Average Draft Position (CBS): 39th
NFL Veteran Comparison: Jamaal Charles
Few players could electrify the college football stage like Christian McCaffrey did. The shiftiness, pass-catching ability, breakaway speed, and mesmerizing return game tantalized NFL scouts throughout his Stanford career. The Carolina Panthers pulled the trigger on the do-it-all back with their 1st round selection (8th overall).
The Panthers staff has high hopes for McCaffrey’s future in Charlotte, but he doesn’t have a free ride to the top of the depth chart. Jonathan Stewart, career-long Panther still perches atop the list as of now. However, McCaffrey is surging, and here’s why he could end up as the Week 1 starter.
- McCaffrey is much more versatile of a player than Stewart is: he would often line up split out wide instead of in the backfield because of his prowess as a pass-catcher. In his time at Stanford, he compiled 99 receptions for 1,206 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Stewart is not as versatile, as he has never had a role as a pass-catching back for the entirety of his NFL career, so McCaffrey is all but guaranteed the third-down role for Ron Rivera’s offense.
- McCaffrey is also much more elusive than Stewart is: McCaffrey is able to make defenders miss in the open field, while Stewart prefers to bowl them over, making it easier for other defenders to come and bring him down. McCaffrey forced 43 missed tackles as a rusher and 21 as a receiver last season in just 11 games, which would put him on pace for about 89 total missed tackles in a 16 game season. In comparison, Stewart had 65 missed tackles last season.
- Stewart is also an aging back. Stewart just turned 30, which is a watermark for a decline in production for running backs. McCaffrey brings in fresh legs, and could bring a more devastating presence to the Panthers offense.
McCaffrey’s production is unquestioned. The two-time Heisman finalist rushed for 3,622 yards and 21 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Stanford for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. In comparison, Stewart averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season.
McCaffrey is in high favor with the coaching staff, so it seems as if he has a good opportunity to become the starter, which puts him in a position to potentially have a 1,000 yard rushing season with the potential of another 400 receiving yards. Stewart will likely be relegated to a goal-line and short yardage role, so that could affect McCaffrey’s touchdown totals. With this assumption, McCaffrey could still probably go for 8+ touchdowns on the ground and 3-4 catching the ball.
Jamaal Charles is McCaffrey’s veteran comparison because of his own versatility. Although Charles is a speedier back (4.36 40 yard dash compared to McCaffrey’s 4.48), Charles’ pass-catching ability, shiftiness, and efficiency are all reflected in the young McCaffrey. McCaffrey is currently a top 40 pick, which should be a good place to draft him due to the opportunity that he has this season. McCaffrey will be a solid RB2 and in some cases a borderline RB1, making him an integral part of any team.