CFB Player Bracket: Will McCaffrey or Fournette head to the finals?

The nation's best pure runner Leonard Fournette takes on our early favorite for the 2016 Heisman Trophy.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

CFB Player Bracket: Will McCaffrey or Fournette head to the finals?

After several weeks of outstanding matchups, we’ve reached the semi-finals of our 2016 CFB Player Bracket. We’re down to two running backs — Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette — and two defensive ends — Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett.

Only two can advance to the finals, with the bracket set up such that we’ll definitely see a running back take on a pass rusher. In this matchup, we’ll find out which player PFF views as the better player heading into 2016 — our pick for last year’s Heisman Trophy in McCaffrey, or the best pure runner in the nation in Leonard Fournette?

The case for Christian McCaffrey

What can we say about McCaffrey that hasn’t already been said? If he played in the SEC, there is every chance we’d be hearing even more about him, but even in the Pac-12, we viewed him as the best player in the nation a year ago. An absolute star with the ball in space, the damage McCaffrey can do to opponents both on offense and on special teams is really something special. Raw stats alone don’t often paint a true picture, but when you consider that he broke Barry Sanders 27-year-old record for all-purpose yards with 3,864 and that his overall PFF grade of +49.1 is far ahead of any other running back that we’ve graded over the past two seasons, the two numbers match up quite well.


Incredibly difficult to bring down, McCaffrey forced 71 missed tackles on 337 carries in 2015, adding another 14 on 45 receptions. His work as a receiver was outstanding, and even in games where teams were somehow able to keep him contained as a runner, he found space to make a big impact as a receiver. Our yards-per-route-run signature star looks at a player’s yardage in relation to how many times they went into a pass pattern. Of the 79 running backs in college with at least 25 passes thrown their way, it was McCaffrey who lead the way with a YPRR average of 3.20. Not only was it the best among running backs, but it was a number good enough that it would have ranked 15th among wide receivers.


The case for Leonard Fournette

While McCaffrey is the do-it-all superstar, it’s Fournette who is the best pure runner in the nation. He graded higher than McCaffrey in that regard, +37.7 to +33.3, rushing for 1,094 yards after contact. Fournette’s yards after contact total alone was better than all but 42 other running backs total rushing yards. What helped him get to that point was just how tough he was to bring down, forcing 85 missed tackles as a runner in 2015. Too powerful for many defenders to bring down, he forced at least three missed tackles in all but one game last year.

If his 85 missed tackles forced seems impressive, it’s because it was the highest total of any running back in the nation last year, but what’s incredibly impressive is that his rate of forcing missed tackles improved from once every 6.1 carries in 2014 to once every 3.5 carries in 2015. If he can force missed tackled a little bit more often again in 2016, we could be looking at the first running back to ever break 100 tackles in the PFF College era.

The Verdict: Christian McCaffrey advances

If you needed a running back to gain five yards on a carry, you’d pick Fournette to turn and hand the ball off to every time. But in this matchup he has to go up against the player who can score from anywhere on the field, both on offense and on special teams. Consider the game against Alabama, where the Crimson Tide shut him down and held him to 31 yards. When that happened, the LSU offense didn’t have another way to get the ball to Fournette to spark the offense. With McCaffrey, even when he’s limited as a runner, there’s his work as a receiver or as a punt returner to spark Stanford towards victory. That’s why he advances to the final.

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| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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