Observer NFL reporters Joseph Person and Jourdan Rodrigue discuss this week’s hot topic: Should the Panthers use Christian McCaffrey as a punt returner?
Joe: Props – going back to April, you called the Christian McCaffrey pick. You had it. He gets to debut this week. Surely we’re going to see him in the backfield and we’re going to see him as a punt returner, right?
Jourdan: Well, we are going to see him as a punt returner, Joe. But I don’t agree with the decision.
We’ve talked about this a lot and I know you’re all for Christian McCaffrey as a punt returner, as is a large faction of the public. It makes sense. He’s a prolific punt returner. It’s one of his specialties. He would be one of the top – if not the top – returner in this year’s draft.
He’s also a top-five running back and a top-10 receiver from this year’s draft, as well, and the Panthers cannot afford for him to get hurt. And that’s my main argument against putting Christian McCaffrey out on punt returns.
Joe: But this is a guy who returned punts for two or three years at Stanford. Whatever you think about the Pac-12, your conference ...
Jourdan: I’m a Pac-12 girl.
Joe: There are big, fast, physical people in the Pac-12 covering punts. So I think McCaffrey has a good sense of when to throw up his hand for a fair-catch, when to let the ball bounce and roll and when to do what he does best – and that’s make plays in the open field.
Jourdan: It makes sense and I’m definitely not going to knock the Pac-12, although it is certainly not NFL special teams coverage at that point. I just think that you’re already using him in two phases of the offense, as a receiving threat and as a running back. Putting him out there in a third phase of the game on special teams just increases the risk of your franchise-changing face getting an injury, which we got a little bit of a scare. He went down pretty hard in one of the preseason games and I could hear the city of Charlotte collectively holding its breath.
Joe: Except that game might have been in Jacksonville. But I get your point. Listen, he popped up. He’s a strong, tough kid. I think he’s going to be one of these guys that’s going to be good at deflecting contact. I say put him out there.
Jourdan: I think he’ll be great at it. But I don’t think he should be out there.