WEEK 7 CRYSTAL BALL - WEEKEND
Examining the Christian McCaffrey Trade
My friends, THE GURU is here to discuss this week’s big trade.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, perhaps in close proximity to the average Washington football fan, here are the details: Carolina sent running back Christian McCaffrey, a two-time All-Pro selection, to San Francisco in exchange for four draft choices - second-, third-, and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-rounder in 2024.
This news prompts two important questions that we’ll try to answer in as few words as possible so we can all get back to eating our respective breakfast sandwiches.
Is this a good deal for both teams?
I think so.
For Carolina, it makes sense as it gives them the opportunity to select four more potential contributors over the next two drafts. And, since the team hasn’t had a winning season since 2017, they’re certainly glad to get as many picks as possible. But, there are a few guys they aren’t willing to trade, per reports, including Brian Burns, the excellent pass rusher.
For San Francisco, it is sensible as, assuming McCaffrey remains healthy, it increases the chances that the Niners can go the distance. It gives Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo another key weapon to threaten opposing defenses, adding to a crew that includes Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. That’s a formidable trio.
Of course, given Shanahan’s track record, which includes two National Football Conference Championship appearances and a Super Bowl trip, one would think San Fran could make a run whether young McCaffrey remains healthy or not.
Does McCaffrey have more left in the tank?
I think so though a lot of tread has come off the tires in his six-year career with 1,256 total touches. Certainly, this year has gotten off to a good start as, through six games, he’s nearly matched his 2021 rushing-and-receiving totals and has already surpassed his 2020 numbers.
Of course, the thing about running backs is this: the game exacts a big toll on their bodies and, as a result, their careers often come to an early - and sudden - end. Just take a look at the NFL’s leaders in yards from scrimmage over the past five or six years, focusing on the backs.
Le’Veon Bell had his last big season at age 25. Ezekiel Elliott was 24. Todd Gurley was 24. Kareem Hunt was 23. And remember when David Johnson was the next big thing? His last highly productive year was in 2016, at age 25, and he is now out of football.
This brings us to McCaffrey, whose last huge campaign was in 2019, at age 23. Since then, he’s played in 16 of a possible 39 games. And, in the NFL, as in life itself, the best ability is availability.
The folks over at DraftShark do an excellent job of analyzing injury data and, given McCaffrey’s history, they peg his chances of getting hurt at 84% this season, defined as missing two or more quarters in a game. In contrast, the number is just 22% for his quarterback, Garoppolo.
This graphic, again from DraftShark, is illuminating as it highlights the injuries on the right side of McCaffrey’s body. Ankle, hamstring, shoulder. Oh, and a left ankle injury caused him to miss the final five games in 2021.
Naturally, when it comes to the durability of running backs, we tend to look closely at total touches i.e., rushes and receptions but there is another critical area that can take quite a toll on an RB’s body: pass protection.
In fact, one could argue that pass pro presents a greater hazard to running back health than rushes or catches because backs are somewhat stationary when they are pass blocking, positioning themselves to protect the quarterback. They then often have to step in front of a linebacker or safety going full speed and, unfortunately, that likely means absorbing some serious blows to the body.
Now McCaffrey, as a tremendous receiving threat, doesn’t pass protect as much as some other backs might but, during his career, he has been in pass pro-mode 310 times, including an astonishing 204 times over the 2018-2019 seasons. Thank you for the data, Pro Football Focus.
He is good as a pass blocker, as you might expect but, again, it can lead to a lot of blows to the body, as he does here, taking on Cameron Heyward, the Steelers star defensive tackle.
It will be interesting to see how Shanahan uses McCaffrey to protect his body. I would guess he wouldn’t be doing a ton of pass pro in that offense - given the coach’s history of understanding players and using them well. Think Deebo, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, for starters.
Time will tell.
As for this week’s games, here is the full schedule, including TV listings, up-to-date standings and team statistics. Now, for a few picks with the season record sitting at 51-44 (.537) and the Bills, Eagles, Rams and Vikings enjoying their respective bye weeks.
First, I see a potential self-serving upset happening at FedEx Field at 1 pm when my beloved Commanders - just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? - taking on the Packers.
Sure, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is better than my guy, Taylor Heinicke, but the DC defense has been playing well of late and ranks near the top of the NFL in pressuring the passer. They hurried Chicago’s Justin Fields 21 times last week after an excellent outing against Tennessee in the prior game and, like anyone, Rodgers struggles when he has guys in his face. And Washington almost upset the Pack in Lambeau with Heinicke at the helm in 2021.
In other early games, I’ll take Tampa over Carolina, Cincy against Atlanta, the Giants in a tight one at Jacksonville, Titans over the Colts, Ravens vs. the Browns and Dallas, in Dak’s return, over Dee-troit.
In the 4 pm window, I’ll take the Jets over Denver, Vegas against the Texans, the Chiefs over the Niners, and the Chargers against visiting Seattle. And Miami wins, at home, vs. Pittsburgh.
Finally, on Monday night, take the host Patriots against the Bears.
That’s it for this week. See you Thursday! God bless!