As of this point in the offseason most dynasty players know who they like or don’t like. We’ve all done the homework and watched the game film on every top prospect. So we know everything about the rookies we want on our team, or do we?
If you’re anything like me by the time July rolls around you have read countless scouting reports and heard every opinion on a prospect. The real fun starts after the NFL Draft when we can put a player to a team and assess how he will fit. I’ve never been a big fan of writing scouting reports especially for the top tier prospects because as an active dynasty owner you know how good they are. The dynasty community on Twitter is an everyday hotbed for takes and bold predictions but recently what has caught my eye is the opinions on one particular prospect.
The Carolina Panthers selected Christian McCaffrey eighth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Christian, the son of NFL standout WR Ed McCaffrey broke FBS and Stanford records while in college. Leading up to the combine I’m not sure many people had McCaffrey with much more than a late first round grade and he was tagged as a gadget player mainly due to his size. McCaffrey skipped his last game as a Cardinal to prepare for the combine and it paid off big time as he was a top performer in the 40 yard dash, vert jump and both the 20 and 60 yard shuttles. McCaffrey recorded the second fastest 3 cone for any RB in the last decade.
It’s true most of us believe the numbers don’t lie especially when you are evaluating a prospect in the power five conferences. Christian McCaffrey’s numbers at Stanford in one word were insane. In three seasons he totaled 7,000 all purpose yards and scored 33 total touchdowns. McCaffrey broke one of the greatest runningbacks of all time, Barry Sanders single season all purpose yardage record of 3,249 yards as a sophomore with 3,864 yards. McCaffrey totaled 6,191 yards over a two year span which is in the most in that time in FBS history. Those numbers speak volumes about how dynamic and good of a player he is.
I could talk strengths and weaknesses of McCaffrey’s game and give you guys an easy scouting report on him but I think he deserves more of an in depth look. Vision, pass catching and ability to make defenders miss with regularity are just a few on his strengths. Pro scouts have pointed obviously to his size as a weakness as well as his lack of burst to break away in the NFL and his inconsistency as a pass blocker. It’s easy as an analyst or scout to point to a players size as the reason he won’t be successful as a pro but we’ve continuously seen that proven wrong at every position across the NFL. For myself I’m a firm believer that when scouting players that the film doesn’t lie. When you turned on a Stanford game in the last three years it was clear that #5 jumped off the screen at you as the best player on the field against very high level competition.
So let’s discuss who is Christian McCaffrey? I’ve seen player comparisons from that of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy to Tiki Barber and Curtis Martin. Those are pretty wide gaps if you ask me and at the same time very high praise for the young back. I see the Westbrook comparison mostly because of the pass catching upside. Recently scrolled through some dynasty twitter polls that feel that McCaffrey’s catch total could exceed 70+ even as a rookie and although I may not agree completely I see where this comp comes from. Westbrook had four straight seasons of 60 plus catches something that many believe McCaffrey is capable of and especially if Jonathan Stewart is still going to be heavily involved in 2017 this will be where a majority of McCaffrey’s fantasy value comes from. McCoy I don’t see the similarities outside of them both being dual threat backs, I think Shady is the closest back of our generation to Barry Sanders and although McCaffrey broke some of Sanders college records he’s just not that type of runner. The career path of Brian Westbrook isn’t unrealistic when projecting what McCaffrey will be as an NFL player. Assuming he stays healthy McCaffrey can be a 300 touch back but like Westbrook I see the carries being held to the mid to low 200’s while being targeted very often in the pass game using him as a matchup nightmare on linebackers and safeties.
So let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum, recently Panthers GM Dave Gettleman praised McCaffrey after the NFL draft and compared him to NFL great Curtis Martin. It’s not uncommon for a GM to praise draft picks especially one as talented as McCaffrey but I wanted to see how crazy this comparison was because it sounded pretty absurd to me when I first heard it. We should all know by now Curtis Martin is in that rare club with Barry Sanders as the only two running backs to start a career with 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain to you how insane that is. Martin was the model of consistency during his NFL career and one of the most underrated if you ask me. Most people think of Martin as a grinder but he was more of a complete back than most think he finished his career with 484 receptions and 10 touchdowns. If you take away Martin’s final season where he was injured his career averages look like this.
