McCaffrey looks special, but Panthers still have to use him in the right ways

No doubt about it: Christian McCaffrey belongs in the NFL. The rookie out of Stanford saw limited action for the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday night in the preseason opener against the Houston Texans, but it was clear how much he can bring to an offense that was staid, at best, in 2016. 

One important caveat when discussing anything we see over the next few weeks is that it's the preseason. The Panthers are not opening up the proverbial bag of tricks to showcase what McCaffrey can do. 

Having said that, there should be a little concern about McCaffrey's usage on Wednesday. By my count, McCaffrey played on four different drives for the Panthers through the middle part of the second quarter. He was on the field for 19 different plays, two of which were nullified by penalty. 

Of those 19 plays, he ran the ball seven different times for 33 yards. He was the target of just a single pass, a screen pass from Joe Webb that was snuffed out before the ball could even get to McCaffrey. 

Of those seven runs, four came via a draw of some kind. Three of those draws were out of shotgun, one was out of an offset pistol formation. The latter was hardly successful, but utilizing formation versatility is going to be crucial to having McCaffrey become the weapon that helps the Panthers and Cam Newton return to 2015 form. 

The draws are what concern me, personally. The idea of Mike Shula just having McCaffrey run a bunch of draws from shotgun is a waste of the rookie's talents. The draws won't ruin McCaffrey, as he showed in his longest and most impressive run of the night, a 12-yard shimmy-fest through Texans defenders that was worthy of the old eyes emoji. 

It's also notable this drive came in the first quarter, when both teams had the majority of their starters in the game. McCaffrey got skinny real quick and worked his way nicely through a bunch of defenders. That's some impressive footwork. 

The other three runs came out of singleback formations, which is also a positive thing. McCaffrey can be used as a feature back, and he showed it on a nice seven-yard run to the left side on one play. He would pick up eight total yards on the other two power formation runs. 

As a whole, it was a small sample size, obviously. But McCaffrey showed what the Panthers should want to see -- quick-twitch explosion in the running game and the potential to be a combo-feature back along with Jonathan Stewart. It's too early to guess how the carries will split up, but it would be shocking if McCaffrey got more than 45 percent on the season.

He was going on and off the field pretty regularly during the game, although it stands to reason he'll be more active in the passing game during the regular season, to say nothing of punt and kick returns. There were two third downs where he wasn't even on the field. 

The style of running for the Panthers can now be more diverse too.

McCaffrey is a Swiss Army knife with really sharp blades. He'll be dangerous as long as Shula uses him the right way. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories
    All Access