SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. McCAFFREY CHECKS A LOT OF BOXES FOR BUCS
Stanford’s do-everything running back Christian McCaffrey may not be drafted by Tampa Bay, but that doesn’t mean the team isn’t interested in him. In fact, the Bucs are intrigued by his skill set and the amount of boxes he could check for the team if the 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist were to end up in pewter and red.
With Doug Martin’s future with the team in doubt due to drug usage and a three-game suspension to start the 2017 season, the Bucs will draft a running back to replace the 28-year old rusher, who is coming off a career-low 421 yards and 2.9-yard average last year. McCaffrey will get some consideration from Tampa Bay, but the biggest concern is that he’s likely not the 19th-best prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft worthy of taking with the Bucs’ first-round pick from a value standpoint, but he’s not going to be there in the second round when Tampa Bay is on the clock again – unless general manager Jason Licht trades up.
Of course, the Bucs could trade back from 19 and draft McCaffrey towards the end of the first round while picking up an extra selection or two to get better value. Tampa Bay could need a starting running back if it decides to part ways with Martin at some point this offseason as expected.
NFL scouts are eager to see McCaffrey at the NFL Scouting Combine where his size – listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds – and speed will be scrutinized. McCaffrey, the son of former Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, is believed to be closer to 5-foot-10 and may be under 200 pounds. Of the top 10 rushers in the NFL last season, only two players – Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman weighed below 210 pounds.
Top 10 NFL Rushers In 2016
1. Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott – 6-0, 225 – 1,631 yards
2. Chicago RB Jordan Howard – 6-0, 222 – 1,313 yards
3. Tennessee RB DeMarco Murray – 6-1, 220 – 1,287 yards
4. Miami RB Jay Ajayi – 6-0, 229 – 1,272 yards
5. Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell – 6-1, 225 – 1,268 yards
6. Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy – 5-11, 208 – 1,267 yards
7. Arizona RB David Johnson – 6-1, 224 – 1,239 yards
8. New England RB LeGarrette Blount – 6-0, 250 – 1,161 yards
9. Atlanta RB Devonta Freeman – 5-8, 206 – 1,079 yards
10. Houston RB Lamar Miller – 5-10, 220 – 1,073 yards
That’s not to say smaller backs can’t be successful in the NFL. Barry Sanders, who rushed for 15,269 yards, the third-most yards in NFL history, was 5-foot-8 and weighed 203 pounds. Tampa Bay’s own Warrick Dunn was 5-foot-9 and weighed 180 pounds, and rushed 10,967 yards in his NFL career, which ranks 22nd all-time.
The thinking around the NFL is that McCaffrey may be a situational, complimentary back at the next level due to the fact that he doesn’t have the size to withstand the pounding. That’s not necessarily the opinion in Tampa Bay, though, where the team believes he could be a starting-caliber running back. It should be noted that McCaffrey did have 19 games with 20 carries or more at Stanford, and six games with 30 carries or more.
After becoming Stanford’s starter in 2015, McCaffrey carried the ball 337 times for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns that season, in addition to catching 45 passes for 645 yards and five more scores. Factoring in his 130 yards and one touchdown on 15 punt returns and 1,070 yards and another score on 37 kick returns in 2015, McCaffrey broke Sanders’ NCAA all-purpose yardage record that season with 3,864 yards.
That’s 434 touches in one season from a 19-yard sophomore in 2015. And he didn’t miss a game due to injury.
In his three years at Stanford, McCaffrey rushed for 3,922 yards and 21 touchdowns on 632 carries (6.2 avg.) with 99 catches for 1,206 yards (12.2 avg.), 34 punt returns for 380 yards (11.2 avg.) and one touchdown and 57 kick returns for 1,479 yards (35.9 avg.) and a TD. That’s 822 touches in his Stanford career, an average of 22 per game.
