Christian McCaffrey has joined Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook in a three-player amalgamation of running backs that has ascended into greatest prominence leading up to the rapidly approaching NFL Draft. While Joe Mixon also possesses enormous talent, a well-chronicled off-field incident in 2014 will impede his chances of a first round selection. It is also conceivable that Alvin Kamara could sneak into the initial round, but that should only occur if Fournette, Cook, and McCaffrey are no longer available. Which is why that threesome of has garnered the most conjecture among this year’s class of runners. Primarily regarding which team will procure their services, and what they could accomplish at the NFL level. Fournette’s standing as a big, fast, physical runner, who will be selected within the initial half of Round 1 has been essentially unchallenged. As has the belief that Cook is tantalizingly explosive, which will compel a franchise to make a first round investment in the former Seminole despite concerns about ball security, injuries, and off-field issues. But there is more uncertainty surrounding the versatile McCaffrey, as the topic of where he will ultimately be drafted has prompted an abundance of opinions. Some observers are convinced that he will be chosen among the top 10 in Round 1, while others are skeptical that he will migrate from the draft board that quickly.
Detailed analysis of high-profile draft prospects nearly always includes mention of their appealing combination of size, speed, and overall athleticism. That mixture of attributes does not automatically apply in McCaffrey’s case. However, he does possess an atypical skill set that elevates him beyond a vast majority of this year’s rookie class and could propel him into sustained success as a professional. He reads the field effectively and executes his cuts adeptly, which contributes to his ability to change directions fluidly. Although it is his unquestioned versatility that remains foremost among his appealing qualities. He has functioned in one-back and two-back formations, along with his experience working from the slot. The agile McCaffrey’s ability to excel while performing in this multitude of roles should create mammoth issues for many defenders. Particularly if his new team possesses the acumen to deploy him shrewdly. His capabilities were fully displayed at the NFL Combine, especially during his impressive performance in the 3 Cone Drill. As he produced the second best time by a running back since 2003 (6.57 seconds). He also finished first among all backs in the 60-yard Shuttle (11:03 seconds), third at his position in the vertical jump (37.5 inches), and fourth in the 20-yard Shuttle (4.22 seconds). He also completed the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, which tied him for fourth among all backs, and was slightly faster than both Fournette and Cook. Plus, McCaffrey presented further evidence of his proficiency as a receiver, by executing routes with effectiveness, and displaying trustworthy hands.
Despite the many positive elements to his game, there is concern from some NFL coaches and scouts regarding his viability as an every down back. As the concept of McCaffrey flourishing while taking on a full-time workload seems less realistic than the likelihood that he would perform capably while being placed in multiple, but part-time roles. There is also a degree of consternation about the wear and tear that he has already absorbed. McCaffrey accumulated 731 touches in plays from scrimmage and carried the ball 632 times. Including a whopping 337 rushing attempts in 2015 alone. Also, he managed just 10 reps during the bench press portion of the combine. Which placed him behind 29th among the 30 backs who participated in that drill. However, any trepidation about McCaffrey’s ability to succeed at the NFL level should be alleviated by the fact that he has consistently exhibiting the flexibility and elusiveness to generate plays of significance as a rusher, receiver, and returner.
Any apprehension concerning Christian McCaffrey should easily be offset by his numerous strengths. Particularly his aforementioned versatility, which could enable him to thrive as a multi-purpose performer. This provides his new team with the option of exploiting game specific mismatches with opposing defenses, by utilizing him at running back, and lining him up as an X, Y, or Z. Plus, he could ascend into one of the league’s more dangerous returners. This ability to operate effectively as a hybrid will also increase the likelihood that he will be employed extensively by the team that ultimately secures him. Making him a feasible fantasy option for owners. Of course, the specific identity of that team will remain unsettled until the draft commences. Once his destination is known, it becomes easier to forecast the extent of his role this season, along with the corresponding expectations that will result. The belief from here is that McCaffrey won’t be chosen within the top 10 picks. But he won’t fall beyond selection number 25 either. A scenario in which one team moves up to select him during that portion of Round 1 is also very plausible. Once the regular season begins, his vast capabilities should result in a respectable workload, which will enable him to produce dividends for owners that invest in him during the fantasy draft process. If his new head coach or offensive coordinator possesses the expertise to be among the league’s more creative strategists, then McCaffrey’s usage and output will elevate into the high end of his achievable point range.
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