No two descriptions of Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey offered at Pac-12 Media Days were exactly alike.
Oregon LB Johnny Ragin III
“He’s a worker…He’s someone who’s going to make you pay if you’re not doing your job.
“Christian’s just a hard-nosed, downhill runner. He doesn’t seem super shifty to me. He’s just a versatile player.”
Ragin’s description of McCaffrey’s running style — hard-nosed, downhill — defies the oft-repeated mantra, which paints McCaffrey as the kind of play-in-space weapon who flourishes in a college offense, but doesn’t necessarily translate to the NFL.
Cal DE DeVante Wilson:
“I look forward to facing Christian McCaffrey. He’s a great player. He had a pretty good game against us last year.”
And how. McCaffrey took a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, went 41 yards to the house on a reception, and rushed for 192 yards.
“He’s a patient runner. He’s very fast, but he knows how to use his blocks. He has good vision. He’ll stop on a dime, and he’s a home-run threat [who] can take it to the house every time.”
Washington State DB Parker Henry:
“It’s hard to stop him, because there’s so many ways he can beat you: running, receiving, he’s a good blocker. He’s just a dynamic player all the way around. He deserves all the hype he gets, all the accolades he earned.
“He has a good mix of power and elusiveness. Some people think he’s just a make-you-miss guy, but that’s not the case. He’ll put his shoulder down and run you over.
“He’s a heckuva player and everyone knows if you want a shot to beat Stanford, you’ve got to contain him.”
Washington State came about as close to beating Stanford as any opponent that didn’t last season, 30-28, and the Cougars defense performed admirably against McCaffrey. He rushed for 107 yards and caught for a team-high 26, but was denied the end zone.
Even so, the Heisman Trophy runner-up saved the day, and first place in the Pac-12 North, with a tight-rope run along the sideline late in the game.
Stanford head coach David Shaw said in the days following, “not many human beings could do that.”
Had Henry ever seen anything comparable?
“To be completely honest, no. He’s a special talent, and he’s able to do stuff that not a lot of people could do.”
UCLA LB Jayon Brown:
“Great offensive line in front of him, great offensive scheme, and he’s just a baller. He makes it happen on special teams, and they play through him on offense…He’s the guy they’ve got to get the ball to to be victorious.”
McCaffrey’s Heisman campaign ostensibly began in Stanford’s Thursday night romp over UCLA last October, in which he rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns.
The springboard that launched Christian McCaffrey to this point now, when he’s discussed as an all-time college great, came on Thanksgiving weekend 2014, also against UCLA. In that one, he matched a team-high with 64 yards rushing, and caught a pass out of the backfield for 21 yards.
McCaffrey saw touches earlier in the season as a slot receiver, but Shaw showcased the do-everything play-maker in a role foreshadowing his 2015 eruption.
I covered that game live and was immediately intrigued. I asked Shaw the following spring about McCaffrey’s potential, and the coach said he “got flak…for not playing him enough.”
Limiting McCaffrey was a strategic decision from Shaw, who added, “we’re trying to start a great career.”
As impressed as I was with McCaffrey in 2014, I couldn’t foresee the kind of impact he would make in 2015.
I am on record having written that two of the best individual performances I have ever covered live were courtesy of Christian McCaffrey — and they occurred in consecutive weeks.
The first was Stanford’s Pac-12 Championship Game defeat of USC, a performance that sealed McCaffrey’s place on the Heisman Trophy ballot. He rushed for 207 yards, caught for 105 with a touchdown and even passed to quarterback Kevin Hogan for a score.
Next came the Rose Bowl in an outing that ranks among the Granddaddy’s best individual efforts ever, and one that might have made a few Heisman voters rethink their ballots.
Despite his 172 yards rushing on just 18 carries, and 105 yards receiving — including a 75-yarder that went to the house on the game’s first play — a single moment from the Rose Bowl best captures the McCaffrey magic.
Heading into the New Year’s Day matchup, McCaffrey had scored via kickoff return, pass, reception and rush, but not punt return. Scoring off a punt would put him in a club that included only Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller.
I asked him before the Rose Bowl if he was going to get that punt return — somewhat jokingly, I admit. Thus, when he ran one back on Iowa, I was left just about speechless.
To that end, I understand the varied opinions of his playing style.
Opponents have so many different descriptions for Christian McCaffrey, because there’s simply just so many superlatives that can be applied to his game. Sometimes, words simply fail.