2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

Christian McCaffrey/RB/Stanford — 5’11”, 202 Lbs

The Good

-Great burst and vision for the position
-Has breakaway speed as back and receiver
-Consistently falls forward at end of runs; does a great job of securing the ball
-Extremely balanced runner with low center of gravity
-Shifty weapon with fluid movement in space and makes it look effortless at times
-Patient runner that lets blocks develop in front of him
-Natural receiver with soft hands and great hand-eye coordination
-Impact returner capable of flipping the field
– Workhorse at Stanford over last two years; touched the ball 748 times in last two seasons with just two fumbles

 The Bad

-Slightly undersized frame to be an 300+ carry running back in the NFL
-Not overly physical runner; won’t run through guys at the next level
-Struggles in short-yardage situations and looks a bit hesitant when he has to lower his head and shoulder
-Wasn’t asked to do much in terms of pass protection, but when he stayed in, he struggled with technique and power as blocker

Bio

-Sporting News All-America second team (athlete)
-Walter Camp All-America second team (running back)
-AP All-America second team (running back)
-FWAA All-America second team (running back)
-USA Today All-America second team (running back)
-SI.com All-America second team (running back)
-CBS Sports All-America second team (running back)
-FOX All-America first team (all-purpose)
-FOX All-America first team (running back)
-Third all-time leading rusher in Cardinal history
-Set single-season All-Purpose record in 2015 (3,864 yards), breaking Barry Sanders’ Oklahoma State record
-Son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey; brother, Max, is an NFL receiver and brother, Dylan, will play quarterback at Michigan.

Tape Breakdown

Chalk up Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey as easily one of the most fun prospects to watch in this year’s draft class, and arguably one of the most entertaining guys to watch in the last three season’s I’ve been breaking down players for the NFL Draft.

McCaffrey is a human highlight reel almost every game, as he’s a homerun threat every time the football finds itself in his 9-inch hands.

But while being one of the most entertaining prospects to watch, McCaffrey seems to be one of the most polarizing guys in this draft class, especially at running back.

Most seem to see him as a gadget player with very few traits that will translate to the NFL, but that seems like such a farce to me. He’s a guy who has been a workhorse back at Stanford the last two seasons in a pro-style system where he was asked to run between the tackles quite a bit, and he’s also a productive receiving back that has a full route tree at his disposal and is a serious matchup problem wherever he’s lining up at on the field.

Plus, when you add in the dynamic return ability that the Cardinal product has, it’s easy to see what all the hype and nostalgia around him is all about.

For those that just don’t see it with this guy, well, I’m just not sure what you’re seeing that I’m not. While it is easy to get lost in the highlight reel plays that he has throughout the last two seasons at Stanford, it’s the traits such as his patience, vision, shiftiness and ball security as a back that really has me excited about this guy.

Against Southern California in the 2015 Pac-12 championship game, McCaffrey routinely gashed the Trojan defense with his ability to see running lanes develop in front of him before using subtle cuts to get into the lane before bursting through.

Then, once he was in the field McCaffrey was able to show some wiggle as well, forcing a number of missed tackles in the championship game win.

As a receiver, McCaffrey is as shifty as they come. When he’s matched up against linebackers out of the backfield, the pass is almost always coming to him because he’s going to win that matchup.

This play against Iowa in the Rose Bowl is a simple Texas route for McCaffrey, but by being in space against the Hawkeye linebacker, it’s an easy win. From there, it’s a footrace to the end zone, and it’s one that McCaffrey routinely won in college.

This Texas route was McCaffrey’s go-to route, and despite teams knowing he runs it exceptionally well, they still allowed him to run it one-on-one against linebackers for impressive success over the last two years.

Against Iowa, that was McCaffrey’s national coming-out game. That game alone put him on the map as a superstar and he never really let up from there.

Even in the screen game, McCaffrey is a game breaker.

At the start of this play against California, it doesn’t look like the screen will materialize into much, but McCaffrey is able to run through the initial tackle attempt after big pop.

From there he’s able to run through an arm tackle of a Cal defensive tackle, and once he’s past the first wave of defenders it’s vapors for the Stanford star.

He’s so smooth in the open field that it often looks effortless.

Projecting him to the next level really isn’t tough if you know what you’re asking him to do.

Ideally, he’s a running back that touches the ball 20 times per game in some combination of rushes, catches and returns with those rushes hopefully coming in a zone scheme.

