by Ray Kuhn
Each season, we look to a new crop of rookies to determine who should be drafted as that year’s sleeper running back. One of the names on the 2015 list, was Cameron-Artis Payne. With DeAngelo Williams leaving Carolina and an injury prone Jonathan Stewart left atop the Panthers’ depth chart, the fifth round pick seemed poised to have a big role.
Ultimately, that is not how the season went, and Fozzy Whitaker ended up being the handcuff to Artis-Payne. Entering Week 14 last season, Artis-Payne had carried the ball just 12 times for 31 yards. It also didn’t help his cause that Stewart had remained relatively healthy through that stretch. With Stewart banged up towards the end of the season, Artis-Payne had two games in which he carried the ball 14 times each, gaining 59 and 44 yards.
In 2016, Artis-Payne was inactive for each of the first two games as Stewart was healthy and Whitaker was there to serve as his backup. However with Stewart sidelined once again, Artis-Payne is receiving another chance to show what he can do.
After Stewart departed Carolina’s second game of the season, Whitaker gained 100 yards on 16 carries as the Panthers ran out the clock on San Francisco. That led to Whitaker receiving the majority of the attention entering Week 3, but it was Artis-Payne who ultimately led the Carolina backfield in touches; 13 to Whitaker’s 10 and Mike Tolbert’s four.
The game didn’t work in Carolina’s favor as they lost at home to the Vikings, but this week appears to be more favorable as they take on the Falcons in Atlanta. Against the Falcons last season, Artis-Payne had five carries for 49 yards, and he is set to carry the load against them this week.
Last week, Artis-Payne made his 2016 debut against a strong Minnesota defense, and he gained 47 yards on 12 carries while catching one pass for 11 yards. If Carolina can contain Matt Ryan as they have done in the past, Artis-Payne figures to get more carries as Ron Rivera had made it clear who his early down bell-cow is.
This is not to say Whitaker won’t have a role, he had 35 snaps last week as compared to 30 for Artis-Payne, but he will looked to as more of a pass catcher which does give him some PPR value.
After a game in which the offense never got in sync, Kelvin Benjamin didn’t have a reception and was targeted just once, I would expect to see Carolina look to establish themselves early on the road. And that would lead to a lot of work on first and second downs for Artis-Payne against a defense that was worst in the league with 20 touchdowns on the ground against them last season and doesn’t appear to be much better this season.
Artis-Payne might not move the needle in a huge way this week, but it also is very possible that he eclipses 100 total yards and finds the end zone.