What Might Have Been With Christian McCaffrey
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles have been a running-back-by-committee team since Doug Pederson arrived for the 2016 season but there were machinations to change that in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The most obvious came in the second round when the Eagles hoped to snag Dalvin Cook with the 43rd overall selection in the second round but Minnesota jumped up two spots ahead of Philadelphia to snag the former Florida State star and the Birds instead turned toward Sidney Jones and redshirting what was a first-round talent.
Cook, though, was the Eagles' second choice to bolster things in the backfield after Christian McCaffrey, the well-rounded No. 8 overall pick who has turned into one of the better three-down options in the league during his second season in Carolina.
The hope was that the former Stanford star and son of ex-Giants and Broncos standout receiver Ed McCaffrey would be there at No. 14 overall in the first round for Philadelphia but as the draft approached that became a pipe dream as the younger McCaffrey raced up the big boards of many teams and ultimately became a top-10 pick just out of the reach of the Eagles.
An NFL source told 973espn.com at the time that McCaffrey would have been the Eagles pick at No. 14 overall if he had been there [Derek Barnett was] and Doug Pederson sort of confirmed that at his Friday press conference with the dynamic back and his Panthers set to invade Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
"Coming out of the draft, if we were fortunate enough to get him, the way we would use him. Doesn't come off the field," Pederson gushed.
During his first two seasons in Philadelphia, Pederson has cobbled things together by mixing and matching traits with his backs -- first with Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and then with LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and some Sproles mixed in before his ACL injury last season.
This year it has been Ajayi, Corey Clement and Sproles with Smallwood added in due to injuries to Ajayi (ACL) and Sproles (hamstring).
That doesn't mean that Pederson wouldn't change his approach if he was able to secure a back like McCaffrey, who can do it all -- run inside or outside, catch the football like a receiver, and hold his own in pass protection.
"Well, he's definitely an explosive player. Pound for pound, tough kid. You see him run between the tackles. You see him run off tackle. You see him line up in space. He runs routes. He's a misdirection guy," Pederson said. "He's really everything."
That's validated by McCaffrey's impact on the Panthers offense as the team's leader in both rushing and receiving this season with 349 yards on 71 carries, an impressive 4.9 yards-per-rush, and 34 receptions for another 238 yards.
"Great athlete," Pederson continued. "Again, a player that we have to account for, and know where he lines up. You got to tackle him. You got to get him on the ground. He can make the first guy miss, and obviously stretch the field. Our work's cut out for us defensively to make sure we tackle and get him on the ground."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen