The Carolina Panthers fan base has been holding its breath ever since the second quarter of the Panthers' 24-9 victory over the Houston Texans on Thursday night, as star running back Christian McCaffrey exited the game with a hamstring injury. Head coach Matt Rhule said after the matchup that McCaffrey strained his hamstring, but that the severity of the injury is unknown.
With McCaffrey faced with missing multiple games for the second straight season and Mike Davis now with the rival Atlanta Falcons, the running back duties will be handed down to rookie Chuba Hubbard and the veteran Royce Freeman.
Hubbard rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries and caught three passes for 27 yards when McCaffrey exited in Week 3. Freeman got some reps as well, as he took five carries for 17 yards on Thursday night. After the game, Rhule was asked what he's looking for out of these two players if McCaffrey is to miss time.
"Yeah, I think they just have to be starting NFL running backs, and Royce has done that before," Rhule said, via Pro Football Talk. "I told Chuba at halftime, 'That's why we drafted you, man.' I thought Chuba was outstanding. At the end of the half, we didn't give him a ton of chances, but I thought he got in there at the end and made some key runs. When we can line up in four-minute offense and run and get the first down on two plays, especially versus that stout defense, that's a credit to the offensive line, credit to the tight ends and full backs. I thought those backs hit it, and the minute Royce got in he made that nice run, cut the ball back on a dual play, which that's a veteran-run. That's a guy that's played a bunch and saw it. Those guys stepped up for us."
How the reps will be handled between these two players is unknown, but Hubbard figures to be the lead back. He was selected by the Panthers in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State, and rushed for 3,459 yards and 33 touchdowns in three seasons in Stillwater -- including an impressive 2019 campaign where he rushed for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 13 games. During that season, Hubbard rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns against Rhule's Baylor Bears.
It remains to be seen how long Hubbard will have to try and fill McCaffrey's shoes, but it's clear Rhule has high expectations for him.