By Charlie Campbell
Summary: McCaffrey spent the last two season as one of the most consistent and devastating running backs in college football. In this writer’s opinion, McCaffrey should have won the 2015 Heisman Trophy because he carried Stanford while Alabama’s Derrick Henry had tons of pro talent around him on both sides of the ball. Still, both players had great seasons. McCaffrey averaged six yards per carry that season on his way 2,019 yards with eight touchdowns. As a receiver, he had 45 catches for 645 yards and five scores.
In 2016, McCaffrey averaged 6.3 yards per carry for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns. Additionally, the junior hauled in 37 receptions for 310 yards and three touchdowns. McCaffrey decided to skip Stanford’s bowl game against North Carolina in order to avoid injury and focus on his pre-draft training. Team sources said that didn’t really sit well with them because everything they heard around the Stanford program was that McCaffrey was a great teammate, hard worker, a leader, and a player who pushed his teammates to be better. Thus, sitting out a game was a bit out of character. By the time of the 2017 NFL Draft though, it probably won’t hurt McCaffrey.
As a runner, McCaffrey is a play-maker. He is fast, sudden, and a threat to rip off a big gain on any touch. He has moves in the open field to juke defenders or weave around them with excellent cutting ability. McCaffrey has a tremendous burst to break into the open field. He also has great vision and cutting ability. While he isn’t the biggest of backs, he is tough when running between the tackles.
What really sets McCaffrey apart as a runner is his acceleration and explosiveness. He is a home-run hitter and a threat to rip off a huge gain every time he touches the ball. McCaffrey has a nice first-step and darts through the hole to get into the second level of the defense. In the open field, he has a second gear to pull away from defenders and also is very elusive. He uses his feet, vision, and agility to weave around defenders. McCaffrey isn’t a power runner who simply runs over tacklers, but he does finish his runs well and can pick up some yards after contact. McCaffrey has good balance to keep his feet, runs with an excellent body lean, and is a patient runner to set up his blocks.
The NFL is a passing-driven league, and McCaffrey fits it perfectly in that regard as he is a tremendous receiving back. As a receiver, he has soft hands and is a very good route-runner. He could end up being one of the better receiving backs in the NFL and also work as a slot receiver. McCaffrey put on a clinic as a receiver at the combine, showcasing his soft hands and elegant route-running.
In blitz protection, McCaffrey is a willing blocker and doesn’t shy away from contact. Once he gets some development with learning NFL blitz schemes, he should be a real asset in the passing game. McCaffrey is an excellent returner on special teams, but as a pro, he probably won’t be called on to do that because his team will want to protect him.
Off the field, sources have said that McCaffrey has graded out for being a high-character individual. He is a hard worker, intelligent, and not a player to be concerned about getting in trouble. Sources also label him as a team leader who pushes his teammates to work harder and be better. Some teammates could get rubbed the wrong way by that, but overall, he should bring a good work ethic and leadership to his NFL locker room.
McCaffrey isn’t the biggest of backs for the NFL, so he may not be able to take on a huge number of carries. However, he runs the ball well between the tackles and should quickly turn into a good three-down starter. If McCaffrey goes to a team with a good offensive line, he could make an immediate impact and be a difference-maker.
Player Comparison: Jamaal Charles. There are two Jamaal Charles-type backs in this draft class; McCaffrey is one and Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara is the other. Charles (5-11, 199) and McCaffrey are almost identical in size. Both can run the ball between the tackles and have the explosiveness to rip off yards in chunks. They are tremendous receivers out of the backfield with shifty moves in the open field. Like Charles, McCaffrey could be a three-down difference-maker in the NFL.
NFL Matches: Indianapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, New York Giants, Detroit, New England, New York Jets, Carolina and Minnesota
There are a lot of teams that could take McCaffrey even though they don’t have a need at the position because he is a play-maker who could have a huge impact at providing wins for his team. In the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there are a lot of teams that could consider taking a running back.
Perhaps the highest McCaffrey could hope to go would be in the middle of Round 1. The Colts (No. 15), Eagles (No. 14) and Ravens (No. 16) all need long-term starting running backs. Of those three, the Colts are probably the least likely to take a tailback because of the vast needs on the defensive side of the ball. Philadelphia with Doug Pederson’s offense would be a good fit for McCaffrey’s running and receiving skills. Baltimore has tried a few different runners, but could consider an upgrade to go with Kenneth Dixon.
Tampa Bay could consider taking McCaffrey given Doug Martin’s situation and uncertain future with the team. Assuming Martin gets released, the Buccaneers will need a starting running back, and McCaffrey could also be an excellent receiving option for Jameis Winston. McCaffrey’s passion for the game and football character are fitting with Winston and what the Buccaneers have drafted.
There are a lot of fits among the playoff teams for McCaffrey. The Lions had the 30th-ranked rushing offense during the regular season, and Ameer Abdullah hasn’t panned out for them thus far. Staying in the NFC North, the Packers may not be able to re-sign Eddie Lacy and would need a starting running back. McCaffrey would be a great scheme fit for them.
The Giants had the 29th-ranked rushing offense during the 2016 NFL season and badly need some talent in the backfield. A speedy, play-making back like McCaffrey would really diversify their offense.
New England enjoyed a good season out of LeGarrette Blount, but the Patriots like to have variety in their backs. McCaffrey is a Patriots-style player with his versatility as a receiving back in their offense. He could do some of the things that Shane Vereen did for New England, except McCaffrey could do them better. McCaffrey’s attitude and gritty style seem like a Patriot as well.
If McCaffrey slips to the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, he shouldn’t have a long wait. The Jets signed Matt Forte, but the skilled veteran is aging. McCaffrey could make a big difference for whomever is the team’s young starting quarterback, whether it is Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty.
Adding McCaffrey to Cam Newton could be a dynamic combination of running ability for the Panthers. Jonathan Stewart turns 30 prior to the 2017 NFL Draft and has suffered from durability issues throughout his career. If McCaffrey gets to the Panthers’ second-round pick, he could be too good to pass up.
Lastly, it seems unlikely that McCaffrey would get to the Vikings’ second-round pick, but they might be willing to move up for him. Minnesota has two third-round picks to use to move higher if it wants, and the Vikings fielded the worst-ranked rushing offense in the NFL in 2016.
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