We have talked about the growing trend of offenses incorporating a hybrid wide receiver/running back at length here at Shady Sports Network. More and more teams can point to a player on their roster who will see touches as a runner, listed as a wide receiver. Carolina has a history of getting their wide receivers involved in the run game.
Curtis Samuel used to be the player the Panthers would give a lot of these carries to, which is the same role he fills for Washington now. Samuel, was never the top option in any one facet of the game. His versatility is what made him so valuable, he basically played the role of Christian McCaffery when needed. Since Samuel left, the Panthers have lacked this presence to their offense.
My My, How Things Change
In the past two seasons McCaffery has played just 10 games and was in questionable health during a stretch of those games as well. Through the first two games the Panthers had proven reluctant to overwork McCaffery. Simultaneously refusing to insert D’Onta Foreman or Chubba Hubbard. Could it be that neither of these two players quite fit what the team truly needs?
If you look at a player the team went out and acquired WR Laviska Shenault, you start to see a plan. Shenault is essentially a bigger version of Christian McCaffery. At 6’1 227 lbs he has served as a receiver and runner over his first two seasons in Jacksonville. Through 30 games, 22 starts he was targeted 179 times. During this time he caught 121 passes for 1,219 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 29 times for 132 yards a 4.6 yard per carry average.
Depth at Running Back
Last season Chubba Hubbard was a rookie. He still managed 172 carries for 612 yards and 5 tds averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. He also had 25 receptions for 174 yards and 1 touchdown. However through two games he has just one carry for three yards, and one lost fumble. He is very clearly in the doghouse.
Meanwhile his counterpart D’Onta Foreman is a 6’1 235 pound power runner, not regarded as a three down back. In 2021 we watched Foreman play for the Titans as the body double for Derrick Henry. In nine games with three starts Foreman managed 133 carries for 563 yards and 3 touchdowns. While he had 9 receptions for 123 yards, he reaffirmed the belief he is no dual threat back.
The Panthers saw this fact, and decided to bring in their own version of Cordarelle Patterson. They needed a bigger player that could give them a true dual threat runner. Shenault is only ten pounds lighter than Foreman, but has 121 receptions in just two seasons.
He could run inside the tackles, without tipping off the opposing defense, and still allowing them to run their normal offense. Let’s take this one step further. Look at the potential of a two back set with McCaffery and Shenault in the backfield at the same time. This would keep defenses off guard while nearly forcing them to run a nickel or dime defense at all times to match up with this formation.
Questioning His Experience as a Runner?
Shenault has been serving as a runner and receiver since his freshman season in college. During his first year he received just 2 carries. However it only increased from there with 17 in year two, and 23 in year three. Despite just 42 carries in college, Shenault managed a 6.7 yard per carry average and 7 touchdowns.
You might be surprised to learn Shenault was NOT used in this capacity in high school. Strictly playing wide receiver for his high school career. It was longtime RB coach Darian Hagan and Darrin Chiaverini who was the co-offensive coordinator/wide receiver coach that found this untapped talent.
This was part of the reason why Shenault was drafted in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. With Ben McAdoo in Carolina under Matt Rhule, the Panthers want to keep McCaffery healthy but can’t afford to tip their hand to defenses. They can’t do that with Hubbard or Foreman quite honestly.
Poised for a Break-Out Season
Historically year three for wide receivers is when things begin to click. However, Shenault has had five different head coaches, and four offensive coordinators in just three seasons given this trade.
HC Doug Maronne OC Jay Gruden
HC Urban Meyer OC Darrell Bevell
Bevell (interim head coach/OC)
HC Doug Pederson OC Press Taylor
HC Matt Rhule OC Ben McAdoo
His head has to be swimming with playbooks at this point. Shenault has been asked to learn four new offenses since being drafted in 2020.
Shenault needed time to adapt to a new team, and learn the offense. This is why I believe we saw him on the inactive list in the first two weeks. After seeing him active in week 3, Panthers fans now see why I believe he can be a crucial part of the Panthers offense.
Free at Last
The Panthers finally activated Shenault getting him involved in the week three match up with the division rival Saints. It’s likely no coincidence this happened to be the first game of the season McCaffery topped 20 touches. Ultimately McCaffery finished the day with 25 carries for 108 yards and 2 receptions for 7 yards. The Panthers worked their way up to this point having given him 14 touches in week one, 19 touches in week two, and now 27 touches in week three.
Laviska Shenault being activated for the Saints game already affected this offense in a big way. Despite running just six routes, on eleven offensive snaps…Shenault was targeted twice, catching both passes. He would take one of them for 67 yards and a touchdown thanks to a nice block by Robbie Anderson. The other reception? 23 yards. He finished the day with 2 receptions for 90 yards and 1 touchdown.
He also managed to showcase his versatility, without getting involved as a runner in week three. He played three special teams snaps, and had two kick returns for 54 yards as well. This was not a role he ever served in Jacksonville, and he returned just one kick in three seasons at Colorado University. So for those keeping score, Shenault played a grand total of 14 snaps, and recorded 4 touches for 144 yards and 1 touchdown. It will come as no surprise that Shenault was graded out at a 95 overall by PFF.com for his performance on the day.
Projections Going Forward
If Shenault continues to get involved on the offensive side of the ball like he was in week three, fantasy owners may want to pick him up sooner rather than later. If your league scores for return yardage, and you haven’t already tried to claim Shenault, you’re missing out on a solid bye week depth piece. I expect him to see ultimately develop into the third option this offense has been searching for, while also seeing a role as a runner, and possibly a reoccurring role as the return man as well.
Stat Line: 65 targets, 40 receptions, 420-450 yards, 4 touchdowns, 18-30 carries 125-200 yards rushing 1-2 touchdowns, 25 kick returns for 650 yard