Fleet footed running back Kenjon Barner has his sights set on making an impact for the Carolina Panthers this season.
Barner, a sixth-round pick in this past spring’s NFL draft, was a dynamic playmaker for the Oregon Ducks. A four year player in Eugene, Barner rushed for 1,767 yards his senior season, including a 321 yard, five touchdown performance against rival USC. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound back brings fresh legs to a team that needs to find new players to share the backfield with quarterback Cam Newton.
The Panthers rushing game has been a two-headed monster for several years with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart sharing the majority of the carries since 2008. But last year, the team was led in rushing by their quarterback, not one of the running backs.
The Panthers are in the process of building a winning team around Newton and a modern, up-tempo offense. Barner, who played in Chip Kelly’s wide-open system at Oregon, could be the perfect option to partner with Newton in a dynamic Carolina backfield. With the speed to take the ball to the end zone every time he takes a handoff, having Barner line up next to him could be just what Cam has been looking for to open up the space he needs to tear apart NFL defenses.
With Stewart and Williams both still on the roster the road to the top of the Panthers running back depth chart will be a difficult climb for Barner. But those backs both have plenty of wear on their tires, and NFL running backs tend to have short shelf lives. If either of those backs has lost a step heading into this year, or suffers from an injury, the door will be wide open for Barner to show the league what he can do.
And what he can do is the big unknown. He dominated college defenses because he was always the most athletic guy on the field. But in the NFL even the 300-pound defensive lineman are fast, let along the linebackers and defensive backs that will be trying to tackle him. He’ll need to learn to use his speed when the time is right, but more importantly learn to read defenses and use his blocks to find the open running lanes.
Expecting the kind of season Barner would need to be considered the number one back in Carolina is probably asking too much, but his future with the team is bright. 2013 will most likely be an up and down season for him, like it is for so many rookies. But if things go right he could have a breakout season.