If you’re on this site and reading this article, I probably don’t have to tell you that the NFL has changed significantly from its first years, and even from recent years.
As more and more money-ballers, millennials and statistically-inclined savants find their way into NFL front offices, the product that these teams put on the field will only become more and more efficient. One way that will be seen is by NFL teams optimizing their backfields and running games. At this point, I’m sure you’ve seen the data. The NFL is becoming increasingly pass-happy and less interested in the run game. It’s justified, as the average NFL pass will net a gain of about 7 yards, while the average NFL run will gain about 4. On over 60+ plays on any given Sunday, those 3-yard differences will turn into the difference between sustaining a drive and punting the ball. Those outcomes eventually determine whether a team wins or loses a football game.
On top of that, offenses are relying less and less on one main running back to carry the mail. These days, the focus is more on two, three, or even four-man committees. In these, each rusher has specialized talents and they split the work. These developments are sometimes thought of as a hindrance to the value of all running backs not seen as the prototypical workhorse running back with a high level of talent, and specifically to those in the cohort who have yet to enter the league: rookies. Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette are normally the ones draftniks see as exempt from this. This, however, is a big mistake.
In this new-look NFL, Christian McCaffrey will be better a better workhorse than at least one of the two and potentially both of the two, yet he’s being looked at as strictly a satellite back best used in a complementary role.
It Has (Repeatedly) Been Done Before
Before I continue, I do concede that McCaffrey isn’t the size that screams ‘lead back,’ but as many of his predecessors have proven already, that doesn’t really matter.
Via pro football reference, running backs who have a similar Body Mass Index (BMI) to McCaffrey’s 28.2 mark (any RB with a BMI < or = to 30) haven’t always been heavily hindered by their size. There have been: 5 2,000+ rushing yard seasons, 47 1,500 rushing yard seasons, and many, many more 1,200+ yard seasons. Warrick Dunn (a former first round pick) ran for over 1,400 yards and over 5.0 yards per carry at 5-9, 180 in his age 30 season. He was much smaller and most likely much less athletic than what McCaffrey will be. Tony Dorsett, he who is the same height (5-11) but 10 pounds lighter (192) than McCaffrey, ended with over 16,000 career yards back in the day. Terrell Davis had a 1,500-yard season, a 1,700-yard season, and a 2,000-yard season at 5-11, 206. Chris Johnson is 5-11, 195. Jamaal Charles is 5-11, 199.
Many have been using the argument that McCaffrey doesn’t have the body type to survive in the NFL. This myth can be debunked by both a quick look at this list and…
The Resume Agrees
…the body of work McCaffrey put together in college. For starters, McCaffrey bore a grand total of 748 all-purpose touches over his final two seasons at Stanford. He never suffered any major injuries, and that was no accident. Smarter players such as McCaffrey are always one step ahead. They are sure to keep themselves positions that avoid any contact that would put their playing status in jeopardy. Further, now that he’s out of college, it’s highly unlikely that he has to slog through that workload ever again.
The Complete Skillset
It’s one thing to be capable at all of the facets of football that were mentioned. It’s another thing to be extremely talented at all of them, and McCaffrey is. McCaffrey’s college yards per carry are in the highest quartile of college running backs. His College Dominator rating (his share of his team’s total yards and touchdowns) of 50.7% is better than all but 2% of the same group (98th percentile) (courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com). He had over 800 more rushing yards than his backup and tied for the lead in receptions on his team, all despite missing two games. In 2015 (his last year as the primary kick returner), McCaffrey finished with the 3rd-most kickoff return yards in the nation.
Bottom line: there’s nothing that McCaffrey can’t do. That will only help him in the pros, especially when it comes to…
…the chances he’s going to get right-off-the-bat in the NFL. Over the long offseason, Christian McCaffrey’s stock has seen its shares of highs and lows, but mainly the former. When draft season was just kicking off, McCaffrey was penciled in as a first-round pick. This was along with other top talents in Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette. As time wore on, he fell into the 2nd round discussion. Having no football makes us all get a little restless. Now, he is firmly back into the Day 1 discussion. In fact, rumors have started to swirl that McCaffrey has a good chance of cracking the top ten at this year’s Annual Selection Meeting.
What does this mean? Well, before I dive into this, I want to add that whoever makes McCaffrey a top 10 pick, or even a top 32 pick, is making a huge mistake. That goes for all of the other running backs in this class, and last year’s class (I’m looking at you Jerry Jones), and next year’s class, and any class. Not even the best running backs are worth a first round pick. They can’t provide so much value over their peers that would make them worthy of the capital. But once they’re drafted there, there’s nothing that can be done, and we as fantasy owners have to react accordingly. Burning that high of a pick confirms that the player will get every chance to succeed. NFL front offices hate to concede that they made a mistake.
McCaffrey, the talent, however, isn’t a mistake.
Those opportunities will see him flourish in whatever role he is put in next fall.
Follow @PlayThePcts (Rich Torres)