The Carolina Panthers might have improved to 3-0 after beating the Houston Texans 24-9 on Thursday night, but it seems to have come at a price. CB Jaycee Horn (broken foot), RB Christian McCaffrey (hamstring), and S Juston Burriss (groin) all left the game at some point, with Horn’s injury being the most severe of the three. Horn has broken multiple bones (three, to be exact) in his foot, and he might require surgery and two-to-three months off for recovery. If he does miss around two months, he could be due for a late-season return, but an additional month off could mean that Horn could be out for the season…
McCaffrey (the Panthers 2017 first-rounder) was seen limping out of the medical tent and into the locker room early in the second quarter, and he did not return to the game afterward. Rookie RB Chubba Hubbard (the fourth-rounder out of Oklahoma St.) took over and finished with 11 carries and 52 yards, and he also added 27 yards in the air on three receptions. Early reports say McCaffrey could only possibly miss two or three weeks but it is apparent, after his first three seasons without an injury, that McCaffrey’s wear-and-tear is starting to show… The (early) good news is that he hasn’t been placed on IR, which means that he could be back sooner than the required three-game stay on the bench if a player is to be placed there… or so we thought. When asked to provide injury updates on his three players, head coach Matt Rhule reportedly said that McCaffrey may miss anywhere from one to four weeks (including a stay on the IR). Stay tuned for more news on him.
To make matters worse for the Panthers, their 2021 first-round pick (eighth overall), Horn, went down on a non-contact play and left the game with a broken foot. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network tweeted that this doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a season-ending injury, although it could be, as mentioned above. He will leave behind big shoes to fill on that Panthers D, which has been the BEST in the NFL through the first two weeks.
Lastly, we come to Burriss (the former Jets 2016 fourth-rounder), who injured his groin and he might be placed on the IR possibly. We do not know much about his injury or how many games he’ll miss yet exactly, so we will let you know once we do find out. He did have two tackles (both solo) before leaving the game and was having a good start to the season so far (one interception, one PD, nine tackles, and one TFL).
As for the players who could step in now to fill the roles that these three starters have left, here are the options: 1. Running back- Royce Freeman, Chuba Hubbard, and FB Giovanni Ricci; 2. Cornerback- A.J. Bouye, Donte Jackson, Keith Taylor, and Stantley Thomas-Oliver; and 3. Safety (most of them strong safeties, Burriss’ main position)- Sean Chandler, Jeremy Chinn (the only free safety mentioned), and Sam Franklin. Freeman (the former Broncos 2018 third-rounder) will get an uptick behind presumed starter Hubbard, and the assumption is that they will look to add one or two more backs (as indicated by the Panthers working out four backs recently). Ricci (their 202 UDFA) is acting as a blocking TE rather than in a running position, so he will be looking to help in the pass-game (if he is used). Additionally, they have their 2021 UDFA Spencer Brown and their 2020 UDFA Rodney Smith on their practice squad, if they wanted to call them up too.
Bouye, the former Texans 2013 UDFA, recently got out of the remaining two games in his six-game suspension from last year, so he will look to stabilize the CB position group. Jackson (their 2018 second-rounder), Taylor (their 2021 fifth-rounder), and Thomas-Oliver (their 2020 seventh-rounder) will try to continue filling in the gaps of a team that is also missing their 2020 fourth-rounder Troy Pride Jr., who was ruled out for the season before it even began. They also have their 2017 fifth-rounder Corn Elder (who’s on his third stint in Carolina) and former Buccaneers 2013 UDFA Rashaan Melvin on the practice squad, and Melvin was called up to the active roster for the TNF game. It is his second (out of two) practice squad elevations, so he would need to be signed to the active roster if he were to make another regular-season appearance with the Panthers this year.
Finally, we come to the safeties group. The most likely thing that will happen is that Chandler (the former Giants 2018 UDFA) will be receiving more playing time in Burriss’ absence. It has also hurt them that their S/RB hybrid (primarily a free safety), 2020 UDFA Myles Hartfield, just recently went on IR due to a wrist injury after the season-opening win against the New York Jets. Chinn (their 2020 second-rounder) and Sam Franklin (their 2020 UDFA) also reside in the S position room, and the Panthers will be looking for last year’s rookie sensation (Chinn) to continue his form into this year. He finished last year with stats of one INT, five PDs, two FRs, two TDs, one sack, 117 total tackles (68 solo, 49 assisted), two TFLs, and five QB hits in 15 games (all starts). FS Kenny Robinson, their 2020 fifth-rounder and the first-ever XFL player to be drafted into the NFL resides on the practice squad. He had 21 tackles, one sack, one QB hit, two TFLs, two INTs, and two PDs over five XFL games in 2020, and he was also nominated for the XFL’s Star of the Week award in Week 5. Lastly, DB Jalen Julius (the former Chiefs 2020 UDFA) is also on the practice squad, and he has experience in both the S and CB positions.
Edited By: Rupayan “Abs” Samanta.