When the Carolina Panthers drafted Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the plan from the football operations staff down to the coaching staff was clear, put the ball in this kids hands and special things will happen. The most versatile player in the country now joins Superman Cam Newton in a high-powered Panthers offense that will fool defenses week-in and week-out.
McCaffrey set an 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 during his Sophomore year at Stanford. He followed it up rushing for 1,639 yards despite battling some injuries on his way to becoming a top-1o pick.
MCaffrey has an innate ability to make defenders miss on all three levels. He has the deceptive motion and ability to read oncoming defenders that makes him unlike any other player in the game. McCaffrey is a great ball carrier, despite many thinking of him exclusively as a pass catcher. He will sink his hips, find a lane and use his shiftiness and elusiveness to break off a big gain and charge ahead downfield. When you add in his excellent hands out of backfield and the fact that the Stanford product can be used from slot, McCaffrey is a home run selection for the Panthers. If special teams is your forte, then McCaffrey is also your guy because throughout his college career he has proven to be quite the capable punt and kick returner piling up the yardage and scores.
Here’s just a quick preview of what McCaffrey is capable of. Highlights from every touch in the pre-season opener against the Houston Texans.
The Panthers want Cam Newton to stay on the field and healthy, enter McCaffrey. With Newton running less and having to get the ball out quicker, what better weapon to utilize than your matchup nightmare and shifty rookie running back out of Stanford. With where McCaffrey was drafted, the new plans for the offense and the special weapon he truly is to game-plan for, the Panthers are going to put the ball in his hands and watch magic unfold. I’d expect a minimum of 25 touches per game (15 carries/10 targets/5 returns) and with the opportunities he will flash his ability and keep getting the ball in his hands.
Everyone knows what McCaffrey’s skill set is and the Panthers will make it a point of emphasis to get the ball into his hands and see just what he can do with it. While Touchdowns may be a lingering concern for the rookie, I still think he will get into double digits when all is said and done, and the all-purpose yardage he has in his rookie season may even challenge some NFL records.
McCaffrey is currently projected as a fourth-to-sixth round selection in the majority of standard fantasy football leagues. Far too low in my opinion, especially in PPR. The amount of opportunities McCaffrey will have to make a play either rushing, receiving or returning warrants a top draft selection. I currently plan to draft McCaffrey at the top of the third round of my fantasy league, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Stanford product emerge as a top-20 selection as we inch closer to the start of the season. He’s just that damn good.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank