PHILADELPHIA – With the No. 8 pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers selected Christian McCaffrey, a running back from Stanford.
If it's possible to have a quiet 1,639 rushing yards, McCaffrey did it this season. Despite being hampered by an injury midway through the year, he still put up numbers worthy of first-team all-conference and Associated Press second-team All-American honors. McCaffrey decided not to play in his team's bowl game due to injury concerns. His sophomore season was his best, however. The son of former NFL receiver "Easy Ed" McCaffrey was a consensus All-American, Heisman Trophy finalist, Associated Press and Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2015. He set a NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards, ranking second in the FBS with 2,019 rushing yards, along with 645 receiving and 1,070 on kickoff returns. McCaffrey was the only FBS player to lead his team in rushing and receiving yards, and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player. That performance was really not a surprise given the talent he flashed in his freshman year (551 offensive yards on 59 touches) and in high school (two-time Colorado Gatorade High School Player of the Year, state records in scoring, touchdowns, all-purpose yardage).
Smooth, controlled stride length with choppy feet for instant cuts and change of direction. Plus vision with above average anticipatory feel for opening creases. Hugs contours of the running lane and staggers and stutters his feet to maneuver in tight quarters. Protect football while running through traffic. Reads keys quickly on stretch plays. Sinks hips into sharp cuts. Equally adept darting inside or outside and is able to string moves together. Won't dance on short runs -- gets it downhill. Feet constantly in motion. Able to make defenders miss on all three levels. Willing to keep runs playside and alters his track seamlessly. Runs with multiple gears and is able to gear up or down instantly. Has experience in one-back, two-back and offset formations. Excellent hands out of backfield and can be used from slot. Devastating quickness out of breaks can mismatch linebackers. Experienced, capable punt and kick returner.
Lacks desired size of an every-down back. Has some tread worn off his tires. Logged 300-plus touches (including returns) in each of the last two seasons and was asked to grind the gears for short yardage carries. Benefitted from physical, downhill offensive line. Takes foot off gas into contact. Doesn't have NFL-caliber power to break tackles and create yardage for himself through power. Can shake tacklers, but lacks a twitchy burst to accelerate away after the cut. On stretch plays, can get too cute continuing to probe towards the perimeter rather than choosing a crease and committing. Average burst may not be enough to race past NFL speed on second level. Inconsistent squaring up blitzers in pass pro and ducks his head into contact.
Draft projection: Round 1
NFL comparison: Tiki Barber
Multidimensional runner with flex appeal for teams looking for a player who can carry the ball 20 times or catch it 10 depending on the game plan. McCaffrey's size, power and speed are just average, but he is able to create yardage for himself with his vision and elusiveness. McCaffrey's ability to return punts and kicks could be the value sweetner that pushes his name into the first round.
-- Lance Zierlein