Christian McCaffrey Not Expected to Play in Panthers' Preseason Games, Per Matt Rhule

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMay 24, 2022

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 28: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers walks on to the field during pregame warm-ups before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Eric Espada/Getty Images

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey played three games during the 2020 season and seven games during the 2021 campaign, so the team is focused on keeping him healthy heading into 2022.

Head coach Matt Rhule told reporters the plan is to hold McCaffrey out of preseason games and take a "different approach with him" at practice.

The Stanford product is also doing what he can to stay healthy and said he reached out to different running backs, including Marshall Faulk, to ask advice on how to stay on the field.

McCaffrey played three games in September last season and then was sidelined until November. He also missed the entire month of December and finished with 442 rushing yards, 343 receiving yards and two total touchdowns in his seven games.

It was a far cry from when he was arguably the top player in the league in 2019 with 1,387 rushing yards, 1,005 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns.

That performance as both a runner and a pass-catcher made him a fantasy football darling and presumably the focus of the Panthers offense for the foreseeable future since he is still just 25 years old, but injuries have prevented him from building on that.

Carolina has also finished in third or fourth place in the NFC South in each of the last four years, so it will need McCaffrey healthy and playing at his best if it is going to compete with the likes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in the division.

He is all the more important since Sam Darnold comes with his own performance-related question marks under center.

Darnold is not exactly a future Hall of Famer who can carry the offense with his consistent arm, so McCaffrey's presence will force defenders into the box and ideally help open up the aerial attack with D.J. Moore running free downfield. 

If that is able to happen, holding McCaffrey out of preseason games will be well worth it.