Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey is no stranger to a heavy workload.
Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at Atlanta, McCaffrey has a team-high 211 touches.
But that pales to his sophomore season at Stanford, when he had 337 rushes alone and set the NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards.
So no, McCaffrey says he hasn’t run into the so-called “rookie wall” during the latter stages of a productive, first NFL season.
“The year’s gone by pretty fast so far. I feel good. I love coming to work everyday. It’s a good group of guys to be with, so that makes it easy. You don’t really get tired of hanging around these guys,” McCaffrey said Wednesday.
“Obviously, physically you can get run down a little bit. But we’ve got a great staff. We do a good job taking care of our bodies. I love playing ball, so it’s fun for me.”
McCaffrey, the No. 8 overall pick, has broken seven team records for rookies or running backs, surpassing Kelvin Benjamin last week as the franchise’s rookie receiving leader with his 75th catch.
McCaffrey has missed only one practice all season, sitting out a few weeks ago with a sore shoulder after taking a big hit against the Jets. Otherwise, the son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey and ex-Stanford soccer player Lisa McCaffrey has answered the call everyday.
Teammates and coaches credit McCaffrey’s athletic background and his attention to stretching and nutrition for helping the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder endure the pounding of a 16-game, regular-season schedule.
“I’m sure he learned a lot of it from his dad. His dad had a long (13-year) career,” receiver Brenton Bersin said. “Anytime I go in the hot tub or the cold tub, he’s in there doing contrast (therapy). He takes it seriously. I think he eats well, too. That’s smart and that definitely helps.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera says McCaffrey handles his business like he’s been in the league for several years.
“With his upbringing and his father having played in the league and his mother having been an All-American in college, I think he understands what it takes,” Rivera said. “So he’s been really good and he’s handled it very well.”
McCaffrey made headlines last year at this time when he decided to skip Stanford’s matchup with North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. Like ex-LSU running back Leonard Fournette, McCaffrey didn’t want to risk injury as a first-round prospect.
Critics came down on both sides of the issue, with some praising McCaffrey for looking out for himself and others questioning the decision. But he and Fournette look to have started a trend: A handful of high draft prospects this month already have announced they are skipping their team’s bowl games.
“It was a tough decision for me. If there’s a right or wrong answer, I don’t know. But I made a decision for me,” McCaffrey said. “Every individual has to make their own decision in what they believe is right. Whether I’m a so-called pioneer, I don’t know. It’s up to that individual.”