 20th in rushing and 19th in yards per carry this season. The Panthers had a season-low 37 rushing yards in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, as Davis was held to seven carries for 12 yards and five catches for 24 yards. Davis had his first game without a receiving touchdown since joining the Panthers' starting lineup.
The Panthers will have an excellent 1-2 punch with McCaffrey and Davis once he returns, even though McCaffrey will need some time to get back to his All-Pro form. McCaffrey had 156 yards and four rushing touchdowns in two games with Carolina this season, to go with seven catches for 67 yards. McCaffrey has played just 34 of a possible 39 games since the start of the 2018 season, but still leads the NFL with 4,580 yards from scrimmage and third in touchdowns (36) during that span. He leads all running backs in receiving yards (1,939) and receptions (23) while recording 10 touchdowns since the start of the 2018 season.
The Panthers would of course like McCaffrey back as soon as possible, but also need to be patient regarding their investment in the 24-year-old running back -- especially since he's the highest-paid back in the league.