Panthers' Christian McCaffrey: 'Big plays will come'

Kareem Hunt leads the NFL in rushing. Leonard Fournette blasted off on long runs in his last two games, and has carried his offense. Dalvin Cook looked like the heir to Adrian Peterson before suffering an injury. Aaron Jones has taken on the lead role in Green Bay with gashing success. Joe Mixon is beginning to show he's the best back in Cincinnati with superior vision and patience. Alvin Kamara is the lightning in the Saints' storming backfield. Tarik Cohen has been a big-play machine.

With all these rookie running backs flashing on the ground, the question for the Carolina Panthers is what about Christian McCaffrey?

The No. 8 overall pick has earned a measly 114 yards on 45 rushing attempts for a miniscule 2.5 per-carry average. Worst still, the rookie hasn't found any daylight, his longest run going for 11 yards, which came in Week 1. McCaffrey hasn't had a double-digit carry in six games, and has been held to five or fewer yards on his last 22 rushing attempts.

"The big plays will come," McCaffrey said, via ESPN. "Right now it's just being patient. You've got to let the game come to you. You can't press. You can't try to make something crazy happen when nothing is there. You've just got to keep pushing."

Where McCaffrey has done most of his damage, is through the air: 44 receptions for 329 yards, two TDs. Still the big plays have been few and far between. He had a 37-yard catch-and-run in Week 3 and a 20-yarder in Week 7. The two are his only plays of 20-or-more yards.

The Panthers attributed McCaffrey's early struggles to asking the rookie to take on so many different roles.

"We shift him. We motion him. We move him around," coach Ron Rivera said. "We've asked a lot of him, and there is a little bit of a concern that maybe we are doing too much with him.

"One of things we want to make sure we do is [ask], 'Are we putting him in position to have success, but we are not overusing him or overloading him?'"

To that question the rookie has a blunt response: "No. No. I can handle it," McCaffrey said.

There is no question McCaffrey plays an important role in the Panthers' offense. The rookie has been on the field for 69 percent of the Panthers' snaps this season, a percentage beaten only by Cam Newton (98), Ed Dickson (91) and Devin Funchess (78) among skill position players, per Next Gen Stats.

McCaffrey's availability in the quick-passing game has helped Newton get the ball out this season and avoid hits. The rookie insists he's comfortable in his role and not pressing to earn highlight-reel big plays.

"We have had a lot of big plays, a lot of great plays," McCaffrey said. "Sometimes a 1-yard gain on third-and-1 is a big play. People take that for granted. It might not be a 7-yard touchdown, but you've got to play winning football."