With so many possibilities and speculation surrounding the fate of the Eagles 14th pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, we decided to take a closer look at every player that could well hear their named called when the Birds are on the clock. When it comes to running backs, there is one name that is polarizing analysts and fans alike, Christian McCaffrey. So, what would the Eagles be getting in the Stanford rusher, and why would the pick make sense?
The 6’0, 200 lbs, running back ended his career as a Stanford Cardinal with 3,922 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Partner this with his career 1,206 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns and what you have is an incredibly dynamic dual threat back. McCaffrey actually broke Barry Sanders record for all-purpose yards in a single season in 2016, averaging over 200 yards per game.
So why isn’t McCaffrey regarded as the top back in his class if he’s that dominant? Many regard him as slightly undersized for the NFL and when you take into account that he had over 600 touches in the last two season’s alone, the consensus is that his career longevity will suffer because of the Tires already seeing sufficient wear. If the Eagles were looking for a lead running back, then these would be legitimate concerns, but nobody actually knows how their backfield will shape up, meaning the Eagles could be landing the perfect fit.
With Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles still currently the lead backs on the roster, beyond them the group consists of Wendell Smallwood and two undrafted rookies. If the team wish to enter the 2017 season with a lead running back, they will first have to trim the fat so to speak, wait to part ways with the currently injured Ryan Mathews and work out how to approach the remaining question marks, given Sproles is planning to retire after next season.
However, if they want to adapt to a committee approach, that was vital in ripping the Steelers apart back in week 3, then McCaffrey could be the ultimate compliment. He wouldn’t have to be a three-down back, he has the versatility to take the reins from Darren Sproles when that time comes, and the Eagles are left with a young and dangerous backfield.
McCaffrey would also schematically be a dream fit. Running both power and zone concepts during his time at Stanford, McCaffrey’s pro-style offense experience would be vital as he enters Pederson’s west-coast scheme that is striving to create a zonal rushing attack. Many argue that McCaffrey’s production was largely due to a strong offensive line…well it just so happens that the Eagles have made bolstering their unit an offseason priority.
In terms of playing-style, what does Christian McCaffrey bring to the table that makes him such a perfect fit for the Eagles?
The term “patience before the hole, burst through it” defines Christian McCaffrey. He is able to dissect the situation quickly and accurately and when running out of the shotgun or similar formations, it gives him the ability to wait for the hole to open and hit it promptly. As we see in the play below, McCaffrey spots the blocker coming from the right hand side and stops in his tracks ahead of the linebacker, waiting for the pulling block to open the hole, before bursting through it.
Kansas State were able to somewhat thwart McCaffrey in the opening stages of the game, until he broke off this sensational run. Hesitating before the hole, not only does he slip through effortlessly, but he also demonstrates two of his other most impressive traits. Footwork and vision. A swift cut to the right sees McCaffrey take it to the house, but his patience at the end of the run to wait for the block to be completed, slowing up before the endzone is just as impressive.
That brings us very neatly onto our second point. McCaffrey may lack the ideal speed that the NFL requires, but that doesn’t mean he’s unable to hit a hole hard. His transition from hesitation to full throttle is as quick as anyone’s, and this largely comes down to his incredibly light footwork. Comparable to that of a Ballerina, McCaffrey becomes a human joystick at times and if he can fake a defender even for a milisecond, the Jets have been flicked on in the time that the defender has turned around.
As a change-of-pace back, if McCaffrey was able to come in and make plays like this in which he twitches into the running lane before charging forward for a big gain against a tiring Defense, that’s all you could ever want.
Following his blocks on the play below, McCaffrey initiates a brief stutter before swiping past an oncoming defender to burst through the trenches and into the endzone. What he lacks in top-end speed, he more than makes up for in acceleration.
It’s hard to look at McCaffrey run and not think of LeSean McCoy. McCaffrey’s air light footwork and ball-carrier vision make him incredibly dangerous regardless of how the Defense plans to stop him. A hesitant cut to avoid a tackle before an emphatic jump over falling defenders opened the floodgates for a Mac attack..before the vision to cut to the sideline, realizing there were oncoming tacklers over the middle, made for a scintillating run.
The below play is something that could very easily find its way into the Eagles playbook in 2017, a simple misdirect that was converted into a first down. McCaffrey uses his lightning juke to to get past his man and push for the first down. It’s this kind of zonal rushing threat that the Eagles would crave if they were to once again deploy a committee effort.
Then of course, there’s his receiving ability. With Darren Sproles looking to retire after next season, the Eagles would not only be looking for a new return threat, but a dynamic back to serve as a weapon for Carson Wentz whom he can grow with. McCaffrey ticks all of the above boxes, as shown in the plays below.
Spinning off his defender after a quick catch out of the backfield, McCaffrey is just as dangerous as a receiving threat as he is a running back.
Running routes out of the backfield, McCaffrey is able to break with precision and create a lane for the quarterback to throw into. His footwork again makes it incredibly difficult to defend, as one anticipative mistake could see him break into acres of space for a huge gain.
A perfect example of this can be seen in the touchdown below. Although the route was maybe a little too “hesitant” as McCaffrey lined his opponent up for a break as opposed to swiftly cutting inside, it opened a huge avenue in which he then charged through to push in for the score.
McCaffrey would be the perfect fit for an Eagles Offense that plans to implement a committee rushing attack. The only concern there would be, could the team find a back who can perhaps bring the same qualities but at a much cheaper price given the limited offensive role? If the team plan on drafting a lead back to carry the ball 20+ times per game, McCaffrey isn’t the best option. If the Eagles want to create one of the most dynamic and dangerous committee efforts in the NFL, preparing for a future without Sproles and attain a player who can contribute in numerous facets efficiently, then there may be no better option.
Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports