Free Preview: You are viewing a free sample of subscriber-only content. We haven't raised our subscription rate in 23 years, have ranked in the top-3 (out of 140+) in terms of accuracy on Fantasy Pros in 2 of the last 3 years, and we've built a Brand new web site with a ton of cool new tools! Over 90% of our subscribers renew each season, so get on board and subscribe for this year at a low rate!

Yards Created: Christian McCaffrey

Yards Created: Christian McCaffrey

If you’re like me, you played a ton of video games all throughout your childhood. Sounds fun, right? I’m not a total dork—I promise.

Seriously though, some of my best memories as a kid involve a game called Backyard Football on those old, clunky PC’s where the hard drive tower alone weighed in excess of 25lbs. In that epic computer game series, there were always two characters that my friends and I battled for to have on our respective teams: Pablo Sanchez and Barry Sanders.

Now, everyone knows Barry Sanders but the true wildcard and all-purpose dynamo was Pablo. Yes, this fictional character could do it all. Seriously. I mean, just check out his player card. Sanchez could run — he was the most elusive player on the field at all times — he could catch, he was a solid quarterback, and he wasn’t a half bad defender, either. Sanchez was also the GOAT in Backyard Baseball and was a complete baller in basketball. Who wouldn’t want him on their team?

As you will come to find out in his Yards Created data, Christian McCaffrey is a lot like Pablo Sanchez.

Besides not being a made up character in a video game, McCaffrey is an all-sport athlete who played basketball and ran track (along with football) in high school. McCaffrey, too, was an all-purpose dynamo while in college at Stanford. Just one year ago, McCaffrey was widely accepted as the most versatile back in the country as he finished second to Derrick Henry for the Heisman trophy.

Let’s dig into the Yards Created data and find out why Christian McCaffrey is such a captivating prospect.

Author’s Note: If this is your first time reading Yards Created, please read my introduction and explanation to the series here.

Games Sampled























































McCaffrey gained at least 110 scrimmage yards in 22 of 25 games in college. He also gained 150 scrimmage yards in all but three games in 2016.To be honest, it was quite hard to find two “bad” statistical games to sample for McCaffrey. Over the last two seasons combined, McCaffrey has gained at least 110 yards from scrimmage in 22-of-25 games with 10 occurrences over 200 all-purpose yards. What’s amazing, too, is McCaffrey gained 150 scrimmage yards in all but three games in 2016 alone (out of 12 contests).

This all goes without mentioning that McCaffrey was also an unbelievable return-man while at Stanford, too. Among college kick return-men with at least 50 career attempts, McCaffrey ranks 45th since 2000 in yards per kick return (26.4). For reference, Rotoviz’s Jon Moore wrote about the hidden value of college Special Teams stats in 2015.

From a counting statistics perspective, McCaffrey is one of the most prolific college rushers—and receivers—of our time. In fact, he is one of just 12 running backs since 2000 to run for at least 3,500 yards and have over 1,000 receiving yards in a career. Among players on that list, McCaffrey leads everyone in both yards per carry (6.2) and yards per reception (12.1) for their respective careers. That’s absurd.

Pablo Sanchez would be proud.

We’re not even close to being done yet, though.

Stanford’s Yards Blocked and Christian McCaffrey’s Yards Created

Per Att. Data

Yards Created/Att.

Yards Blocked/Att.

Total Attempts: 105



Sample Average



Not surprisingly for an insanely prolific college running back such as Christian McCaffrey, he smashes Yards Created’s main offering.

Before we get buried in data though, I should mention right off of the bat that Stanford’s running game is one of the most nuanced in the nation. The Cardinal offensive line does a little bit of everything in the trenches. They run unbalanced lines (with three tackles and odd formations with the tight end), they run power out of I-formation, and typical inside-zone from the shotgun. Also, at 1.36 yards blocked per rush attempt, Stanford is the second-best offensive line I have in my database and per FootballOutsiders’, Stanford had the ninth-fewest percentage of carries by running backs stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.

He definitely benefited from an incredibly “multiple” and talented offensive line, but McCaffrey should be well versed in every type of blocking scheme. That is mostly uncharted territory for college running backs.

Run Type Data











McCaffrey primarily ran the ball with the quarterback under center:


Under Center



I should note in this space that I do not use Wildcat or direct-snap formations in Yards Created samples. Just as Stanford ran a litany of base rushing plays, they also ran a fair share of Wildcat with McCaffrey as the featured back receiving the direct snap. Not only is it hard to chart direct snap plays, Wildcat formations are used sparingly in today’s NFL.

At 4.93 Yards Created per attempt on inside runs, McCaffrey is certainly one of the better interior rushers in the college ranks. For reference, the sample average Yards Created on interior running plays is 4.74 yards. As for outside rushes, it is hard to draw steadfast conclusions based on McCaffrey’s 12 off-tackle carries.

On another scale, McCaffrey impressively created virtually the same amount of yardage regardless of the formation the offense was running out of. In shotgun or pistol sets McCaffrey created a robust 5.74 yards per attempt versus 5.66 yards on carries with the quarterback under center. On average, there is usually a 0.78-yard difference in favor of runs out of the shotgun. Meaning, regardless of the college program, running out of the shotgun is usually slightly more efficient. McCaffrey is a very balanced runner compared to the field here.

Defenders in the Box

7 or fewer

8 In Box

9 or more In Box

Avg. In Box





As a result of all the different formations and sets Stanford uses in their offense, McCaffrey faced every defensive front imaginable. To be transparent, I’m still cracking the ice on this data. Still, it’s remarkable that McCaffrey posted 5.69 Yards Created per attempt while facing eight or more defenders on 64% of his carries. For a barometer, D’Onta Foreman created more yards on a per attempt basis (5.82) than McCaffrey but he primarily faced light boxes. Foreman faced eight or more opponents in the box on just 17% of carries.

