Sizing up Christian McCaffrey as an NFL back

ByESPN INSIDERS via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
February 14, 2017, 7:51 AM

&#151; -- This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 27 Entertainment Issue. Subscribe today!

Christian McCaffrey was a triple threat -- running, receiving, returning -- at Stanford, racking up 247.6 all-purpose yards per game before turning pro. But will he continue being an elite difference-maker at the next level? We asked an NFL scout to rate McCaffrey, then had our Insiders respond.

An NFL scout says:

He possesses long-stride speed in the run and pass games and can outrun Power 5 defensive backs on angles to the pylon. 1 He'll cut back and fight for yardage along the sideline, and his vision and awareness keep him on the proper side of downfield blocks. And he doesn't shy away from contact. 2 On the other hand, he lacks top-level short-area change of direction and quickness. 3 His erect running style allows first contact on his legs, 4 and the first defender takes him down too frequently. 5 He's a disciplined route runner who hits his marks with timing and doesn't fool the quarterback. 6 He has good hands and catches the ball away from his body, smoothly transitioning it to a secure position while accelerating. 7 On the flip side, his receiving acumen isn't dynamic enough to make him a receiving specialist in the NFL. 8 He projects as a mid- to upper-tier NFL running back. 9

Our Insiders respond, point-by-point:

1. KC Joyner, ESPN Insider: McCaffrey did very well among Power 5 backs: second in rushing on plays directed outside the tackles (2,018 yards in 2015

and '16) and fifth in receiving on passes directed outside the numbers (270 yards).

2. Todd McShay ESPN Insider:  He's not Barry Sanders. That's not his game. His run style is more

Le'Veon Bell. He's patient and has a great sense for when to hit the crease in a zone-blocking scheme.

3. Mel Kiper, ESPN Insider: I don't agree. Suddenness isn't an issue for McCaffrey, and he has quick feet and is shifty. He'll test extremely well.

4. McShay: Agree. He needs to lower his pads consistently

before contact, but he has never run with great pad level and still broke a lot of tackles at Stanford.

5. Kiper: This assessment is a bit harsh. Running backs can't evade everybody. He often makes first defenders miss.

6. Joyner: Among Power 5 backs in 2015 and '16, he was tied for third in screen-pass receptions (28), was fifth in screen-pass yards (214) and

led the Power 5 in yards after first defensive contact on screen passes (113).

7. McShay: Another decent comparison is

Devonta Freeman. While Freeman is shiftier, they both make defenders miss and have high-end receiving skills for the position.

8. Joyner: McCaffrey has been one of the best pass catchers at his position. He ranked fifth in catch percentage, fourth in yards per reception, third in yards after catch per reception and sixth in drop percentage among Power 5 RBs in 2015 and '16.

9. Kiper: I would say he's an upper-tier all-around back. If all he could do was run the football, he would be knocked down a peg. He will step into the league and be one of the most versatile backs on Day 1.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events