CFB Player Bracket: Royce Freeman vs. Christian McCaffrey
The first matchup in the second round of our College 101 Bracket will see the battle of two top runningbacks. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey dominated the competition last season, but Oregon RB Royce Freeman was not so far behind. Both are expected to compete for the title of best RB in the nation this season. Here’s the case for both players to move on in the bracket.
To see the entire bracket and every matchup breakdown, click here.
The case for Royce Freeman
Last season Royce Freeman was our-fourth highest overall graded runningback (+34.5), and fourth-highest in rushing grade (+28.5). He gained 1844 yards, fourth-most in the nation, and 1067 of those were after contact, third-most in the NCAA. His Elusive Rating of 108.6 was the third-highest among all RBs and he had 36 runs of 15 or more yards, which was the most among all runningbacks in the NCAA. He also had very sure hands, dropping just one pass all season and fumbling the ball just twice. This run is just one of many that showed just how hard it was to bring Freeman down last season.
The biggest thing we saw with Freeman this past season was his improvement from 2014 to 2015. In 2014 he ran the ball 252 times, compared to 283 times in 2015. But he ran for 477 more yards with just 31 more carries. The biggest reason for this improvement? His ability to make plays after contact. In 2014 only 46 percent of his yards came after contact, for an average of 2.5 yards after contact per rush. In 2015, those numbers grew to 58 percent of his yards and 3.8 yards after contact per rush. He forced 80 missed tackles last season, compared to just 44 in 2014. It’s scary to think that after such huge improvement last year, what is he going to do this year?
The case for Christian McCaffrey
Does there really need to be much more said about McCaffrey that hasn’t already been said? As our favorite to with this year’s Heisman Trophy, McCaffrey is far and away one of the best players in college football today. His overall cumulative grade of +49.1 was the highest in all of college football last season among RBs and that doesn’t even include his +15.5 kick/punt return grade, also highest in the nation. There might not be any RB in college that sees the field as well as he does. He just always seems to make the right cut, hit the right hole and find all the open space he needs to make a huge play.
While McCaffrey was incredible rushing the ball last year, gaining 2014 yards on 337 attempts and forcing 71 missed tackles, it was his receiving that set him apart. His +15.5 receiving grade and 3.20 yards per route run were both first in the nation and he dropped just two passes on 53 targets (third in NCAA). He gained 3,864 all-purpose yards last season, which broke Barry Sanders’ single-season record by 614 yards. With another offseason to improve, McCaffrey could have an even better season in 2016, which should be downright terrifying for Stanford opponents.
The Verdict: Christian McCaffrey advances
Freeman is a top-three runningback in the nation this season, and could easily cement himself as a Heisman candidate if he can improve again this season. He would’ve advanced against almost anyone else in college football. But while he’s not a bad receiving back by any means (his receiving grade of +5.8 ranking ninth among returning RBs), he just doesn’t offer that same all-around threat that McCaffrey does in all parts of the game.
McCaffrey is the one guy in college football who can essentially single-handedly win his team games. If Stanford needs a big rushing play, they can just hand him the ball and let him find space and make things happen. If they need a passing play, they just let him get open against whoever is covering him and throw him the ball. Even on special teams, if they need a momentum-charging, field position-changing play, McCaffrey can and will do it. He just affects the game in so many ways, and that’s why he’s moving on.
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