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
-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
-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
-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.
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)