Expectations for Panthers Rookie RB Chuba Hubbard

A look at what Panthers fans can expect from the young running back in 2021.
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Once Mike Davis decided to sign within the division with the Atlanta Falcons, it left the Panthers with a rather thin running back room. Trenton Cannon, Reggie Bonnafon, and Rodney Smith all return but to say any of those three are capable of being a No. 2 back is a bit of stretch. 

Carolina took care of that hole in the draft by selecting Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard in the 4th round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Two years ago, Hubbard was one of the best running backs in the nation and was receiving some recognition to be a Heisman candidate heading into the 2020 season. He ran for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry as a sophomore. However, Hubbard dealt with a couple of lingering injuries during the 2020 season and was never fully able to get back to what he was the year prior. He went from being a, at worst, 2nd round draft pick to a day-three pick. If Hubbard can return to form, the Panthers will have a huge steal by drafting him in the fourth round. 

What will Hubbard's role be in 2021?

Most day-three running backs coming into the league have to fight to see the field and oftentimes have to work their way up the depth chart. As for Hubbard, I see him as being RB2 from day one given that he is healthy of course. He has the ability to hit big runs, power his way to a first down on short-yardage situations, and can catch the ball out of the backfield a little bit. That being said, he still has room for improvement in all three of those areas. He's not the most powerful back and has to develop some patience to allow holes to open up front. 

Why did they draft Hubbard?

Some felt like the Panthers drafted Hubbard so that he could replace Christian McCaffrey since his name has been floating around in trade rumors this offseason but that's not the case. They drafted him solely based on the fact that the running back room needed a bit of a boost and to take some of the workload off of McCaffrey's shoulders. Hubbard is not coming in to replace McCaffrey or even push for the starting job. As long as McCaffrey is healthy, I wouldn't expect Hubbard to see more than 70-80 carries on the year. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is going to have to be especially careful with how much he uses McCaffrey who is coming off a season in which he missed 13 games to injury. With the NFL expanding the regular season to 17 games in 2021, it's going to be pivotal for someone like Chuba Hubbard to step up and eat up some carries so that McCaffrey can remain fresh late into the season. 

If all goes right, the Panthers will have their best backfield duo since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

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