Christian McCaffrey checks all the boxes

CHARLOTTE – As coaches and football personnel in the war room celebrated the Panthers' selection of Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick in the NFL Draft, head coach Ron Rivera kept one eye on the NFL Network's package of McCaffrey highlights.

"You saw him do everything – line up as the tailback, line up as the halfback, line up as the quarterback in the Wildcat, motion out and run a wheel route, return kicks," Rivera said. "This is a guy who you can get the ball in his hands many different ways and quickly."

When Rivera said the Panthers would get the ball to McCaffrey quickly, he meant it in more ways than one. Rivera believes McCaffrey's playmaking ability near the line of scrimmage can jumpstart the offense, and the Panthers don't plan to wait before jumpstarting McCaffrey.

"We feel like this young man is going to be able to get on football right away and help make an impact," Rivera said.

General manager Dave Gettleman recently said it's rare for NFL prospects these days to be "plug and play," but after the pick he said McCaffrey is pretty close to just that.

"He's knows what it takes," Gettleman said. "He understands the game."

Gettleman added that between McCaffrey's inside running ability and his pass-catching ability, he possesses a combination of skills rarely seen.

"It doesn't happen very often," Gettleman said. "The best tackle-box runner I've ever seen is Curtis Martin out of Pitt. Christian is right there with him. Running in that tackle box takes unique vision and unique quickness, and he's got it. Curtis Martin had it, and he had a great career – a Hall of Fame career – and this kid's got those kind of skills.

"He has suction cups on the ends of his wrists."

Both Gettleman and Rivera gushed about how prepared McCaffrey will be for life in the NFL, partially a function of being the son of longtime pro receiver Ed McCaffrey. Rivera said he'd be used as a punt returner right away but didn't stop there, saying McCaffrey should in short order be able to complement running back Jonathan Stewart and improve life for quarterback Cam Newton.

"He's going to take a lot of pressure off him," Rivera said. "Moving him around and watching how defenses react to him is going to be a big thing that's really going to help our quarterback and help the rest of our offense."

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Christian McCaffrey Q&A

Moments after the Panthers selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey with the eight pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, McCaffrey conducted a conference call with media gathered at Bank of America Stadium from his Colorado home.

On his excitement after being drafted by Carolina: "Excited is an understatement obviously. It's such a blessing to be a part of this organization. I'm so thankful that they believed in me enough to trust me with that eighth pick. I just can't wait to get out there and do whatever I can to help them win games."

On what he came away with from his pre-draft visit to Charlotte: "As soon as I touched down in Charlotte, it was one of the coolest places I have ever been to. I was in awe and all that. Meeting the coaches, meeting the players, just seeing the kind of camaraderie they have inside the locker room and weight room, I knew it would be a perfect fit for me and I can't tell you how thankful I am once again. I got an opportunity to meet with Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, and what amazing people they are as well. Such a successful person who means so much to an organization. That was a special moment for me. Now to put on a Carolina Panther hat and know that I am a part of this organization, it's pretty surreal."

On if the Panthers' offseason hiring of Lance Taylor, who was McCaffrey's position coach at Stanford, was an indication of interest: "In the back of my head, a little bit but I had no idea. You know how it is. The NFL is such a game and you can never really predict anything. I just tried to trust the process and go to work every single day. Now I'm here. While this is an unbelievable moment, it's the start to something special too. It's not the end, this is just the beginning. I can't wait to get to work."

Of if McCaffrey ever dreamed of being drafted in the top 10: "It's been a dream of mine since I was little, to be one of the best players in the draft. Now for this to come true is special to me. It's a special moment for myself and my family. There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of tough times, but a lot of great times as well. To see it pay off and to be blessed enough to go to an organization like the Carolina Panthers, I'm at a loss for words right now. I'm in awe once again. I can't wait."

On players he met during his visit to the team facility: "I saw Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and the first thing I did was try to imagine was blocking them, so I've got to get ready. That's all I've got to say. I'm going to do everything that I can. It's one of those things where you see these guys play every Sunday. You see guys like Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and all of these great players that Carolina has, Cam Newton – being able to now say that I'm a part of the same team as them is a blessing. These are guys that I watched growing up, 20 years young so I've been watching these guys for a long time. To be on the same team as them is a blessing. I just can't wait to learn from them."

Thoughts on playing with Cam Newton: "I smiled. I just knew that it was going to make all of our jobs easier. He is the most talented quarterback in the NFL, hands down. I just think to be able to line up in the backfield with him, I hope we can do some special things."

On discussions with offensive coordinator Mike Shula about his role: "We touched the surface a little bit. A lot of the similar stuff as how they used me at Stanford. They have such great backs there already, just to kind of fit in with them and just to utilize all of us in the package is going to be a lot of fun for all of us. Once again, learning from Coach (Jim) Skipper who is a legendary running backs coach and Coach Shula as well, we touched it a little bit on how I would be used, but I'm just excited to get in and learn."

On what he thinks his position is: "I'm a football player. I don't put a title on what position I am. If you need me to go to wide out, I can go to wide out. If you need me to run power in between the tackles, I believe I can do that as well. So I think there is a variety of different things I can do. That is something I pride myself on in my game."

On the pressure created by being a high draft pick: "There's always pressure. I'm a person who loves pressure. Pressure makes people better. There is pressure every time you walk onto a football field whether it's practice or a game. I love that. That's the kind of stuff that makes the great ones great. I plan to get there and do whatever I can to help this offense put a lot of points on the board."

On his response when people say he is not an every-down running back: "I would just tell them to watch the tape. I've had more carries than anybody in the country over the past two years as a running back. I feel like I did pretty well. That's kind of what I would tell them."

On his experience as a Super Bowl 50 attendee: "When you watched that team play the whole year, what a special team. It's an organization where winning is the standard, and that's what we are going to get back to. I can't wait to be a part of that."

On the reaction of his father, longtime NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, to the draft: "He gave me a big old hug and said congrats. There are so many emotions going through my family right now. All of my loved ones are here at home in Colorado. I'm just so thankful to be able to spend it with them."

On McCaffrey's dad wearing a Denver Broncos jersey: "We threw it off and put a Carolina Panthers jersey on."

On how he'll celebrate his first NFL touchdown: "I never know what to do so I beat my chest five times and I point up to God. That's what I stand on. That's kind of what I started doing my sophomore season. All praise goes to Him. That's just the kind of person I am. I'm a religious person. Every touchdown I score and before and after every single game, I just give it up to Him."

On playing for the Panthers offense: "What an explosive offense. You have Cam Newton back there, you've got some great backs and you have a fantastic offensive line and some great leadership there. I can't tell you how excited I am to help this team score points and win games."


Film study: Christian McCaffrey an every-down threat? Watch the tape, he says. We did.

The Carolina Panthers’ No. 8 overall draft pick, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, had some advice to a reporter who asked what he’d say to those who question whether he can be an “every-down” running back in the NFL.

“I would just tell them to watch the tape,” he said, speaking over the phone from his parents’ home in Denver.

Christian, I have believed you since January (with only a few lapses in judgment along the way). Ask my beat partner, Joseph Person, about the match I predicted for Carolina way back in Tampa Bay, when the Panthers were slogging through another tough loss. Boy, was he tired of me ranting about you by April, bless his heart.

Yes, McCaffrey carried the load as a running back for Stanford for the past two years as an “every-down back,” with 590 carries for 3,622 yards and 21 touchdowns. But he also handled more than a fair share of snaps at receiver – both on inside routes and outside routes – with 72 catches for 955 yards and eight touchdowns in his final two seasons.

McCaffrey was used as a kick and punt returner too, and his 3,496 all-purpose yards as a junior broke Barry Sanders’ previous FBS season record. Yes, he did all of this at just 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds.

But it’s not McCaffrey’s numbers that really matter as he heads to the NFL, but how he obtains them. And, he, head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman all expect him to be utilized in the same fashion as he was at Stanford.

So let’s take McCaffrey up on his suggestion. Let’s watch (a small sample of) the film.

Running back

Against Kansas State in 2016, McCaffrey showed some of his notoriously quick jukes and footwork – but also his patience for play and block development. He is tough to bring down and if he gets loose, his downfield vision allows him to find gaps and extend a play, as shown here.

So, we know McCaffrey is fast (he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine). But as general manager Dave Gettleman said, 40-yard-dash speed is different from game speed. For a running back, this can mean speed of cuts, decision making and body control, but can also be all about timing. Patience is a big factor in how a running back finds the right holes through which to run, and McCaffrey shows that here against Iowa in the 2015 Rose Bowl. McCaffrey waits for his blocks to develop on the outside (watch him wait behind No. 18) and uses speed and a little power near the end to extend the play. McCaffrey is also strikingly adept at change-of-pace moves and shows remarkable physical control as he works to find his gap.

And McCaffrey, according to running backs analyst Graham Barfield, faced a box loaded with eight or more defensive players on 64 percent of his carries. In those situations, he rushed for an average of 145.7 yards per game and averaged 5.86 yards per carry. That is 25 more yards per game than LSU back Leonard Fournette (selected fourth overall by Jacksonville), who faced this scenario on 67 percent of his carries and averaged 5.48 yards per carry. With this same criteria, McCaffrey averaged 23 carries per game while Fournette averaged 18.4.

43    According to Pro Football Focus, McCaffrey forced 43 missed tackles as a runner in 2016 and 21 as a receiver.
Finally, Stanford’s run scheme with McCaffrey was one of the more complex in college football and very similar to what many NFL teams run – combinations of both inside and outside zone as well as power-I and sometimes even unbalanced formations with an extra tackle on one side. McCaffrey also ran out of shotgun, from under center and from the direct-snap package called the Wildcat. This ultimately helps with McCaffrey’s versatility in scheme as well as his adaptability to the NFL.

Receiver

This play, against Iowa in the Rose Bowl in 2015, is classic McCaffrey. He lines up as a running back in the backfield but quickly turns receiver on a simple option route in the middle of the field. His footwork fools the safety and makes a linebacker fall, and he burns a third defender after he threads the needle between the first two to catch the pass. This, a 75-yard touchdown, was Stanford’s first play of the game and set the tone for an absolute beating.

Because McCaffrey can line up in any spot on the route chart, and also is a threat when feinting as a back then turning into a mid-range receiver to burn linebackers as a mismatch, any playbook opens up and lends creativity to personnel groupings.

Returner

McCaffrey’s downfield vision is partially what makes him such a prolific kick and punt returner - a skill that head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers will also utilize. At Stanford from 2015-16, McCaffrey accumulated 1,614 yards as a returner.

Not a whole lot can really be said about this particular highlight – the potential, as McCaffrey said, is on the tape. This 63-yard punt return for a touchdown was his second-longest play of the game – the first was his game-opening 75-yard touchdown.

Finally, Stanford’s run scheme with McCaffrey was one of the more complex in college football and very similar to what many NFL teams run – combinations of both inside and outside zone as well as power-I and sometimes even unbalanced formations with an extra tackle on one side. McCaffrey also ran out of shotgun, from under center and from the direct-snap package called the Wildcat. This ultimately helps with McCaffrey’s versatility in scheme as well as his adaptability to the NFL.

Receiver

This play, against Iowa in the Rose Bowl in 2015, is classic McCaffrey. He lines up as a running back in the backfield but quickly turns receiver on a simple option route in the middle of the field. His footwork fools the safety and makes a linebacker fall, and he burns a third defender after he threads the needle between the first two to catch the pass. This, a 75-yard touchdown, was Stanford’s first play of the game and set the tone for an absolute beating.

Finally, Stanford’s run scheme with McCaffrey was one of the more complex in college football and very similar to what many NFL teams run – combinations of both inside and outside zone as well as power-I and sometimes even unbalanced formations with an extra tackle on one side. McCaffrey also ran out of shotgun, from under center and from the direct-snap package called the Wildcat. This ultimately helps with McCaffrey’s versatility in scheme as well as his adaptability to the NFL.

Receiver

This play, against Iowa in the Rose Bowl in 2015, is classic McCaffrey. He lines up as a running back in the backfield but quickly turns receiver on a simple option route in the middle of the field. His footwork fools the safety and makes a linebacker fall, and he burns a third defender after he threads the needle between the first two to catch the pass. This, a 75-yard touchdown, was Stanford’s first play of the game and set the tone for an absolute beating.

Because McCaffrey can line up in any spot on the route chart, and also is a threat when feinting as a back then turning into a mid-range receiver to burn linebackers as a mismatch, any playbook opens up and lends creativity to personnel groupings.

Returner

McCaffrey’s downfield vision is partially what makes him such a prolific kick and punt returner - a skill that head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers will also utilize. At Stanford from 2015-16, McCaffrey accumulated 1,614 yards as a returner.

Not a whole lot can really be said about this particular highlight – the potential, as McCaffrey said, is on the tape. This 63-yard punt return for a touchdown was his second-longest play of the game – the first was his game-opening 75-yard touchdown.

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