Since the Carolina Panthers were officially born in 1995, they have never employed anyone like Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey was a great pick for the Panthers Thursday night at No. 8 overall. The team needed another dynamic offensive player, and with McCaffrey, they got that three times over. McCaffrey can play running back, he can line up as a receiver and he can return kicks.
McCaffrey called himself “a perfect fit” for Carolina minutes after the pick, and Panthers fans fervently hope that it’s true.
Pick your metaphor: McCaffrey is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. Or maybe salt would be a better comparison. This guy is going to season the Panthers’ seasons for many years to come.
And as long as his 5-11, 202-pound body holds up – that’s my only real concern – McCaffrey is going to give Carolina the sort of player that Darren Sproles was in his prime New Orleans days.
Remember how Sproles used to torment the Panthers twice a year? That’s what Carolina will now count on McCaffrey to do. He will get snaps right away as a third-down back behind starter Jonathan Stewart, and by himself he should increase Cam Newton’s completion percentage by at least a couple of points.
“He’s the most talented QB in the NFL hands down,” McCaffrey said of Newton. “To be able to line up in the backfield with him, I hope we can do some special things.”
McCaffrey’s athletic pedigree is beyond impressive and includes all sorts of Duke connections. His father Ed played wide receiver for Denver and played it very well. His mother was a soccer player at Stanford.
Then there are the Duke connections: His uncle Bill McCaffrey played basketball at Duke. Another uncle named Scott Sime wrestled and played football at Duke in the 1980s. His grandfather David Sime was a 1960 silver medalist in the Summer Olympics in the 100-meter dash and also ran at Duke.
The Panthers have been around long enough now as a franchise to actually have some interesting draft history. Twenty years ago, they made the worst No. 1 pick in their history – wide receive Rae Carruth. On the other hand, 15 years ago they chose Julius Peppers in the first round and five years ago they selected Luke Kuechly.
McCaffrey’s possibilities likely fall in the middle of those extremes. Let’s not go overboard and put him in the Pro Bowl yet.
But the Panthers have never had a player quite like him in terms of versatility. His college coach, David Shaw at Stanford, proclaimed that McCaffrey could start in the NFL at running back, or slot receiver, or outside receiver. Shaw said McCaffrey is “one of the most finely-tuned athletes on the planet,” and McCaffrey said the Panthers had told him they would use him a lot like Stanford did.
Given that Ted Ginn Jr. has now gone to New Orleans, McCaffrey certainly will return kicks – much like Steve Smith did as a rookie before settling in to become a Pro Bowl receiver.
The last time Carolina used a No. 8 pick on a running back, his name was Tshimanga Biakabutuka and it was 1996. His potential also seemed enormous, and Panthers fans eagerly learned how to pronounce and spell his last name. Alas, Biakabutuka would turn out to have a career short-circuited by injuries, and a running back picked behind him (Eddie George, at No. 14) turned out to be a big star.
As for what happened Thursday night, North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky went to Chicago in the first of many shockers at No. 2. The Bears traded up to take him, and I think that was a mistake.
I don’t believe Trubisky will ever be an elite NFL quarterback – he couldn’t beat Duke or N.C. State in his lone year as a starter. I doubt he will beat out former N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon in Chicago – at least not for awhile.
But since Carolina is already set at quarterback, the move did mean that one more player would drop to Carolina. It wouldn’t be Leonard Fournette, however. Jacksonville took the bruising running back at Carolina at No. 4, killing the dream of many Panthers fans.
But no one else took McCaffrey. And the Panthers – who now have McCaffrey’s former position coach at Stanford, Lance Taylor, as their wide receivers coach – were all too happy to do so.
McCaffrey also attended Super Bowl 50, watching his father’s old team play what would be his new one less than two years later. Carolina couldn’t score in that game, either – the Panthers only had 10 points in what was a foreshadowing of their difficult 2016 season.
Christian McCaffrey will do his part to try to change that.
I think he will.