Browns interim coach Gregg Williams may have shared with a long list of NFL coaches the same thought about Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
Williams said when the second-year pro out of Stanford University arrived in the NFL, he thought he would be good. He just didn’t know how good.
“I do think that he has woken up a lot of people,” Williams said this week of McCaffrey, who the Browns will attempt to slow down when the teams meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. “People have opened their eyes on maybe I better go back and think about that again.”
There actually isn’t much to think about. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound McCaffrey has turned into the quintessential every down back for the Panthers, an intense bright spot in what has to be considered a disappointing season thus far with his team having lost four games in a row to fall to 6-6.
“He's a big threat. The guy plays pretty much every down,” Browns defensive back T.J. Carrie said. “He doesn't come off the field, and when you have an athlete that has that type of shape and that type of ability and you don't see any diminishing factors going into the fourth quarter, that's something you have to really worry about.”
Browns middle linebacker Joe Schobert agreed.
“I think just especially in the box there is the way they use him and the way their offensive schemes are, pretty much every underneath level defender is going to be on him in space at some point of the game with how many touches they try to get him the ball,” he said.
In a 30-27 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 25, McCaffrey produced 237 yards from the line of scrimmage, topping 100 yards both running and receiving, the first Panther to do so and just the second NFL player to accomplish the feat since 2011.
This season McCaffrey ranks seventh in the league with 863 yards rushing, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which ranks sixth. He’s tied for 10th with 80 receptions, good for 663 yards (8.3 average). More notably, he has 651 yards after catch to rank first in the league. Topping it off, he’s scored 11 touchdowns.
Having played 741-of-762 plays from scrimmage (97.2 percent), McCaffrey very well could be the most prolific and, arguably, best all-purpose back in the league.
“I think that he is better at both. I can’t tell the difference in that respect. When he is a receiver, boy, he looks good running it,” Williams said when asked what McCaffrey does best. “Look at all of the yards after catch. Go back and take a look at those stats on him. They are phenomenal — once he catches the ball, how many yards he gets after the catch. Good coaches and good systems, that is what they do.”
Schobert said the Panthers coaches take advantage of schemes to get McCaffrey the ball in space.
“And he uses his explosion to create explosive plays,” Schobert said. “You just have to be aware of wherever he is at all times in the backfield or if he is split out.”
That points to McCaffrey’s versatility. His skillset has become even more valuable after the Panthers lost tight end Greg Olsen, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with an injury to his right foot.
Carrie said McCaffrey's skills don’t make up for Olsen’s loss, but it gives the Browns defense something to consider.
“I'd say he definitely has put them in a position where they can use him like they use Greg Olsen,” Carrie said. “So I think that in itself is something we have to worry about because most of the time when you have running backs, a majority of the time, you have linebackers guarding them and sometimes you have [defensive] ends or whoever's dropping with those type of guys.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.