Ex-Pro Bowler on potential Eagles pick McCaffrey: ‘If he can’t run between the tackles, then no one can run between the tackles’
PHILADELPHIA — The question wasn’t even finished and Maurice Jones-Drew was already incredulous.
“Maurice, talking about Christian McCaffrey, I think there’s a perception that he may not be able to be a through the tackles kind of runner in the NFL–“
“Oh, they’re crazy!” the NFL Network analyst and former Jacksonville Jaguars running back interrupted. “Who said that?”
“I think there’s a misperception about him…” the reporter started to respond.
“But who said that? Like who said that? Don’t listen to this–” Jones-Drew stopped to collect himself.
With the NFL draft starting Thursday night, the picture of who teams are going to draft might not be clearer, but there’s a little bit more focus on what positions or needs might be addressed. For the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s their secondary on defense or offensive playmakers. And one of the names linked to Philadelphia in mock drafts is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey is an intriguing draft prospect. In the past two seasons, he carried 590 times for 3,622 yards and 21 touchdowns while catching 82 passes for 955 yards and eight touchdowns. On special teams, he returned 25 punts for 226 yards (9.04 yards per return) and a score and 51 kicks for 1,388 yards and a touchdown.
It was an impressive two-year run, and in 2015, he broke Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yardage record. But his status as an NFL player isn’t as concrete as it should seem.
McCaffrey — the son of former Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey — measured at 5-foot-11, 202 pounds at the NFL combine, and that has led to speculation McCaffrey won’t be able to hold up to the pounding of an NFL season.
Jones-Drew vehemently disagrees.
“Listen, I watched Christian McCaffrey torment UCLA for three years: If he can’t run between the tackles, then no one can run between the tackles,” Jones-Drew said. “That’s what he does. He runs power.
“It’s amazing when you see this guy do it week in and week out against Iowa and these tough defenses or the USCs and all these schools. He’s running right between the tackles, down the ‘A’ gap, running my favorite player, power. And he’s running it well.”
Christian McCaffrey || Unstoppable || 2015-2016 Highlights HD
At the NFL combine, McCaffrey compared favorably to LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, two other running backs expected to go in the first round. But there aren’t that many questions about those players’ ability to run between the tackles.
For some, there are some stereotypes at play when it comes to McCaffrey’s game and comparing him to other backs.
Ed is irked by the subject, though from a football perspective. He wishes Christian were compared to running backs, not to slot receivers such as Wes Welker. “There are immediate stereotypes about a white running back who grew up in the suburbs of Colorado,” Ed says. “When we’ve gone to camps or all-star games, he walks on the field and people look at him like he’s nothing.”
Christian tries to brush it off, but it’s not easy. “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.”
McCaffrey’s size and his combine testing — stellar in the speed and explosiveness drills but not as impressive in the bench press — can lead some to pigeonhole is game. But Jones-Drew, who said spoken with Stanford coach David Shaw earlier Wednesday, was quick to remind the people around him that McCaffrey played for the Cardinal, which has the reputation for power football, beefy linemen and running the ball down opponents’ throats.
“He can run the ball between the tackles no problem at all. … You’re just looking at the size and what he did at the combine,” Jones-Drew said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, he can’t do it.’ It’s unbelievable.”
The lone concern for McCaffrey might be his long-term durability. He accounted for 45.7 of Stanford’s touches over the past two seasons, according to ESPN, and with total number checking in at well over 600, there’s already plenty of mileage on McCaffrey, who elected sit out Stanford’s bowl game in December.
But Jones-Drew said he heard McCaffrey’s medical checks have come back clean, and he should be perfectly healthy when he begins his NFL career.
“I expect wherever he goes to be a top-notch guy,” Jones-Drew said. “I don’t expect people to give him the ball 20 times per game, just handoffs. I expect them to throw him the ball a little bit, get him in space, use that ability as well his him running routes.”
It’s just a question of where that NFL career begins. McCaffrey already has one high-profile backer in the former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, and Jones-Drew thinks the Eagles need to put playmakers around quarterback Carson Wentz.
There’s a chance the Eagles could go with McCaffrey on Thursday night. Just don’t question his ability to run up the middle.
“I’m sorry I cut you off, but that’s crazy,” Jones-Drew said. “I hear people say that, I’m like, ‘You can’t be watching tape.'”