The vast majority of McCaffrey’s touches – 748 to be exact – came during his sophomore and junior seasons where he averaged 30 touches per game.
That proves to me that McCaffrey could handle 20 touches per game in the NFL between carries, catches and returns. With his unique training regimen at Stanford, McCaffrey, who is a tireless workout warrior, is built to handle such workloads. In a story on SI.com, Cardinal center Graham Shuler said this:
“Christian has that special drive, that x-factor, the ‘it factor’ – every intangible that you can measure. My favorite story about Christian, that embodies who he is: We do this thing here called the Gator Run. It’s one of our most intense off-season training things. It’s when you load up one of those utility vehicles, like a Gator, with 600 pounds in the back and three coaches are riding in it. We push it all around campus, and it’s a sprint.
“It’s really, really tough. You rotate guys pushing it. A lineman will push anywhere from three to 10 times. A tight end will push it maybe 15 times. A running back pushes it somewhere between 10 to 20 times. It’s really rare for anyone to push it over 20 times. When we did it this summer, Christian pushed it 43 times. He took 43 turns. No one told him to do that; it wasn’t the expectation. But when guys were getting tired, Christian was always right there, in the front, waiting. I hope you can imagine the chaos of 60 guys chasing a small vehicle around campus. That’s Christian in a nutshell.”
You don’t think the Bucs could use a player that amassed 6,987 yards against Pac-12 competition? Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter has expressed the team’s need for speed and playmaking ability. Well McCaffrey delivered.
In 2015, McCaffrey had 369 all-purpose yards against Takkarist McKinley and UCLA. He had 389 all-purpose yards against Cal. And McCaffrey had an unbelievable 461 all-purpose yards in the Pac-12 title game against USC. Against the Trojans, McCaffrey rushed for 207 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries and had 105 yards receiving with another touchdown while adding another 149 yards in the return game.
He also set a Rose Bowl record in the Cardinal’s 45-16 rout over Iowa with 368 yards. McCaffrey rushed for 172 yards on 18 carries (9.6 avg.) and had 105 yards receiving to become the first player in the 102-year history of the Rose Bowl top 100 yards rushing and receiving in the bowl game. McCaffrey added 91 yards in returns, including a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.
His best punt return at Stanford, a dramatic 96-yard touchdown against Kansas State, was called back due to a penalty, but it’s worth a look as his showcases his vision, his tackle-breaking ability, his acceleration and his speed.
The Castle Rock, Colorado native had 19 games of 100 yards rushing or more and five games of 200 yards rushing or more at Stanford and five more with 200 yards between rushing and receiving yards. In three of those games McCaffrey topped the 100-yard mark as a receiver, too.
McCaffrey, who is expected to run 4.5 or faster in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month, had five runs of 50 yards or longer in his career with five catches of 50 yards or longer, too. He’s also had four games with at least three touchdowns.
The Stanford star could help the Bucs as a running back to alternate carries with Jacquizz Rodgers and as a receiver out of the backfield in Charles Sims’ role. The problem with Martin has become his unreliability – compounded by his suspension for drug usage. In five NFL seasons Martin has had two 1,400-yard rushing campaigns that ended with Pro Bowl acclaim. But he’s also had three seasons in which he has rushed for less than 500 yards, including a career-low 421 yards last year.
The same could be said of Sims, who had a great season in 2015 with 529 yards rushing and 561 yards receiving and four touchdowns, but missed half the season in both 2014 and 2016 due to injuries. Sims averaged a career-low 2.9 yards per carry last year while rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown and catching 32 passes for 190 yards and another score.
Like Martin, Sims has become unreliable. If McCaffrey doesn’t end up making it as a three-down running back in the NFL, he could be a very important weapon out of the backfield in Koetter’s offense and become a better version of Sims, who produced nearly 1,100 yards in that role when healthy for a full 16 games in 2015.
