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Christian McCaffrey's speed stands out in Panthers' rookie minicamp

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The first thing you notice about Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey is he’s fast.

Not just sneaky fast.

Real-time fast.

You couldn’t really see that when the former Stanford running back ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds at the NFL combine.

But put him on the field with other players, as he was on Friday, the first of a two-day rookie minicamp, and most of those around him look like they’re moving in slow motion.

Panthers first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey shows his burst with runs like this. No pads but fast is fast.

David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer ago

While McCaffrey’s ability to excel at running back, slot receiver, wide receiver and kick returner made him worthy of the No. 8 pick, his speed sets him apart on a Carolina team that made upgrading speed a priority.

He didn’t disappoint on this day, although he was in shorts with no helmet or pads.

"The best players try to not slow down when they put the pads on," McCaffrey said.

The Panthers were in need of speed, particularly after losing wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to New Orleans in free agency. He arguably was Carolina’s fastest player.

The lack of speed last season made the offense at times look like it was in quicksand. It showed up in particular in yards after the catch, where the Panthers ranked as one of the worst teams in the NFL.

McCaffrey was one of the best in college football at yards after the catch, particularly in 2015.

“The first two guys we drafted were explosive players," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said of McCaffrey and second-round pick Curtis Samuel, a wide receiver out of Ohio State. “These guys have the ability to take the ball and go the distance anytime they have it in their hands.’’

McCaffrey’s versatility also was showcased on an unusually cool and windy May day in Charlotte. After spending much of the early part of the camp lined up at running back, he lined up wide and caught a few passes.

"This was a big learn day. Once you learn it, earn it," said McCaffrey, who will get a lot of work as a slot receiver. "Getting the plays down. Making sure when you come out here there are no questions. A lot of the questions are in the meeting room so when you come out here you can play fast."

McCaffrey, it seems, has played fast since he began playing football for the Douglas County Dolphins in a suburb of Denver, where his father, Ed McCaffrey, was a star receiver for the Broncos. That also was the first time he wore No. 22, which he resurrected at Carolina.

He wore No. 5 at Stanford.

McCaffrey will return to Colorado after this camp to continue his training. He can’t resume working out with the team until June because Stanford is on a quarter system.

But the Panthers and McCaffrey have plans to stay in touch, including via Skype.

“There’s still some rules where I can communicate, especially with the players,’’ said McCaffrey, known as much for his film study and work ethic as his speed. “Just pick all the veterans’ brain and see what I can do with that."

It’ll be interesting to see at the June 13 minicamp how McCaffrey’s speed blends in with the veterans versus Carolina’s seven draft picks, five undrafted players and 35 tryout players.

McCaffrey can’t wait to catch a pass from quarterback Cam Newton, whose throwing is on hold until training camp while he recovers from surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

“That’ll be a blast,’’ McCaffrey said. “That’s what you do it for, for times like that.’’

Judging by the number of television cameras and reporters lining the sideline on Friday, McCaffrey is generating the most rookie camp excitement this organization has seen since Newton was the first pick of the 2011 draft.

McCaffrey enjoyed every minute of it, the same way middle linebacker Luke Kuechly enjoys every practice.

McCaffrey lives for moments like this just because it’s on a football field. He was so excited about this moment that it hadn’t fully sunk in that on Thursday night he became the first first-round pick of the 2017 draft to sign his rookie deal.

“I don’t think it will really sink in until I’m done playing ball, whenever that is,’’ McCaffrey said. “Never get comfortable.’’