By M. Britt Hayes
Situation could be the single most important factor in an NFL rookie pick’s value. Situation is defined by the teams, players and coaches surrounding the rookies as they come into the league. It allows you to gauge what system they will be used in, and ultimately it determines their usage and playing time. This brings us to running back Cameron Artis-Payne.
In Artis-Payne’s senior season at Auburn he rushed for 1,608 and 13 TD’s earning first team All-SEC honors. “A fluke season,” you say? “No,” I respond. He spent 2 seasons at Allan Hancock College where he rushed for 3,412 yards and 43 TD’s in 2011 and 2012 before transferring to Auburn and becoming Tre Mason’s successor.
Now, why are we talking about a 5th round pick who was the 16th overall running back drafted? Because of his, wait for it…….. situation. CAP fell to the Carolina Panthers as the 174th pick. Not a very impressive number, but neither was Antonio Brown at pick number 195 in 2010. About his late pick status, Artis-Payne told the Charlotte Observer, “I really don’t feel like there are many people that have the drive or the desire that I do to be great and to get to this point. At the end of the day, whether I was a first-round draft pick or whether I was the 15th overall running back, I was going to come in there with a chip on my shoulder.” I know that Tom Brady’s “chip on my shoulder” attitude because he was a late pick has been played out like Pharrell’s Happy, but its because of the success he’s had from playing with that “chip.”
Carolina has as much trouble keeping running backs on the field as Taylor Swift does keeping boyfriends around. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert have split the bulk of the carries for the past few seasons. Mike Tolbert is a 30 year old goal line back and the ever aging Williams has been shipped to Pittsburgh. Leaving a 28 year old Jonathan Stewart as the sole competition for a starting gig. Obviously Stewart will get the job, but in his seven years in the pros he has played three 16 game seasons. He gets injured as often as Angelina Jolie adopts kids. There’s a betting chance that Stewart breaks down 5 or 6 games into the season leaving a wide open door for the rookie. Even with Fozzy Whittaker and Darrin Reaves on the roster, Cameron is the most prepared to handle early-down duties. He fits the thick, downhill running style that has become synonymous with the Panthers ground and pound. He’s a patient runner who knows how to wait for blocks to develop and attacks the holes well.
The Panthers have rushed the ball an average 465 times a season since Ron Rivera became head coach in 2011. Quarterback Cam Newton thieves roughly 117 of those carries. The other 348 runs have predominantly been split among the no longer there, DeAngelo Williams and Mr. Brittle himself, Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has only managed to stay on the field enough to average 114 runs each year in the Rivera era. What if Artis-Payne could be staring a 200 carry season in the face? In college CAP averaged 5.6 yards per carry for his career. We’ll say he averages 4.5 ypc because this is the pros, not the SEC and JStew’s average was 4.7 from a year ago, but then he goes for 200 runs. That’s a 900 yard season. That kind of out put as a part time back could be enough to establish the other Cam as the certified workhouse of the future. As for the immediate future, touch downs could be scarce as the before mentioned Tolbert tends to hog goal line carries, but let’s face it, he’s 30 and on the way out. Artis-Payne may need to borrow Timbuk 3’s shades, because his future in Pantherland is looking pretty bright.
As we know, Artis-Payne went to Auburn, but guess who else was a War Eagle. The newly anointed $118 million man, Mr. Cam Newton. That’s right, not only do they share the same sir name, but they attended the same college. Cue the White Stripes, “I can tell that we are gonna be friends.” This could help expedite a relationship between the quarterback and the rookie allowing for immediate on field chemistry. If the opportunity arises and the QB connection is clicking, CAP has nothing holding him back from Dynasty bell cow status in Carolina’s run first offense.
Currently Artis-Payne is going in the back of the 3rd or the early 4th round of rookie drafts, and he stands as no more than a late round flier in start ups. This puts his trade value at mere crumbs, but I assure you the value is there. So throw out your Oreos, and start eating Cameron Artis-Payne cookies.