For two years, Christian McCaffrey electrified college football. He rushed for over 3,600 yards in a two year span while also putting up video game numbers as a receiver and returner. McCaffrey’s versatility and athletic ability got him drafted top ten in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. McCaffrey is still adjusting to the speed of the pro game and has flashed, but his slow start has people looking ahead to his successor at Stanford; Bryce Love.
A former high recruit, Bryce Love made a ton of big plays filling in for Christian McCaffrey in 2016, rushing for almost 800 yards on only 112 carries. When McCaffrey left for the NFL, a lot of folks had reason to get excited about Love being the new bell cow in Palo Alto. There was optimism he’d succeed, but who could have predicted the monster season Bryce Love would turn in?
The numbers are stupid. In seven games, he has rushed 135 times for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s right, he is averaging over 10 yards a carry. Let me reiterate: He is wavering a first down on every hand off. In six of seven games so far, Bryce Love has a rush of 60 yards or more. In the one game he didn’t, he had a 53 yard rush. Game breaker does not even begin to describe what kind of player Bryce Love is. He is lightning incarnate. If speed kills, Bryce Love should be locked up Hannibal Lecter-style because he is a danger to defenses everywhere.
You cannot teach a player to move like this:
The agility, balance and acceleration are beyond rare. Good on the defender for getting a hand on to trip him up or this would have been a house call no problem. If a defense gives Love even a crease he will embarrass them on live television.
That cut right at the line of scrimmage to evade the defender and the ability to accelerate, only to cut again and keep making progress upfield, is beyond ridiculous. Love’s movement skills are effortless and it looks like he's ice skating while the defenders are wading through cement.
This play is one of my favorites. He sees daylight on the inside of the toss and cuts to it in a blink, only to jet upfield and evade a few more defenders in the process.
While this play shows off Love’s vision and agility; it is also a good example that even though he is a lighter, shorter back, he is no means a “small” runner. Love stands at 5’9”, but he is a well built 190 pounds and he runs low to the ground and hard. His speed and agility make him hard to square up on and he is rarely phases by measly arm tackles.
This is such a small play, but I love this ability to get low to fight through contact and keep his balance to pick up extra yards. There are backs 20 pounds heavier who don’t take contact this well. Worrying about Love’s size and strength is definitely something I wouldn’t get caught up in.
What I do get caught up in, however, is Love’s mesmerizing top gear.
One crease and it’s six. No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it. Bryce Love will make defenses pay for the slightest misstep and that comic book athleticism is what makes him so special and so much different than his predecessor.
Christian McCaffrey was far from a bad athlete, quite the opposite actually. However, his draft prospect was more predicated on versatility than purely about his running skills. I had him as the fifth ranked running back and a top 40 grade, but he was seen as an offensive weapon that could be moved around the formation and was overdrafted.
There is a concern that people have with Stanford backs that they are a product of their offense. It is true that Stanford has one of the most disciplined run blocking offensive lines I have ever seen. While the unit isn’t “talented”, they are incredibly well coached and execute the many power concepts with absolute perfection. While blocking is a big part of running back success, the other part is how the back actually maximizes the blocking. Bryce Love is hitting holes at full speed and he is outrunning angles at the second level of the defense that literally only he could out run in that offense. While the blocking helps, it does not negate the numbers and plays he is posting.
What the blocking may do, from a projection standpoint, is affect his adjustment to the league. Creases close faster in the NFL and similar to how spread quarterbacks have to adjust to windows tightening in the NFL, Bryce Love will have to let the game slow down for him. Not a dissimilar adjustment that Christian McCaffrey is working through.
So the million dollar question is if Love is actually a better prospect than his Heisman candidate and record breaking predecessor. Well, while McCaffrey definitely had the edge of versatility as a pass catcher and returner; Bryce Love is a better pure running back. He is overall a better athlete and is better shrugging off contact. Will that translate to him being a high draft pick? Well that’s something to find out.
NFL Comparison: This is not a one to one comparison, but Bryce Love is a similar runner to Washington’s Chris Thompson. Thompson is a shorter back at 5’7”, but he is well built and is a dynamic, game breaking runner who should probably see more carries. love is going to get knocked similarly for his lack of size, but it won’t matter once he is breaking off 60 yard touchdown runs.
People will debate back and forth about whether or not Love is a NFL featured back because of his size, but he has shown little evidence to suggest he can’t handle a big workload. However, even as a change-up back; Love has the type of running style that does not need rhythm to get going. Rather he can come in for two carries in relief of a lead back and take one for 40 yards. No matter what his role is in the NFL, he will be a weapon.
For the Eagles, Love could be an amazing replacement for Darren Sproles. While Love does not have a ton of experience catching the football, he will offer a similar dynamic as a home run threat who can get 10-15 carries a game. While he should not be one of the first three running backs taken; he would be an amazing pick up in the second round to add another game breaker to this or any offense.