The Carolina Panthers selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick of the NFL draft to take pressure off quarterback Cam Newton's legs and reduce his role in the running game.
Given his ability to impact the game as a runner or receiver out of the backfield, McCaffrey was arguably the most dynamic back in the draft. He can also play slot receiver.
McCaffrey will continue the evolution of a Panthers' offense that has relied on Newton to be a dual threat since he entered the league in 2011. No quarterback has rushed for more yards or touchdowns during that span.
Today's question: How will McCaffrey change how teams prepare for a Panthers offense that has relied heavily on Newton the past six seasons?
Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: McCaffrey is a fascinating player because he offers so much more than a traditional "I" running back. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said that he "put on a clinic running routes at the combine." He's a chess piece that you can line up all over the field, with his best attributes on display in space. His ability to change direction will put extra pressure on Bucs linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, but it could also mean some shuffling of the defensive line. The Bucs vowed to get better against the run this season, which is why they re-signed William Gholston and Sealver Siliga and drafted Stevie Tu'ikolovatu. Given McCaffrey's shiftiness, I could also see a smaller, more athletic defensive end in Noah Spence lining up to stop him. I think they're best served lining up primarily in their base defense. Fellow Panthers rookie Curtis Samuel will be an exceptionally dangerous and versatile player and might do even more damage than McCaffrey because he's just so explosive.
Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: I spoke with Falcons tight end Austin Hooper about his former Stanford teammate prior to the draft and Hooper said, "On third down, he'll be a nightmare for any linebacker. I don't think there's a linebacker in this league that can cover him consistently for a full game." From the Falcons' perspective, they certainly hope the speed they now have at linebacker with Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and rookie Duke Riley will help the defense keep up with versatile running backs such as McCaffrey. Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes in his defensive scheme, now presided over by energetic first-time coordinator and former Carolina player Marquand Manuel. The Falcons have better players to carry out the scheme, including newcomer Dontari Poe, a versatile defensive tackle who has the athleticism and quickness to help slow down guys such as McCaffrey in the running game. I don't see the Falcons changing up what they do just because a talented new back is now in the division. The goal will remain to stop the run first, and pressure Newton while keeping him from extending plays. The Falcons must also be sure tacklers so a player like McCaffrey doesn't pick up extra yards after the catch or after contact.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said the Saints will probably learn more about how the Panthers' plan to use McCaffrey in the first two weeks of the season, prior to their Week 3 matchup. But obviously they expect McCaffrey to be used in that same type of versatile "joker back" role that the Saints have reserved for guys like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush. Both Allen and Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro agreed McCaffrey will bring an element to Carolina's offense that hasn't really been present in the past. Vaccaro said Carolina's offense is already unique, meaning this will add another wrinkle and another type of mismatch, but he also pointed out that the Panthers will have to figure out how to be unpredictable with McCaffrey. "Besides the fact that he's gonna be a mismatch for linebackers, it might make some things easier because when he's on the field in certain spots, you know the ball's coming to him," Vaccaro said. "Sometimes it tells the defense, ‘Hey, this is what they like to do when Christian's here.' Is he in the stack, is he in the slot, is he stacking the tackle about to get out? Now, whether you can defend it or not (is a different story). And I'm sure they'll be creative because their offense is so creative."