Panthers: Christian McCaffrey needs to stick with niche in Year Two

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Christian McCaffrey
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Christian McCaffrey /

 Christian McCaffrey has found a niche. Now, he needs to stick to it.

It is often hard to judge what a rookie’s role will be in the National Football League. Dependent on position, there are a lot of variables that go into evaluating a player’s first season.  In the case of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, his role in the league may be more clear-cut than some.

It is certainly not a stretch to say that McCaffrey is an explosive football player and talented running back. However, he is not the typical running back a team possesses. McCaffrey ranked No. 10 among all rookies in rushing yards, totaling 435 on the season. It is worth noting that he had some tough competition at his position with Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and Leonard Fournette representing the best of the backs.

Where McCaffrey made his mark for the Panthers in 2017 was as a receiver out of the backfield.  He ranked No. 5 among all rookie running backs with 651 receiving yards and five touchdowns on the year. Catching 80 passes, he averaged 8.1 yards per catch.

His best game of the season as a pass-catcher came on September 24, when he caught nine passes for 101 yards against the New Orleans Saints. Despite his efforts, the Panthers lost by a 34-14 score. Even in defeat, McCaffrey showed he could be a reliable and explosive weapon in the passing game.

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Measuring in at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, an explosive backfield wideout may be his niche in the National Football League. It is known that he put up big rushing numbers at Stanford. His 1,603 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns serve as proof. However, I am not sure if it will translate to the National Football League. Running between the tackles was an issue for him at times last year. In many games, he struggled to get anything going. Serving as the No. 1 running back, it would be understandable to expect more from him.

It is worth noting that he dealt with a shoulder injury in Week 13, the week before a clash with the New Orleans Saints.  In turn, this may have lessened his production on the season. He saw few carries in that contest, carrying the ball six times for 16 yards. On the receiving end, he caught five passes for 33 yards and a touchdown, showing a small level of production. To add insult to injury the Saints won by a 31-21 margin.

Christian McCaffrey may have entered the National Football League as a running back, but when all is said and done, receiving is how he will earn his paycheck. His combination of speed and his diminutive stature will serve him better in the flats than between the trenches.