We are a couple weeks deeper into the post season, and Eagles fans are going crazy over how to address the skill positions:
"Should the Eagles prioritize receiver or running back? Running back or receiver? Well the team needs receivers, definitely needs better pass catchers, but running backs touch the ball more and--"
Why not both?
Meet Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey took the college football world by storm in 2015 when he, then just a second-year running back, piled up 2,000 yards on the ground and 600 more yards through the air for the Stanford Cardinal. McCaffrey was a Heisman runner up that year with huge expectations heading into 2016. Unfortunately, the whole offense took a step back with a new quarterback coming in and some reloading at the skill positions (and a relatively slow start from them), and McCaffrey all but killed his hype. However, McCaffrey went on to have a very nice season, actually surpassing his yards per carry and his touchdown total from the previous season, all while still getting to nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
When watching Christian McCaffrey, it really is not about wondering how his game translates to being a leading running back on an NFL team. Rather, it's about wondering how he possibly couldn't. McCaffrey has a dynamic and complete skill set as a running back that makes him not only a threat to take it to the house, but also makes him a consistent runner who can move the chains.
What first stands out about McCaffrey is his agility and ability to create yardage with his eyes. Not only does McCaffrey have great east-west skills, he does a great job finding holes on the back sides of plays. But even better, he can head fake defenders into tricking them into trying to meet him in the wrong gap.
McCaffrey does a great job keeping his eyes straight to freeze defenders while finding the cutback. His ability to then cut again to force a missed tackle and immediately accelerate is a microcosm of what makes him so special. He makes the defense *so wrong* in the first five yards of this run that it ends up being a house call.
This is an important thing to realize about McCaffrey. He is not the fastest back in terms of top speeds, but much like a wide receiver can gain separation through great route running, McCaffrey is so good at "winning" the first few yards of a play that he gain separation from the defense through the rest of it.
Rarely do a wide receiver's ability to separate or create catches get compared to a running back's ability to gain yardage, but they are not dissimilar concepts. Truly good prospects need to create opportunities at some point in the play, be it by their speed, agility, power, size, etc... McCaffrey does not a great top gear, but his ability to get to that top gear so quickly makes him dangerous. LeSean McCoy ran a 4.50 40 at the NFL combine, about an average time for running backs despite McCoy weighing lighter than most backs in recent history. Ameer Abdullah ran a 4.60 despite being similarly undersized. However, it is not top speed that made these backs dangerous during their careers, it was their ability to take defenses so out of position that the bad angles were already there when they got to the second level. Christian McCaffrey is not so different.
While McCaffrey has so many flashy plays making guys miss in space, he also does a great job working within the offense. He is not the type of player who will take a 10 yard loss trying to make something out of nothing. He is a smart, patient runner who does a good job waiting for the blocks to develop and following the course of the play.
He does such a great job following his blocks and then sifting in between traffic to get a big gain. This patience and vision will allow him to consistently produce at the next level rather than being a higher variance player.
Besides McCaffrey's talents as a pure runner, he is also among the two or three best receiving backs in this year's class. He has very dependable hands in space and his ability to immediately transition to being a runner once he secures the catch is truly spectacular. Unsurprisingly, he can be a yards after catch monster.
His ability to catch out of the backfield is not the full extent of what he can do as a receiver, however. Stanford regularly moved him around the formation to go out and catch passes as a wide receiver and, guess what: he is pretty damn impressive there too.
If the quarterback is even just moderately accurate, that's a deep touchdown for McCaffrey lined up on the outside against a cornerback. His stop-go quickness and acceleration show up here once again.
McCaffrey has such a great skill set for an NFL offense but his evaluation does not come without a few questions. For one, he has a very unorthodox build for a running back. Listed at six foot and only 205 pounds, McCaffrey is a taller, leaner back, which is rare at the NFL level. This combination also makes him a bit easier to bring down. It is rare to see college defenders be able to square up such an elusive player, but there are instances where McCaffrey's lack of natural leverage or over strength can show up when he gets tackled by seemingly too easily. It is not for lack of effort, as he will try to run through tackles, but it is not his game. However, improving the consistency in his pad level is something that could help him in the NFL.
His other issue is that there are plays where McCaffrey can stop his feet in traffic to try and redirect and because he is not an overly powerful player, it hurts his ability to gain yardage more often than not.
This is not a major concern, because it just is not the strength of his game and he has dynamic offsetting abilities.
NFL Comparison: It is hard not to have Brian Westbrook flashbacks when watching Christian McCaffrey. Both were smaller backs who may not have had blazing speed, but were so quick and had such great vision it made them dynamic runners. Also similar to Westbrook, McCaffrey is the type of player who could be a 100 catch wide receiver as well as a running back and his third down ability and versatility makes him so valuable to an offense. McCaffrey has been a star on special teams during his time at Stanford and, like Westbrook, that is a wrinkle in his skill set that may make him even more of a commodity on draft day.
There is no mistaken that Christian McCaffrey has the ability to be number one back in an NFL offense. His cerebral and dynamic running style combined with his incredible skill set as a receiver make him a player who could be the focal point of an offense. He does not have the size or overall athletic ability of other backs in this class, but his quickness and acceleration are more than enough to make up for that in terms of "creating" offense.
McCaffrey would be an excellent fit in the Eagles offense. At Stanford, McCaffrey got plenty of experience running in a power based scheme and also showed the ability to execute and produce in zone concepts. Furthermore, Eagles running backs were targeted in the passing game over 100 times last year and caught a combined 76 passes. A dual threat running back who can catch passes out of the backfield but can line up at receiver is the perfect skill set for what the Eagles need on offense. Overall, McCaffrey is a top five running back in this class and if the Eagles do not go running back in the first round, he should absolutely be their day two target.