He’s so good at stretching out defenses by challenging the perimeter before being able to shift his weight in the opposite direction to burst through massive cutback lanes for big plays.

His vision, patience and initial burst through the hole are honestly really impressive on tape.

 

Once McCaffrey sees the cutback lane, you see him plant his left foot in the turf and burst up the field, but once he’s in the hole he pulls off an impressive cut to his right while being at full speed.

That’s crazy athleticism to pull that off at full speed to go sideways and not lose speed in the process.

Cuts and jukes like that from McCaffrey were common throughout his time at Stanford. While he might not profile as the between-the-tackles for 25 times a game runner that most want in a back, he’s a guy that can make it work because he’s so shifty and rarely takes big shots in that area.

Overall, I see a lot of former Philadelphia Eagles star running back Brian Westbrook in McCaffrey’s game. At one point in time Westbrook was in the discussion as the best running back in football, and I think McCaffrey — in the right system — can reach those same heights.

He’s certainly a game-changer whenever he gets his hands on the ball, and he’s most definitely worth a mid first round pick in my mind.

Whoever takes him is getting a versatile, dynamic running back that fits today’s style of offense.

Projection:  Mid Day One

Games Watched:  at USC (’15), at Oregon State (’15), vs. California (’15), vs. Notre Dame (’15), vs. Iowa (’15), vs. Kansas State (’16), vs. USC (’16), at UCLA (’16), at Washington (’16), at Arizona (’16), at Oregon (’16), at California (’16), vs. Rice (’16)

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Derek RiversRyan AndersonJoshua DobbsJordan LeggettSamaje Perine
Corn ElderBucky HodgesJames ConnerCooper KuppStanley Williams
Fred RossJamaal WilliamsGeorge KittleEjuan PriceChris Wormley
Jeremy McNicholsJoe MathisDerek BarnettAmba Etta-TawoGareon Conley
Taco Charlton Elijah McGuireRyan SwitzerTanoh KpassagnonTre’Davious White
Brian HillMatthew DayesDonnel PumphreyJosh ReynoldsNazair Jones
De’Veon SmithDavis WebbObi MelifonwuTJ WattJohn Ross
Jerod EvansVince BiegelJosh CarrawayJosh MaloneKevin King
Fadol BrownChris GodwinNate GerryJordan WillisStacy Coley
Zay JonesJimmie GilbertGlen AntoineTarell BashamDuke Riley
Rayshawn JenkinsChad KellyTrey HendricksonJeremy SprinkleJoe Williams
D’Onta ForemanCarlos WatkinsDamontae KazeWayne GallmanWillie Quinn
Xavier WoodsElijah HoodMalik McDowellDesmond KingSolomon Thomas
Cordrea TankersleySolomon ThomasJosh Harvey-ClemonsRaekwon McMillan

  • Steelers12

    Glad he will be gone by 30

  • jconeoone C

    You didn’t really go over pass protection with him? I know you mentioned it at beginning. He’s got all-around skills that’s for sure tho

  • William Weaver

    Shady McCoy has done well as undersized guy. I think this dude is a star too. Hope Patriots don’t get him!

  • Mike Frantz

    Easily RB1 in this draft. Size is so overrated. Jamal Charles, McCoy, Westbrook. McCaffery is strong enough to break arm tackles, that’s enough. You’d want a short yardage back to compliment him, but I think that’s more of a style issue than a size issue. He’s patient looking for lanes and setting up blocks, which isn’t always what you want in short yardage. Great player.

  • Alleghenys

    He likely won’t fall, but McCaffrey is my ideal pick. Bell can’t play 16 games, Martavis and Green are question marks and WR depth is questionable. Let him supplement Bell, run routes from out wide and return all kicks. This is a defensively deep draft so add an offensive playmaker and the load up on defense after round one.

  • PaeperCup

    I was watching his pro day clips, I was almost as if the film was sped up. This guy is crazy quick. I’m a big fan…he won’t be a steeler unfortunately

  • Josh Carney

    Very rarely asked to do it. And when he is, it’s not pretty by any stretch. But with a guy like CMac, you’re not asking him to do it because he’s so dynamic as a receiver.

  • Spencer Krick

    He’d be an expensive answer to our return game, haha.

