What do Christian McCaffrey, Connor McDavid, Shohei Ohtani and Luka Dončić have in common? They are the best players in their respective leagues yet to have won a championship.
McCaffrey’s case is more thorny, because his status can be debated. Some will say that Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen were more useful to the success of their respective teams in 2023.
However, the San Francisco 49ers running back had an exceptional season. He is the only player who does not throw the ball to be among the finalists for the MVP trophy. If not for Jackson’s performance with the Baltimore Ravens, McCaffrey would have undoubtedly been the first running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to get their hands on the most coveted individual trophy.
But he is the only one among the finalists, with his teammate Brock Purdy, who plays in the Super Bowl game. It is undoubtedly the feat of arms on which we must rely. And if Purdy has looked so bright since September, it has a lot to do with McCaffrey.
For the first time in his career, the 27-year-old running back will have the chance to play in the final. The Niners can count on a versatile, explosive and talented attack. Their defense is terrifying and effective. However, it would be difficult to imagine the Bay’s heroes at the Super Bowl without McCaffrey’s decisive contribution since his arrival with the team.
Author of 1,459 yards rushing in 2023 – first in this regard with a lead of almost 300 yards over his closest pursuer; 14 rushing touchdowns – second among running backs in the league; 272 touches of the ball – second in the NFL; 83 plays converted on first downs – tops in the league with 15 more completions than second.
What makes McCaffrey unique, however, lies in another phase of his game. Few of his counterparts are capable of being as dominant on the ground as they are through the air. The three players who accumulated the most yards on the ground, behind him, namely Derrick Henry, Kyren Williams and James Cook, do not have the dexterity necessary to support their quarterback by passing as the running back of the United States brilliantly does. 49ers.
Seven passing touchdowns – first among running backs; 564 air yards – alone in second place. Finally, 67 catches, which earns him third place.
With this pace, Christian McCaffrey ensures the Niners a performance worthy of the Super Bowl champions.
McCaffrey scored 21 of his team’s 61 season touchdowns. Not to mention his four touchdowns in the two playoff games. He is not the most exuberant and will always leave the microphone to a teammate to speak. The fact remains that since Marshawn Lynch with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014 and Todd Gurley with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, no running back has carried his team to the ultimate game like this. Now he will try to succeed where the other two failed: win it.
A flawless journey
McCaffrey was selected eighth overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2017 draft, fresh out of Stanford University. Myles Garrett was the first called up by the Cleveland Browns. Moreover, Patrick Mahomes was chosen two ranks behind McCaffrey.
The son of Ed McCaffrey, former Denver Broncos receiver, left a strong impression at Stanford. In 2015, he was named the Most Outstanding College Player by the Associated Press, in addition to being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. That year, he had 3,864 total yards, a record that still stands.
In Carolina, he was the spearhead of the team. In the 2019 season, he had over 1000 passing yards and over 1000 rushing yards. However, he was injured the following two seasons, thus being unable to take advantage of this historic season. His status took a hit. He went from an impact player to a player too often injured for us to count on his talent in the long term.
In October 2022, Niners general manager John Lynch, a Stanford alum, completed a trade to acquire the services of the star running back. He gave the Panthers second, third and fourth round picks in 2023 in addition to a fourth round pick in 2024.
After his arrival, in week seven, his team won all of its games until the conference finals. We have to admit that he looks at his best in the red and gold uniform.
A paradigm shift
Remember, at the start of the campaign, how complicated the negotiations between certain teams and their star running back had been. Organizations refused to break the bank by offering too high a salary to players who were prone to injury. Then, in return, the ball carriers wanted remuneration commensurate with their talent and their involvement. Some of the best running backs in the NFL even organized an emergency meeting to discuss this issue.
Ultimately, Saquon Barkley had to resign himself to accepting a one-year contract earning him a little more than $10 million with the New York Giants. Same thing for Josh Jacobs with the Las Vegas Raiders.
However, with Christian McCaffrey’s outfit, certain teams will now perhaps be more willing to offer their best ball carrier a salary in line with the services rendered.
The highest-paid running back this season was Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints at $18.9 million. However, he arrives at 98e rank of top earners in the NFL. The only running back in the top 100. McCaffrey is at 152e rank, with 14.2 million dollars.
Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley and Austin Ekeler, among others, will become free agents in the spring. This vintage could forever revolutionize the way running backs negotiate their contracts.
And seeing McCaffrey’s impact on the performance of the Super Bowl finalists, some owners could take out the checkbook to secure the services of a talented running back.