Grading the Panthers' selection of Christian McCaffrey in the NFL Draft
When Stanford football players walk into their locker room every day, they are faced with a firm statement written on the walls, words they are expected to embody: “Home of intellectual brutality.”
“Yeah, that was kind of Stanford’s motto that we kind of owned,” former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey said Friday, less than 24 hours after he was selected eighth overall in the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.
In Charlotte, where McCaffrey was introduced to the media on Friday at Bank of America Stadium, he has a new phrase to own: “Luke Kuechly DNA.”
That’s what Panthers assistant coach Lance Taylor kept telling head coach Ron Rivera was a part of McCaffrey.
Taylor was with Carolina in 2012, when they scouted and drafted Kuechly out of Boston College. And the Panthers brought him back to Charlotte this spring – from Stanford, where he was McCaffrey’s position coach.
“That, I thought, was a real interesting comment,” said Rivera on Thursday night.
According to Taylor, “Luke Kuechly DNA” was the phrase thrown around throughout the vetting process of McCaffrey, and again in the 10-minute window in Carolina’s war room on Thursday night.
That’s when Panthers assistants were making their 20-second pitches to Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman as they workshopped through their options – Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, or McCaffrey,
Taylor’s pitch didn’t change.
“It was kind of what I’ve been saying since the beginning,” he said. “I believe Christian can be an impact player, I think that he can help our offense and our football team in multiple ways, not only as a running back or slot receiver or a punt returner, but he can impact our team in multiple ways. I know what kind of work ethic and what kind of character he has.
“And several people in the room mentioned that he has ‘Luke Kuechly DNA.”
To Taylor, here’s what that means:
Unparalleled in work ethic.
“Those are things I think of when I think of Luke Kuechly and (quarterback) Cam Newton,” said Taylor. “And I think Luke is a guy that we have put as a poster-child of those things and a guy you want people to mold after.
“Those are the characteristics and qualities that I think Christian embodies as well.”
The Panthers knew that McCaffrey was Taylor’s guy. Taylor did his best to be unbiased – but he said he spent more time with McCaffrey over the last three years than his own family.
Carolina had to do its own research, too. Gettleman watched every one of McCaffrey’s touches – and then did it over again the Saturday before the draft.
Behind the scenes
Taylor also gave the Panthers cut-ups of McCaffrey’s practice film. That way, the Panthers were able to see how McCaffrey, who by 2015 was a college football superstar and in the Heisman conversation, operated when the news cameras weren’t around.
“I wanted to be very careful to only give them facts,” Taylor said. “When they would ask me about character, or integrity, or intangibles, I’d give them my insight but I tried very had not to be biased.
“I thought the practice film was very important for those guys to be able to see who he was day-to-day,” he said.
Taylor was right about the Kuechly comparison, Rivera said – as a playmaker, but also as an off-the-field presence.
“(Christian is) one of those kinds of guys that’s just all about football, and you guys are going to see that very quickly when you get an opportunity to visit with him,” he said. “It was really unique.”
McCaffrey, minutes after he held up his freshly monogrammed No. 22 “McCaffrey” jersey up to a room packed with media members, said he was pleased to hear he had been compared to Kuechly.
“I have just been watching him play, and that’s an honor, to be mentioned that we are cut from the same cloth,” he said. “Just kind of hard-nosed, don’t say a whole lot but just go to work kind of guys – that’s how I envision him, as somebody who has all of the athletic ability on the planet but utilizes it to the very most.
“That would be an honor, for somebody to say about me.”