Steelers Draft Watch: RB Christian McCaffrey

Let’s take a look at an unexpected Steelers Draft prospect, Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Before you close this window and write this idea off, let me explain why I think Stanford’s all-purpose RB would be an excellent fit for the Steelers.

No, I am not one of those writers who is suggesting that the Steelers move on from Le’Veon Bell. Le’Veon is arguably the best running back in the league and under no circumstances should the Steelers ever let a talent like Bell hit free agency.

However, adding a versatile talent like McCaffrey could be the addition that elevates this Steeler’s offense from great … to special. Let’s dive deeper into how exactly Christian McCaffrey would fit in the black and gold on our next Steeler Draft Watch.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Could the Steelers be interested in the West Coast Heisman contender? McCaffrey could wear so many hats for Pittsburgh in Todd Haley’s offense, as he is one of the most versatile athletes in College Football. With the potential in my opinion to be an early-round draft pick at several positions, McCaffrey could be an unusual, but intriguing option for Pittsburgh in the first round.

Strengths

In order to fully break down McCaffrey’s game, you have to focus on his impact in three different areas: as a running back, as a wide receiver, and as a punt returner.

McCaffrey – RB

McCaffrey – the running back – succeeds in a plethora of ways. If you have ever seen him play, it is obvious that McCaffrey is an athletic freak. He posses ridiculous burst and acceleration that allow him to explode through even the smallest of openings. McCaffrey compliments his natural athletic skills with fantastic patience. He does an excellent job of waiting for his blockers and letting the play develop. Then, McCaffrey uses his rare burst to attack defenses and get to the second level.

Once McCaffrey reaches the open field, his game is taken to another dimension. McCaffrey has rare change of direction abilities, highlighted by a quick-twitch juke move that sends defenders flying to the ground. McCaffrey is a such a slippery open field runner, and weaves through the defense, seamlessly changing directions and getting upfield. Additionally, McCaffrey has elite open field vision that allows him to find openings downfield.

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To sum it up quickly, McCaffrey is a home run threat every time he touches the football. His aforementioned agility, acceleration, vision, patience, and elusiveness are complimented by his video-game like home run speed that makes him one of College Football’s most explosive players.

While McCaffrey is often times stereotyped as a smaller runner who is incapable of being a workhorse RB, there are no red flags in his game that would lead me to this conclusion. In fact, McCaffrey is not just an athletic freak who wins purely with athleticism. He is a powerful runner who has the ability to pick up tough yards in short distance situations, and a physical open field runner who can send defenders to the ground with a nasty stiff arm. McCaffrey runs through contact with ease and is rarely slowed by ineffective arm tacklers.

McCaffrey – WR

In terms of his skills as a WR, McCaffrey could honestly be a first-round slot WR based purely on his elite agility and route running. McCaffrey has fantastic suddenness to his routes that you rarely see out of full time WRs. Maybe he picked up a trick or two from his dad, Ed McCaffrey, who was a 13 year NFL-vet who won 3 Super Bowls and was a Pro Bowl Selection in 1998. Whether McCaffrey is coming out of the backfield, lined up in the slot, or even split out wide, he can attack defenses at all levels of the field.

McCaffrey – KR/PR

As a returner, McCaffrey has great vision and all the athletic intangibles required to be a return specialist. McCaffrey is a decisive and effective open field runner, and just has that “special” feel to his return game. The Steelers have been looking for a new option at punt returner other than Antonio Brown, so why not have one of College Football’s best return threats fielding punts instead?

Weaknesses

One of many talent evaluator’s biggest concerns with McCaffrey is his blocking ability. McCaffrey has struggled to consistently protect the quarterback and fend off opposing EDGE rushers. Thus, there are some concerns that McCaffrey doesn’t have three down ability.

While his blocking issues are a valid concern, why not just shift McCaffrey to the slot on 3rd down? McCaffrey would be a more dangerous option than most NFL teams’ slot WR. Doing so would also allow a proven playmaker like McCaffrey to stay on the field for more snaps.

Additionally, there are concerns over McCaffrey’s ability to be a workhorse RB and handle a heavy dosage of carries. McCaffrey took 337 carries for Stanford’s offense in 2015. He is also already well on his way to topping that number in 2016, having taken 53 carries in just two games. Based on those numbers and the power, balance, and strength that McCaffrey displays on tape, I have no reason to believe that McCaffrey can’t be a primary back in an NFL offense.

Fit

No matter what his NFL future is, McCaffrey could certainly contribute to any 53-man roster. McCaffrey will most likely not be available when the Steelers are on the clock in Round 1. However, adding a talent like McCaffrey to Pittsburgh’s already dominant offense would make the Steelers maybe the most explosive team in football.

Imagine McCaffrey weaving through the defense while Le’Veon Bell stays fresh with a smaller percentage of carries. Picture McCaffrey lining up in the slot and torching opposing defensive backs alongside Antonio Brown and hopefully Martavis Bryant. Most importantly, just imagine an offense loaded with all of these stars and orchestrated by Big Ben himself. I believe it would be extremely hard for the Steelers to pass on McCaffrey, despite maybe having more urgent needs.

Not convinced by me that McCaffrey would take this Steeler’s offense to the next level? Listen to Le’Veon Bell himself. Bell referred to McCaffrey as the “best running back in College Football.”

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