Breaking Down the Carolina Panthers' Backfield

By Rich Welch
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

No position group on the offensive side of the ball is more important than the backs, the talented players that handle the ball and drive the offense. Half back used to be the most important position in football, with sturdy workhorses like Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith running the ground and pound and controlling the clock, but the NFL has recently undergone a paradigm shift. It’s a quarterback driven league now, and one that doesn’t care much for time of possession. High-tempo offenses and spread formations have entrenched themselves in the NFL landscape, turning the NFL into a prolific passing league.

Luckily for the Carolina Panthers, they have magnificent backs. Not only do they have young sensation Cam Newton under center, they have multi-talented backs like DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Kenjon Barner surrounding him. The Panthers have all of the pieces in the backfield to have an explosive offense, so what is wrong? Here’s a breakdown:


The Panthers have a dynamic playmaker as their quarterback, the Heisman Trophy winner Newton. His running abilities, combined with superior arm talent, make him a unique weapon, one that not only can get into a rhythm passing, but can also power run and create lanes for his other backs through fakes. The Panthers only have one backup quarterback, veteran Derek Anderson. Anderson has been to a Pro Bowl before and performed well in the preseason, so he should be a solid fill-in. The Panthers are solid at quarterback, but they have failed to provide a receiving core that can fully exploit Newton’s talent. They will never have a great offense until that happens.


The Panthers once boasted the best backfield duo in the league, Double Trouble, composed of Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both Williams and Stewart haves struggled with injuries since then, but not all of their luster is lost. Though Stewart is still injured, Williams still boasts a career 4.9 yards-per-carry, and he still has the legs to be a workhorse. Behind Williams are young bloods Barner and Armond Smith. Barner has third-down back capabilities with his speed and quickness, but he also has the power to run up the middle. Smith earned a spot in the preseason with his special teams efforts, and should contribute as such until Stewart returns.


Fullbacks has become a dying position in the NFL, but the Panthers have a talented one in big Tolbert. Tolbert is a hard-nosed runner with great strength, capable of getting tough yards and clearing lanes. Tolbert is also invaluable as a receiver, collecting a number of third down catches. He is certainly the glue in the backfield. Richie Brockel plays behind Tolbert and flexes as an H-Back. He is a key blocker in the run game, but he doesn’t contribute much to the passing game.

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