Carolina Panthers face tough decision

Last season, the Carolina Panthers placed four running backs on the fifty three man roster. If you include Mike Tolbert, who often lines up as a feature back, that number increases to five.

It is unlikely that the Panthers will have the luxury of keeping five runners in 2016. Instead, they will need increased depth on defensive.

With three rookie cornerbacks being a lock to make the 2016 roster, the Carolina Panthers will need to infuse the position with veteran experience. Bene Benwikere, Robert McClain, and special teams ace Teddy Williams all look to return in 2016. The Panthers would hate to lose promising second year player Lou Young. Not to mention Charles Tillman has recently said he would like to return to the Carolina Panthers. Greater numbers in the secondary means fewer numbers at running back.

The Carolina Panthers defensive end position also will be under consideration for increased depth this year. Last season, the Panthers had to trade for Jared Allen due to a Charles Johnson injury. Adding veteran players during the season is something GM Dave Gettleman would rather not do. Keeping an extra defensive end on the roster would help ensure that does not happen again.

Clearly, extra depth is needed on defense. This is bad news for the running back position. Keeping five players capable of running the ball is no longer a viable option.

 

Carolina Panthers Mike Tolbert

Carolina Panthers Fullback Mike Tolbert

Jonathan Stewart is a lock to make the roster, obviously. When healthy there is no better runner in the NFL. Mike Tolbert is also a lock, as he can play full back and half back in addition to providing reliable hands out of the backfield. Look for undrafted rookie fullback Devon Johnson to be placed on the practice squad.

That leaves three players to fill two roster spots.

Carolina Panthers running backs Fozzy Whitaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Brandon Wegher.

So far this offseason, Fozzy Whitaker looks better than he ever has. Perhaps knowing two younger runners are behind him has given him extra motivation. I watched as Whitaker made play after play, mostly with Cam Newton and the first string offense. Fozzy looks faster than he ever has.

Whitaker also is the first choice at kick returns, giving him a sizable roster advantage over the other running backs. Whitaker is a lock to make the Carolina Panthers 2016 roster, in my opinion.

That leaves a roster decision to be made between Cameron Artis-Payne and Brandon Wegher, both second year players.

In Panthers OTAs and minicamp, Artis-Payne received more reps with the first and second string than Wegher, who spend time mainly with the third string. Rep counts are often a good indication of where the Carolina Panthers are leaning on roster decisions.

All signs point to Cameron Artis-Payne having a leg up on Brandon Wegher at the moment. However, it would be unwise to count Wegher out just yet.

As an undrafted rookie, Wegher was a camp and preseason standout. Enough so that Dave Gettleman was unwilling to place him on the practice squad and risk losing him to another NFL team. That kind of performance when it counted tells me Wegher knows how to make the most of the opportunities he is given. If he can put together a similar performance this year, espescially in preseason, he can surpass Cameron Artis-Payne on the depth chart.

Both Wegher and Cameron Artis-Payne are practice squad eligible. Both would likely be signed away by another NFL team.

Tough decisions ahead indeed.

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Jeremy Igo is owner of Carolina Huddle. Based in Charlotte, he has covered the Carolina Panthers for over a decade.