Christian McCaffrey set to return but Carolina Panthers place 8 players on reserve/COVID-19 list

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After missing three games with a shoulder injury, Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey will return Sunday to a Carolina Panthers team that could be without two of its top three wide receivers due to the coronavirus.

DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel were among eight players placed on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday. The others are outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, defensive tackle Zach Kerr, offensive tackle Greg Little, punter Michael Palardy and wide receiver Ishmael Hyman.

Palardy (knee) already was on season-ending injured reserve and Hyman is a practice squad player, so being added to the list wouldn't have impacted Carolina's (4-8) 1 p.m. game against the Denver Broncos (4-8).

The loss of Moore and Samuel would, should they not be removed from the list. They represent 36.5% of the team's receptions (104 of 285), 46.2% of the receiving yards (1,431 of 3,120) and 46.7% of the receiving touchdowns (7 of 15).

For McCaffrey, returning to uncertainty is part of a 2020 in which injuries -- a high ankle sprain in Week 2 and the shoulder injury in Week 9 -- have limited him to three games.

"I hope it's par for the course just for 2020,'' McCaffrey said on a Zoom call. "It would be amazing if on January 1st it all went away. That's really what we've all learned in this whole year and the reason that we're doing this over the phone.

"You've got to be able to adapt, and you can't make excuses. You've got to move on and do the best you can with what you have. That's football with injuries that come along. And then you have COVID.''

Moore already was dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the team's last game before the bye, a 28-27 loss to Minnesota that all but killed any playoff hopes. Coach Matt Rhule said the receiver was trending toward possibly playing against Denver with the injury.

COVID-19 added a new twist to the situation, leaving Robby Anderson as the only wide receiver with more than four catches. He has 75.

McCaffrey's return would lessen the potential loss of both receivers. He's led the team in receiving the past three seasons with a combined 303 catches for 2,523 yards and 16 touchdowns.

He's coming off a 2019 season in which he became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in the same season.

His return against a Denver team that his dad, Ed, won two Super Bowls with as a wide receiver could be trouble for the Broncos.

Childhood memories aside, McCaffrey just wants to get back on the field with a shoulder he says feels "great.''

"I cannot wait until I get through a week of practice and play football with these guys,'' McCaffrey said. "That's what I'm excited about.''

Whether or not the Panthers (4-8) get on the field Wednesday or any day this week remains to be seen. Monday's practice, allowed since the team was coming off a bye, was canceled and the facility was shut down due to all the players added to the list.

Being on the list means a player either tested positive or was in contact with somebody who had the virus. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the Panthers had two positive tests, citing sources.

With defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and defensive tackle Bruce Hector added to the list last week, that ups the team total to 10.

Wide receiver isn't the only position at which Carolina could be short-handed. Rookie Bravvion Roy is the only defensive tackle on the roster, although end Efe Obada also plays the position.

Regardless of what happens to those on the list, McCaffrey believes he can make a difference.

"I always think I can help,'' he said. "That's just a mindset I have. Your best ability is your availability.''