    Still, he is really fun to watch. He’d be a great weapon in Pitt, but we already have a RB1. It’d be tough to get him touches, unless you want him to be a slot receiver most of the time.

  • popsiclesticks

    You’re taking him over Fournette? Easily?

    EDIT: Maybe I misunderstood RB1 in that context

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think he’s the best all-around RB in this extremely loaded class. I know for a fact he WILL NOT get past Denver at 20. The fit there is just too perfect. He is the only RB I’d consider taking at 30, since his receiving ability and return ability, would give us a weapon that we could utilize as he was backing up Bell. Anyone who is down on this kid is INSANE. He’s in my top 5 man-crushes of the entire draft. I will be watching with bated breath to see where he ends up. I will ABSOLUTELY VOMIT if Cincy or Baltimore grab him. I don’t really have enough superlatives to describe his overall abilities. He easily should have won the Heisman a few years ago. He comes from the type of pedigree where you just know he is going to turn into a workout warrior, hone his craft, and become even better, which is scary. Would I take this guy over Fournette? Uh… yeah. But especially I would for us. He’s ideal in the 2017 NFL.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I’d almost consider taking him just to keep him out of the Patriots hands.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    Future Patriot?

  • kbbl

    As a Stanford alum I’d literally vomit seeing him in a Pats uni.

  • William Weaver

    I bet that would physically hurt to see him in a Pats uniform.

  • Garrett Hunt

    I would love this pick. Imagine teams game planning against him and Bell. Not even getting into the receivers imagine how creative you could be. Special teams returns would just be a bonus.

  • Garrett Hunt

    Him + Bell = havoc for everyone. Give them a combined 50 touches a game and kill the time of possession battle every game. And neither turn it over!

  • Darth Blount 47

    Luckily, the Pats don’t have a shot without a 1st or 2nd round pick.

  • Trevor

    I understand that injuries happen but who are you going to take off of the field so often that he gets 20 touches a game? Assuming you want a 30-20 split, and you can’t guarantee him more than 5 catches a game (that’s an 80 catch season, which is unheard of for a backup RB even if he can play in the slot), you’re giving him 15 carries per game. Nobody in their right mind is taking Bell off the field for 15 carries. And then how is AB gonna have any catches? Bryant? Coates? Rogers? Green? I could see the two of them combining for 50 touches once every two seasons, when AB is injured and the team they play has a crappy run defense. If you want to see running backs get 50 touches per game, watch Buffalo. That’s the closest you’re gonna get.

  • Josh Carney

    God I hope not.

  • Garrett Hunt

    Maybe not 50 touches every game but the same general idea of a heavy running game. Someone will be injured and AB will get his. No one else is guaranteed squat.

  • Mike Frantz

    No, that’s what I meant. Fournette is a good runner. That’s not enough to be a great running back in today’s game. The NFL is going more and more towards versatility in all positions. You want to cause matchup problems. Fournette is the equivalent of a 2 down LB. Which even that name is misleading. A 2 down LB is basically a 1 down player. Elliott has taught people the wrong lesson. He simply proved that a great all-around RB is worth a 1st round pick. He’s a good receiver and a great blocker. Fournette doesn’t bring either of those. McCaffery is the perfect RB for today’s NFL. A matchup nightmare.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I didn’t know they did that. They do so much tinkering around it’s hard to keep up with it ( sorta like the opposite of the Steelers).

  • LgFriess

    This guy is going to create SO many matchup problems for everybody…including the Steelers unfortunately. He won’t come close to 30 so I’m just praying nobody else in the division gets him.

  • popsiclesticks

    I mean, I get that but…job #1 is still run the ball. Adrian Peterson has never been a good running back all-around, not by any stretch. But when he was in his prime, there’s nobody else you’d rather have. LeVeon Bell is awesome mainly because he is excellent at that number 1 requirement. And Fournette may not be on the field on 3rd and 10, but he will on 3rd and 5 and he’s good enough at that “1 down” that you might not have many 3rd and 10s. Though he can catch and block and everything, I think people have a misconception about him.

    I also think Dalvin Cook is even better than McCaffery in that all-around regard (minus blocking, he’s probably actually worse), but I guess we’ll see. If Joe Mixon is still on your list (I know that varies person to person), he IS LeVeon Bell. I like McCaffery and he’s slippery as hell and just may be the #1 RB to come out of this class, but I’d feel pretty good if someone bet me on that.