Christian McCaffrey’s impact on the Carolina Panthers

Written by Daniel Chizhikov

Christian McCaffrey is currently Stanford’s most successful football player in the National Football League ( NFL). Touted as a dynamic dual-threat running back coming out of college, he was drafted with the 8th pick in the 2017 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers to help improve

the team’s offensive production. After four seasons in the league, he is now a household name among NFL fans and a consensus top-five running back. But how exactly does this generational talent impact the Carolina Panthers? 

McCaffrey’s impact on the run game

McCaffrey greatly impacts the team in the run game. He has averaged the most rushing yards per game (on designed running plays) of all past and current rushers on the Panthers since 2017, his rookie year. McCaffrey has averaged 60.8 yards per game since 2017, while no other player averaged over 50 yards per game in that time span. 

McCaffrey’s impact on the pass game

McCaffrey also positively impacts the team in the passing game. McCaffrey has averaged 53 receiving yards per game since 2017, his rookie year. This is the fourth most receiving yards per game of all past and current pass-catchers on the Panthers in that time span. He is the only running back, and only non-wide receiver, in the top five of this category.  

McCaffrey’s impact on scoring

Aside from gaining yardage, McCaffrey also impacts the team by scoring touchdowns, and thus points. The number of touchdowns scored by McCaffrey has increased each year since his rookie season. In 2019, he scored as many touchdowns as the rest of the entire offense combined (19), a very impressive feat which gave him the 3rd most touchdowns by a running back in the NFL that year. The 2020 season was omitted because McCaffrey missed 13/16 games due to injury.

When is McCaffrey’s impact on the passing game most prominent?

In the 2nd and 4th quarters, the proportion of the Panther’s receptions by McCaffrey is notably higher than during the 1st and 3rd quarters. 0.257 (Q2) and 0.222 (Q4) v.s 0.200 (Q1) and 0.212 (Q3) . The Panthers tend to pass the ball ( as opposed to run it) in the 2nd and 4th quarters because passing the ball can quickly gain yards in a time-efficient manner.

When is McCaffrey’s impact on the running game most prominent?

In the 1st and 3rd quarters, the proportion of the Panther’s carries ( running plays) by McCaffrey is significantly higher than during the 2nd and 4th quarters.  0.442 (Q1) and 0.471 ( Q3) v.s 0.373 (Q2) and 0.356 ( Q4). The Panthers tend to run the ball ( as opposed to pass it) in the 1st and 3rd quarters because running the ball is more time-consuming, limiting the amount of time the opposing team has on offense. 

What aspect of the passing game does McCaffrey elevate?

McCaffrey has been extremely effective at garnering yards after the catch due to his elusiveness and awareness. YAC EPA (estimated points added from yards after the catch) measures the expected points added from the yardage gained by a pass-catcher after the ball is caught. When the pass is completed, McCaffrey has an average YAC EPA of 1.256. No other pass catcher on the Panthers has had an average YAC EPA above 0.95 since 2017( minimum 15 receptions). 

What aspect of the running game does McCaffrey elevate?

McCaffrey has the explosive ability of pulling off long ( 10+) yardage runs due to his 4.49s 40-yard dash speed and elite vision. Since his rookie year, McCaffrey has had 74 10+ yard runs on designed run plays. Nobody else on the Panthers has had more than 45 over that time span.

Do better performances by McCaffrey lead to more wins for the Panthers?

In wins, McCaffrey averages 62.3 rushing yards, as opposed to 59.5 rushing yards in losses. He averages 37.6 receiving yards in wins and an astounding 65.7 receiving yards in losses. There is no significant difference between McCaffrey’s average rushing performance in wins and in losses. However, McCaffrey averages significantly more receiving yards in losses than in wins. This is likely due to the fact that the Panthers often find themselves losing in games, so they must pass the ball in order to quickly gain yards while saving as much time as possible for the possibility of a comeback. 

Conclusion

Although McCaffrey greatly impacts the Panther’s offense by gaining large amounts of yards and elevating both their passing and running game, his elite performances do not lead to more wins, as a single player cannot consistently carry a team to victory. 

McCaffrey is clearly the focal point of the Panther’s offense. To fully reap the benefits of his astronomical offensive production and win more games, the Panthers should emphasize improving their defense as McCaffrey has always played with subpar Panther defenses ( ranked 11th,19th,31st, and 18th out of 32 teams since 2017 in points allowed). Improving the defense will reduce the number of points scored by opposing teams and prevent Carolina from frequently playing from behind.

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