2017 NFL Draft Pre-Combine Scouting Report: Christian McCaffrey

A pre-combine scouting report for former Stanford Cardinals running back and 2017 NFL Draft prospect Christian McCaffrey.

One of my favorite NFL Draft terms to use is “bloodlines” and former Stanford Cardinals running back Christian McCaffrey is a perfect example. A lot of the times the word is used because a cousin or an uncle of a potential NFL draft pick has played in the NFL. But for McCaffrey, his father Ed McCaffrey was a solid NFL wide receiver.

That tidbit makes McCaffrey an intriguing NFL Draft prospect, but then when you add in the fact that McCaffrey had over 5,128 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns in his three years at Stanford, McCaffrey’s play is the most intriguing aspect as he enters the 2017 NFL Draft.

The 6-0, 201-pound 20-year-old took college football by storm in 2015 with his 2,664 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. He also added two returning touchdowns and two passing touchdowns to give him 17 total touchdowns in his sophomore season. The dominant season earned him the AP Offensive Player of the Year and All-American honors. He finished second in the Heisman voting and became a household name in the NCAA.

McCaffrey entered his junior season with high expectations, but failed to meet them—even though he still played dominant football. He ended the 2016 season with 1,913 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. His junior season was considered a down season, but the numbers show that McCaffrey was still an elite talent.

He was such an elite talent that he declared for the 2017 NFL Draft. So, now that college is over, it is time to dissect McCaffrey’s game and see how it translates to the  NFL. The Combine can always help or hurt a prospect, but here is a scouting report of McCaffrey before the NFL Combine.

Sep 17, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) catches a pass and rushes for a touchdown against the USC Trojans during the first half of a NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths

When you turn the film on, McCaffrey pops out right away. You can tell that he is a “dude” out there that has some serious skill. His cuts are sharp and crisp and will be huge for him to succeed in the NFL. He makes a lot of people miss on the second level and uses his elusiveness to his advantage. He has the ability to make people miss on all levels, but succeeds more in space than at the line of scrimmage. This allows him to make little plays big plays, which will be valuable in the NFL.

He is a “linebacker on a running back” nightmare for a defensive coordinator and will rarely lose a one-on-one matchup against one. NFL coaches will be able to use him all over the field and he has the ability to lineup in the slot and win regularly. His hands are his biggest weapon. In today’s NFL, a running back who can catch the ball is a weapon and McCaffrey can succeed in year one in that department. Teams will be able to use him all over the field and their gameplan for him will make the defense’s gameplan difficult.

As a runner, he has great vision and anticipation to succeed in the NFL. He will hit a hole right away if it is there, but has the patience to let plays develop in front of him. If you need one yard, McCaffrey won’t use his dance moves and will make sure that he hits the hole hard to try and pick up the short yardage. He can patiently wait to find a hole and then shoot out of a cannon once he finds it. McCaffrey stays low at the point of contact and has the body control needed to succeed.

McCaffrey is also a guy that can return punts and kicks, so his value is even higher because of it. He seems like the complete package for today’s NFL and his versatility is going to be huge for whatever team drafts him.

Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies linebacker Connor O’Brien (29) and linebacker Azeem Victor (36) tackle down Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Weaknesses

McCaffrey is fast, but I feel that he doesn’t have that elite extra gear that some have. His 40-time will be interesting, but it would be a shock if he gets in the high 4.3, low 4.4 range. However, homerun speed isn’t his game, though it would be nice if he had it in his bag of tricks. Too many times McCaffrey hits the hole hard and then, right at the point of contact, his feet stop going. I like when a running back moves his feet and gets hidden yardage, but McCaffrey did not do that much in college and he won’t just magically get better at that in the NFL.

His offensive line was dominant in college and made a lot of his runs easy and natural. That leaves the question if he will be able to effective and efficiently find a tight hole in the NFL and make a play. His strength was making guys miss, but on the flipside, if someone gets their hands on him good he almost always goes down. He lacks run power to be a running back you want to give 30 carries a game too and is on the cusp of being just a change of pace back.

Being a patient runner is good, but at times McCaffrey can wait too long when the hole is right in front of him. It’s a bit scary that he guesses more than he feels it while running between the tackles and on outside runs. If he can’t show he can be a consistent runner, his value could be extremely decreased in the NFL to just a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He also needs to improve his pass blocking. He shows interest in it, but needs the proper technique to take his game to the next level.

Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) warms-up before the start of a game against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Outlook (Potential)

To keep it short, McCaffrey is a perfect fit for today’s NFL. He may not be a guy you want to give 30 carries a game, but he is a guy that you would love to put the ball in his hands around 30 times. His ability to create a big play from nothing is going to be big in the NFL, because he can score at any moment.

His breakaway speed isn’t elite, but it should be more than enough for him to find success in the NFL. As a pass-catcher out of the backfield, McCaffrey will succeed right away in the NFL. He has the chance to catch 50 or more passes out of the backfield every year and is a guy that could definitely run for 1,000 yards while catching for 1,000 as well.

His floor is a guy that catches 50 passes for 500 or more yards while adding good value on third downs at running back. His ceiling is someone who could be in the Offensive Player of the Year discussion because of his versatility and he could be a yards from scrimmage monster.

He will obviously need to show that he can succeed as a runner in the NFL, but if he can’t find success running; he will always have value as a pass-catcher. However, if he is able to do that, McCaffrey could be a special NFL player.

I see him going in the first round and, if he drops to the second, some team will be getting a huge steal in the 2017 NFL Draft. McCaffrey is a running back I would want on my team and I feel that he will have a very successful NFL career, even more, successful than his time at Stanford.

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