3 team fits for running back prospect Christian McCaffrey
This running back class is as talented as it is diverse, and after colleague Matt Claassen looked at the best fits for LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the best power runner in this draft class, it’s time to take a look at one of the most diverse talents. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball, be that as a runner, receiver, or returner, and should add an exciting dimension to the offense of whichever team drafts him on draft weekend.
What he does best
- Elite change-of-direction and open-field running ability leads to missed tackles and big plays.
- Tremendous acceleration, can get to full speed in a hurry.
- Leg strength and balance to gain yards after initial contact, 3.30 yards after contact per attempt.
- Can make cuts with little loss of speed, causing second-level defenders to miss badly.
- Vision and patience to set up blocks, effective running with or without a lead blocker.
- Experience running in man/gap scheme at Stanford and cutting ability to run zone scheme.
- Can be used heavily in the pass game either running routes out of the backfield or the slot.
- Mismatch in the pass game as he is too fast for linebackers to cover.
- Versatility could allow an offensive coordinator to be very creative with his personnel groupings and alignments.
- Has the rare ability to take games over.
- Dangerous as both a kick and punt returner.
We tweeted out a quote from Cris Collinsworth earlier this week about how great a fit he thought Leonard Fournette was in Carolina.
I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but I like the fit of McCaffrey even more. Imagine the versatility that he could bring in the backfield for the Panthers. Option runs with Cam Newton, lining him up in the slot and either utilizing him in the passing game, or bringing him in motion and putting the ball in his hands on jet sweeps. McCaffrey forced 43 missed tackles as a runner and another 21 as a receiver in 2016, and if you can get the ball in his hands in any kind of space, he’s going to make people miss. As much as the prospect of having to deal with the power of Fournette and Newton should terrify defenses, the prospect of McCaffrey as a movable chess piece is, for me, even more exciting.
The 49ers are in full rebuild mode, and while it might make sense to go for a quarterback or pass-rusher to kick start that rebuild, there’s a lot to be said for the impact that a player like McCaffrey could have in the Bay area as general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan shape the roster. While Carlos Hyde has been solid as a runner in his three seasons in the league, forcing 94 missed tackles on 415 carries, he has yet to prove that he can really carry the load for the 49ers offense. McCaffrey is a dynamic threat that can be used in partnership with Hyde, both sharing carries and being utilized with both of them on the field, with Hyde in the backfield and McCaffrey in the slot, with him seeing 120 snaps either in the slot or out wide over the past two seasons.
2014 was the last time we saw a Saints running back really excel in the passing game, and with the team’s window shrinking as Drew Brees’ gets older, it would make a lot of sense to surround him with as much talent as possible, and adding a weapon who can do what McCaffrey can do in the passing game would fit well with that. Even going further back than 2014, 2013 saw Darren Sproles dominate as a receiving running back for the Saints, and McCaffrey could have that impact in the passing game in New Orleans. Sproles forced 36 missed tackles on 155 receptions between 2012 and 2013, while McCaffrey has forced 35 missed tackles on 83 receptions over the past two seasons in college. Like with Hyde in San Francisco, McCaffrey would be a nice complement to Mark Ingram as a runner in New Orleans too, and when you add in what he can do as a returner, it could be a match made in heaven.