Tom Sorensen

Is Christian McCaffrey’s skill set unprecedented among all-time Panthers? Well, no.

Go to Spartanburg for the Carolina Panthers training camp and there are certain players who stand out even if you aren’t looking for them. One of them is Christian McCaffrey, the Carolina running back and first-round draft pick.

McCaffrey is listed at 5-11 and 205 pounds, but he appears to be 5-11 the same way that the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker is 6-1.

More importantly, there’s this: Think of the best car you’ve ever had (SUVs and vans don’t count). Remember how, with a gentle tap of the accelerator, it went from zero to sixty as if that’s what it was designed to do? So does McCaffrey.

It’s as if he’s tethered to the backfield. And when he runs as a route, he’s unleashed. Man, he moves.

The theory seems to be that the Panthers have never had such a player. But go back to the days of Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith. Smith was a receiver, not a running back. The position didn’t matter. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning designed plays to get Smith the ball with room to move. Many throws were parallel with or behind the line of scrimmage. The result was often like a thrill ride. Smith broke some long, long gains.

I’m not comparing McCaffrey to Smith. I’m saying simply that there is a precedent.

Cam Newton will have to adjust to find McCaffrey. Newton’s inclination will be to run, and that’s still legal. While running, he’ll also look for McCaffrey. Newton’s strength has never been a quick release. He has complete faith in his right arm, thus the off-balance throws.

McCaffrey will be there when he needs him. I suspect Newton will quickly learn that he needs him.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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