The Carolina Panthers are looking to have a bounce-back year and added some new offensive weapons to prove it. With a new era forming in Charlotte, Trenton Cannon hopes to make the cut.
The Carolina Panthers finished last season 5-11 under first-year Head Coach Matt Rhule’s regime. This year, the team has all their paws in on a quick rebuild. They set the tone by trading veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos after a sub-par year. They added a young signal-caller in Sam Darnold this offseason as well in a trade with the New York Jets. The Panthers went on to draft a sleeper in the fourth round in running back Chuba Hubbard. Returning to the group is former First-Team All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey who missed the majority of last season with an injury.
Sizing up the Panthers RB room
The addition of Hubbard begins to crowd a running back room that is now top heavy with talent. Trenton Cannon is entering his fourth year in the league after being drafted out of Virginia State University in 2018 by the New York Jets. Last year was his first with the Panthers, after signing with the squad right before the 2020 season. Cannon was able to see snaps on special teams and returned 10 kickoffs for 298 yards. This included a 98-yard kick return against the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 10.
The Panthers will likely retain just four RB’s on the 53-man roster. Christian McCaffrey and Chuba Hubbard are sure locks for a spot. McCaffrey is a two-time 1000+ yard rusher, Pro-Bowler, and was the sole source of the Panthers offense for a whole year. Chuba Hubbard was drafted in the fourth round out of Oklahoma State University and will step into the backup role behind McCaffrey.
Hubbard was in the Heisman conversation before an injury hurt his production and draft stock in 2020. He is a stout power back that also can get involved as a pass-catcher and will get snaps because of it. With veteran back Mike Davis signing with the Falcons this offseason, Trenton Cannon joins Rodney Smith and Reggie Bonnafon as the only other returners.
Cannon brings something “special”
Smith and Bonnafon are both young, unproven backs and Cannon should make the roster before any of the two. Cannon has proven to be reliable on special teams and didn’t commit any fumbles on his career-high 48 rushing attempts. Some Panthers see Smith making the roster over Cannon because of production towards the end of last season. Smith only appeared in seven games versus Cannon’s 14 in 2020, but he did show promise as well. Smith tallied 41 rushing attempts for 156 yards and a touchdown. He also averaged almost four yards per carry and racked up 14 first downs. He also caught nine passes out of the backfield for 59 yards and started in Carolina’s final game of the season. Even though he shows promise, there is already two guys on the roster who will the same role (and better). Hubbard is expected to serve the pass catching, third down back role that Smith contributed to last year.
Cannon’s proven reliability on the special teams is what sets him apart from the bunch. Last season, he averaged almost 30 yards per return, with an average of 2.5 coming after contact. For reference, a touchback now marks the ball at the 25 yard line, so the Panthers were better off letting Cannon taking a stab at more yardage. He also maintained awareness on the defensive side of the ball as he tallied five solo tackles on kick returns last year.
Another positive for Cannon’s outlook is his connection with Panther’s new starting QB Sam Darnold. Sam Darnold and Trenton Cannon were both drafted by the New York Jets in 2018 and a reunion should be in store. Cannon had his best year as a rookie with the Jets. That year, Cannon rushed for 113 yards and seven first downs on 38 attempts. He saw action in all 16 games and displayed great explosiveness as he broke five tackles. He also showed promise as a pass catcher as he pulled in 17 passes for 144 yards and four first downs. Also of note is that he averaged almost seven yards after the catch.
This shows his ability to work in open space and attack gaps in opposing defensive coverage.
Unfortunately, Cannon suffered a foot injury in 2019 and was waived by the Jets after signing a four-year contract. Now, heading into his second season with the Panthers, Cannon is the only offensive playmaker with a connection to Sam Darnold.
Cannon’s proven value on special teams and upside as a rusher should solidify him a spot with the Panthers. Running backs who specialize in a certain area of the offense usually have more leverage. Even though being a kick returner isn’t the typical “dream job”, it sets Cannon apart from Smith and Bonnafon who are interchangeable around the league. NFL teams must cut their roster to 85 players by Aug. 17, 80 players by Aug. 24, and 53 players by Aug. 31.