Ron Rivera compares Christian McCaffrey to a Christmas toy

The Carolina Panthers have a shiny new toy in running back Christian McCaffrey, but head coach Ron Rivera knows he must be careful with the rookie’s workload.

According to David Newton of ESPN, Rivera said he’s trying to avoid wearing out the team’s first-round draft pick.

“It’s like getting that new toy at Christmas. You open up the box and there’s what you’d hoped for. But you also have to be wise and smart about when you play with it and when you don’t, because you don’t want to wear the batteries out. You don’t want to break it. … What you want to do is utilize it and have fun with it.”

McCaffrey certainly is a special player, evidenced by his gaudy numbers and runner-up Heisman Trophy finish at Stanford. And he put those talents on display in Carolina’s season-opening win, collecting 47 rushing yards on 13 attempts and five receptions for 38 yards.

But the Panthers cannot let the desire to constantly give McCaffrey touches overpower some common sense.

Although the rookie has workhorse ability, teammate Jonathan Stewart is a great backup for the 2017 campaign. He even caught a touchdown during the 23-3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

McCaffrey already handled the majority of snaps — Newton notes he was on the field for 47 of 67 plays — so Carolina is preparing him for a heavily featured role in the future anyway. Besides, Stewart probably won’t stick on the roster for much longer unless he accepts a smaller contract.

At that point, the Panthers can strain McCaffrey’s batteries. But as long as the backfield has decent depth, there’s no sense in wearing him down unnecessarily. Carolina needs this Christmas toy to last.