There’s no denying Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt both looked quite impressive in their rookie seasons. By no means does that mean that Christian McCaffrey is a bust.
His traditional rushing stats (435 yards, two touchdowns, 3.7 yards per carry) might suggest that the Panthers squandered their No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft, but McCaffrey did as well as he could given some often-atrocious run blocking by Carolina’s offensive line. In fact, McCaffrey sometimes excelled even when the odds were against him.
According to Matt Harmon at NFL.com, McCaffrey averaged 4.39 yards per carry against a loaded box in 2017 (he defines this as more defenders than blockers in the tackle box).
On tape, McCaffrey looks as elusive and sharp as he did at Stanford – he just didn’t have the running lanes he did in college. Considering the blocking he had to work with most of the time, that average against a loaded box is quite a feat.
Also remember Jonathan Stewart did not have a strong year running the ball, either. He averaged a career-low 3.4 YPC in 2017. While some of that was a product of Stewart’s physical decline, poor run blocking was also a significant factor.
The idea may provoke anxiety for some Panthers fans, but if Stewart gets cut, Carolina’s run game will be in good hands with McCaffrey.
It is often hard to judge what a rookie’s role will be in the National Football League. Dependent on position, there are a lot of variables that go into evaluating a player’s first season. In the case of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, his role in the league may be more clear-cut than some.
It is certainly not a stretch to say that McCaffrey is an explosive football player and talented running back. However, he is not the typical running back a team possesses. McCaffrey ranked No. 10 among all rookies in rushing yards, totaling 435 on the season. It is worth noting that he had some tough competition at his position with Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and Leonard Fournette representing the best of the backs.
Where McCaffrey made his mark for the Panthers in 2017 was as a receiver out of the backfield. He ranked No. 5 among all rookie running backs with 651 receiving yards and five touchdowns on the year. Catching 80 passes, he averaged 8.1 yards per catch.
His best game of the season as a pass-catcher came on September 24, when he caught nine passes for 101 yards against the New Orleans Saints. Despite his efforts, the Panthers lost by a 34-14 score. Even in defeat, McCaffrey showed he could be a reliable and explosive weapon in the passing game.