I know if I could be guaranteed that for a rookie pick in my dynasty leagues I would say that’s well worth the 1.01. Now McCaffrey’s averages on a smaller scale and in less games obviously are 211 carries, 1307 yards, 33 catches, 402 yards and 11.6 touchdowns. It’s worth mentioning that McCaffrey was all purpose in college scoring in the return game and also throwing touchdown passes but the point of mentioning the averages is to show how special of a player he really is. Another huge compliment of Curtis Martin’s game was his ball security he owns the best fumble rate for a running back in NFL history with at least 1500 carries. I read up on this a little more and saw that on average an NFL running back fumbles once every 100 carries, McCaffrey’s fumble rate in college was once every 243 carries. This stat combined with his usage in college is pretty insane. Martin was seen as a slasher between the tackles and he ran a 4.4 forty coming out of college. McCaffrey has been criticized as lacking the power to break tackles and ran a 4.48 forty at this years combine. Interesting thing I found in this comparison was that Martin played at 5’11”, 210 lbs and McCaffrey is currently 5’11”, 203 lbs but yet his size is a concern to some people. Also to take it a step farther Tiki Barber played at 5’10”, 205 lbs and was a solid in between the tackles runner in his career.
So is Gettleman that crazy for saying this or is McCaffrey just possibly one of the most unique talents in this draft? I’m not pounding the table saying McCaffrey will be Curtis Martin. The idea was to break down how widespread the comps for him have been. The more I looked into it the more interesting he became as a player to me. I still believe his career path will be closer to Brian Westbrook than Curtis Martin but it’s not completely unrealistic to think he can become that type of back. McCaffrey has been very durable in college and he comes into a situation as a top pick in the NFL draft to a very dynamic offense. Jonathan Stewart who seems at this point to still be the “lead back” has played 9 NFL seasons and only played 16 games three times and rushed for 1,000 yards once.
Mike Shula known for his power running system will have all the pressure on him to be creative on offense with his newly acquired weapons. It seemed very evident after the Panthers were exposed by the Broncos in the Super Bowl two years ago that the offensive strategy needed to change and that became true most of last season. Carolina took a big step back last season lacking the explosive plays and Cam Newton played hurt most of last year and had a very bad year. McCaffrey can change that very quickly and I believe he was drafted to do just that. I’ve been saying since Cam Newton’s first year that his footwork is a major problem and that if he didn’t find a way to change his superman approach later in his career that he would be in trouble. I believe we are approaching this point where Cam isn’t the best athlete on the field anymore and he needs to manage games better and it starts with trusting the playmakers around you. McCaffrey is the ultimate weapon for any QB struggling and as much as the numbers have been brought up of the Panthers having the least targets to the RB position in the NFL it’s also fair to say they have never had a RB like McCaffrey. In an alternative approach to limit hits on Cam I think there is a possibility the Panthers look very different in 2017 using more screens and draws and misdirection plays to keep defenses confused.
I haven’t heard a ton of concern over Curtis Samuel also being added to the Panthers backfield from dynasty owners but it’s something that needs to be said. Curtis Samuel was an all purpose superstar for the Ohio State Buckeyes as well last year and it shocked most when the Panthers drafted him after spending such a high pick on McCaffrey. I don’t believe they are close to the same type of player I think Samuel is a slot WR which is what the Panthers have insisted they will use him as. McCaffrey is a true RB no matter what some think and I feel very safe about his value long term over Samuel. Samuel’s 4.31 speed is a great fit for the Panthers offense to stretch the field after losing Ted Ginn and Philly Brown in free agency. McCaffrey has proven over and over he can get it done whether he’s in the backfield or in the slot matched up on a LB. McCaffrey received high praise from All Pro LB Luke Kuechly on how tough he’s going to be on opposing defenses to gameplan for. McCaffrey’s metrics and his familiarity with a pro style power system at Stanford give him a major advantage if Samuel was moved to RB and there were to be a RB competition.
Congratulations you’ve made it to the end of my longest article yet. I do apologize but there was a lot on my mind when discussing McCaffrey. There are very few prospects that come out that the dynasty community is so split on. Everything I’ve seen on him is either that you love the guy or want nothing to do with his current price, I’ve seen him go as high as 1.01 and as late as 1.06 in rookie drafts. Hoping you guys can use this to sway your opinion one way or the other but no matter how you feel about his value one thing is for sure the guy is a special player if you come away with him picking in the top five of your rookie draft you have to feel really good about your team.