Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey has been a polarizing figure heading into the 2017 NFL Draft for various reasons. On one hand, he was a stud performer against strong competition. He produced two massive stat lines over the last two years, displayed one of the most versatile skill-sets in the country and then made good on his stellar stats and game tape with a strong combine performance that displayed the elite athlete he truly is.
There are his knocks, too. McCaffrey is a bit difficult to envision as a lead back at the next level due to the color of his skin and his size. White running backs simply aren’t a regular happening in pro football – at least not star rushers that handle the rock on a regular basis. That isn’t to say white running backs (or McCaffrey specifically) can’t succeed, but the fact that many haven’t could potentially play a hand in how he’s perceived in the draft community.
Even if that’s not the case, McCaffrey isn’t the biggest running back in the world. We saw that again at the combine via his strength, when he could only put up 10 reps on the bench press. Being among the worst performers in that combine test, it is fair to wonder if McCaffrey’s size or strength issues could be a roadblock between him and a huge, successful role at the next level.
We don’t tend to think so, and you can get a full breakdown in Jesse Fritsch’s Christian McCaffrey scouting report from back in December.
McCafferey is who we see on the football field and NFL GMs and scouts don’t care about skin color. It’s a widely debated topic in the draft community and sports in general, but McCaffrey can ball and everyone knows it. His blocking and strength are valid concerns, but those are areas he can still improve.
Ultimately, McCaffrey is at worst a versatile offensive weapon that can impact games as a receiver, runner and return man. At best, he’s a stud feature back who can carry an offense and take over games. That has him either hearing his name called in the middle to late first round, or somewhere before the end of round two. If that draft range is accurate, there are five realistic landing spots for McCaffrey. Let’s take a look at who they might be:
Round 1 (Pick 15) – Indianapolis Colts
This is probably about as early as we’re comfortable seeing McCaffrey come off the board. That doesn’t mean McCaffrey isn’t worth a higher pick, but the running back position has certainly been devalued and there are two other high level options in Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette.
They could both be gone by this point, or perhaps the Colts will consider one of them over McCaffrey. Either way, this is a good spot to start, seeing as Indy is still relying on the aging Frank Gore for some reason. Gore is on his last legs in the NFL, and while he can still be effective, he does not provide explosive plays and it’s only a matter of time before he hits that inevitable wall for good.
Even if Gore remains healthy and effective, Indy has no insurance plan, nor a plan for the future. McCaffrey could be both. Indy could bring him in initially to pair with Gore, use him as a receiver out of the backfield and the slot and also help boost the return game. He’s such a versatile and highly skilled weapon that even the Colts couldn’t mess this up.
Round 1 (Pick 21) – Detroit Lions
Detroit is another fine option, as they’re probably the next team down the line in round one that will seriously be considering jumping on a talent rusher. Zach Zenner did pop up late last year with solid production and could be their future, or they could again to a song and dance with him and Ameer Abdullah.
That’s a risky proposition, however, as Zenner has only flashed feature back ability and Abdullah has either been too hurt or too erratic to trust. Truth be told, the Lions simply don’t have a real solution here yet, and their inability to roster a competent lead rusher is holding their offense back. McCaffrey would in time be their top receiving back, a return game dynamo and possibly that featured rusher they’ve been longing for virtually ever since Barry Sanders. They can hope, at least.
Round 1 (Pick 23) – New York Giants
The G-men figure to be another team that will at least want to consider adding a running back in the draft. The team let veteran rusher Rashad Jennings go and hasn’t had a stable, high level presence in their offensive backfield since Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs teamed up. Paul Perkins looks to be in line to get the chance to prove he can step up into a huge role, but it’s worth wondering if the Giants actually believe he can get the job done.
Even if New York likes Perkins, his experience is a question mark and all the team has behind him is scat-back, Shane Vereen. McCaffrey could be a potential replacement for Vereen at the very worst, or a feature back the Giants could start grooming to take over immediately. Either way, Big Blue would be enhancing a position that currently is not a strength.
Round 1 (Pick 24) – Oakland Raiders
Oakland is another realistic landing spot for McCaffrey in round one. Latavius Murray doesn’t figure to return to the team after hitting free agency, while DeAndre Washington is currently the only option the Raiders have to lean on.
The Raiders proved last year that they’re ready to take things to the next level, but their main weakness could suddenly be their ability to keep defenses guessing. McCaffrey would be a cheaper option compared to caving and bringing back Murray, while he also possesses way more upside and versatility.
Round 1 (Pick 29) – Green Bay Packers
Green Bay has surprisingly been somewhat active during free agency, but they’re a team that continues to have some glaring issues. One could be running back, as Eddie Lacy may not return to the team and Ty Montgomery – a former wide receiver – is the team’s only option right now at the position. Putting all of their eggs in Montgomery’s basket would be foolish, while even if Lacy returns his deal would likely be short and his weight issues still make him a liability.
Instead of standing pat, the Packers could be aggressive here and go after McCaffrey’s elite versatility, regardless of Lacy’s status with the team. McCaffrey could provide a huge impact on Green Bay’s lethargic return game, while also helping as a change-of-pace rusher even if Lacy returns. Down the road, McCaffrey can fill his frame out and give the Packers one of the most dynamic and explosive running backs they’ve had, possibly ever.
Fit is key in the NFL, especially for running backs. If McCaffrey can wind up in any of these spots, we think he’ll thrive at the next level. Agree or disagree with McCaffrey’s NFL draft range, skill projection or landing spots? We’ve love to catch your opinion in the comments below!