McCaffrey can be an effective receiver out of the backfield on swing passes, screen passes and down the field lined up as a slot receiver and down the sidelines from the backfield on wheel routes. McCaffrey has sensational hands, which is an essential trait for a running back in Koetter’s offense.
In addition to the production, McCaffrey has the intelligence and the work ethic to succeed in the NFL. According to an article on SI.com, he was an Academic All-American at Stanford, and turned down Duke, Ohio State, Oregon and UCLA coming out of Highlands Ranch Valor Christian where he broke several state records by scoring 141 touchdowns and averaging 9.8 yards per carry. McCaffrey had a 3.65 GPA and chose Stanford because it recruited him as a running back and graduated 99 percent of its football players where the other schools recruited him as athlete and not a running back.
In the SI.com article, McCaffrey said, “The secret behind success isn’t as much of a secret as people think. It’s pretty simple. It’s working as hard as you can to accomplish what you want.”
The article went on to report: “McCaffrey embraces the Stanford mentality. The locker room bears slogans such as GREATNESS IS THE RESULT OF REPEATED INTENTIONAL ACTIONS and HOME OF INTELLECTUAL BRUTALITY. He walks through, pointing out a screen with drill times and the schedule for body-fat testing, and noting the wall murals of Cardinal All-Americans and alumni in the NFL. He talks about ‘playing pissed off’ because ‘people think we’re cushy or just nerds’ and about becoming ‘a new being’ when he walks onto the field. ‘It’s about finding that animal inside of you, finding that beast that can go 60 minutes of fast, physical football.’”
McCaffrey is fast and he is physical for his size. He’s willing to bang it in between the tackles and then has the speed to run to daylight when he finds a crease.
McCaffrey is smart and has a great work ethic. And he’s also white, which is a stigma today in the NFL for a running back. All of the top 10 rushers in the NFL are African-American. In fact, all top 40 rushers in the league last year where African-American.
In the SI.com article, McCaffrey and his father discuss the discrimination he faces due to the fact that he’s a white running back.
“There are immediate stereotypes about a white running back who grew up in the suburbs of Colorado,” Ed McCaffrey said. “When we’ve gone to camps or all-star games, he walks on the field and people look at him like he’s nothing.”
That pisses off Christian McCaffrey.
“When you read about white athletes these days and white skill possession receivers specifically, one word you’ll always find is tough. You’ll rarely see explosive, athletic, stuff like that. … You get a little bit upset. ‘I ran the same 40 as this guy, and you’re calling him …’” He trails off. ‘People do the eye test and underestimate me, so I do play with a chip on my shoulder.’”
White, black, brown, green – whatever color McCaffrey is – the kid can flat out play. And his skills to run and catch would be emphasized and utilized perfectly in Koetter’s offense.
Need a jolt to the Bucs’ stagnant return game, which ranked dead last in kickoff returns? Put McCaffrey back there, too. The guy can do it all.
“The year (2015) I sat out with my injury he really gashed us,” UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes said, noting McCaffrey rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns, including a 70-yard jaunt in Stanford’s 56-35 victory. “He really killed us. We really focused our game plan on Christian McCaffrey this year and we did a much better job when I returned.”
That’s true. McCaffrey was held to only 138 yards rushing and 13 yards receiving in Stanford’s 22-13 win at UCLA. And he was held out of the end zone this time, but Vanderdoes realizes how fortunate the Bruins defense was.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” Vanderdoes said. “You can’t let a guy like that get loose. You can’t let him get out in the open and create plays or he will single-handedly destroy you. He’s a home run back. He can hit a home run at any time. You can’t take a single play off against him because he’ll take it 90 yards to the house.”
A tough back with home run ability? Check.
An athletic pass-catching back out of the backfield? Check.
A halfback pass thrower? Check, he tossed two touchdowns at Stanford.
A dangerous return man? Check.
A smart player with a great work ethic and character? Check.
McCaffrey could check a lot of boxes on Tampa Bay’s wanted trait list for running backs.