Yards Blocked/Att. 7 or Fewer

Yards Created/Att. 7 or Fewer

YB/Att. 8 or More

YC/Att. 8 or More





McCaffrey ended up posting slightly more Yards Created against eight or more defenders, which may go against conventional wisdom. Keep in mind: offensive personnel dictates how defenses align. When Stanford ran their unbalanced lines with three tackles, opposing defensive coaches had to match it. At the very least, there are not any warning signs in McCaffrey’s Yards Created sample that suggests he just took advantage of weak fronts. Once again, McCaffrey’s output is very balanced in each category.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att.

MT Elusiveness/Att.

MT Speed/Att.






And here is the missed tackle data in the receiving game and on a per opportunity (attempts plus targets) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving and per opportunity)

MT Power/Tgt

MT Elusive/Tgt

MT Speed/Tgt






The slippery McCaffrey used jukes, spins and cuts to elude defenders on 60.3% of his forced missed tackles.Much like our re-occurring friend from Backyard Football, Pablo Sanchez, McCaffrey, too, is insanely hard to tackle. At 0.436 missed tackles per opportunity (rush or target), McCaffrey forced the third-most whiffed tackles in Yards Created’s history behind Tyler Ervin (0.463) and Joe Mixon (0.577).

More specifically, McCaffrey is easily one of the most elusive backs in Yards Created’s very short history. 60.3% of McCaffrey’s cumulative missed tackles in his sample came via a juke, spin, or cut (elusiveness). That is staggering.

My only real concern with McCaffrey is his speed. We have seen that McCaffrey is nothing short of a craftsman regardless of formation, run type, and defensive alignment but he does not possess the long-speed or linear explosion of some of his peers in the 2017 class. Now, that is not to say McCaffrey lacks enough speed to succeed in the NFL. At 0.10 missed tackles forced per attempt by speed, McCaffrey is just closer to average here respective of other metrics. McCaffrey is not a rough runner with explosive power and break-neck pace, but he instead dominates with short area quickness and great agility. That is still a winning formula.

Route Run Data



Yards Gained/Route










While McCaffrey excels as a runner, he tyrannized opposing defenses as a receiver. Stanford fed McCaffrey the ball in every facet of their passing game and he did not disappoint. McCaffrey’s 5.60 targets per game in college are the second-most I have in my database to-date. 

Moreover, McCaffrey was split out wide on 31.1% of his routes while at Stanford. Not only is that unprecedented for a running back, it illuminates just how versatile of a prospect McCaffrey actually is. For perspective her, the only other running back to run over 20% of his routes in college while split out versus a defensive back or linebacker was C.J. Prosise. The average collegiate running back runs just 10% of their routes split out wide.

As you could imagine, McCaffrey ran every single route imaginable, too. 73.4% of McCaffrey’s total routes were comprised of check-and-releases, flat routes, and screens, which is pretty typical. However, the Cardinal product mastered the entire route tree to perfection. The remaining quarter of McCaffrey’s passing routes were distributed equally between nine routes, angles, curls, out routes, and in routes.

As far as rushing and receiving goes, McCaffrey is a total package.

Pass Protection Execution (PPE)

Pass Pro Att.

Pass Pro Execution%



While McCaffrey ended up slightly above average in pass protection execution (PPE), there were times in McCaffrey’s sample where he barely squared up in time to meet defenders in the pocket and other moments where he flat out missed his assignment. McCaffrey only allowed three pressures/sacks, but it’s more than fair to say he still needs to improve in pass protection. Even for the most NFL-ready running backs not named Ezekiel Elliott, it’s common for collegiate prospects to struggle a bit at protecting the quarterback. At the very least, McCaffrey’s technique just needs improvement at the next level.

The Life of Pablo

NFL teams will have their pick of the litter when it comes to running backs this season. Unlike last year, there is every flavor of back on the board that offers their own unique skill-set. Christian McCaffrey is no different.

To boot, McCaffrey is the second-youngest player among all running backs in the draft. Astonishingly, McCaffrey won’t turn 21-years-old until a month after the NFL Draft. Only Joe Mixon is younger than McCaffrey in the 2017 running back class.

Ultimately, McCaffrey’s patience, field vision, and ability to create regardless of offensive scheme or defensive personnel are traits that set him apart from a list of great college backs. As a rusher, receiver, and returner, McCaffrey is naturally a tremendous playmaker. He’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to Pablo Sanchez

Post-NFL Draft Update (5/14/2017)

Now a Panther by way of the eighth overall pick, there has already been consternation over Christian McCaffrey's landing spot in Carolina.

For fantasy, there surely were a handful of other team's that, on paper, could better utilize McCaffrey's diverse skill-set. However, I am still smitten with McCaffrey's potential for two main reasons: The Panthers' willingness to invest high NFL Draft capital in him and the fact a clear change is coming within the structure of their offense in general.

We can't always expect rational coaching in the NFL, but we at least have to operate under the assumption that Carolina has a plan to alter their offense to best suit McCaffrey's playing style. Frankly, it makes sense. Cam Newton has never had a quick-twitch, ankle-cracking pass catcher that is immediately set up to dominate outside and interior linebackers ever in his career. Recently, Newton's main targets have been "big" receivers (Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess) and one speedster, Ted Ginn Jr.

Newton's recent core pass catching options do not even sniff McCaffrey's short-area quickness.

Secondly, while Newton will surely have to improve his touch in the short to intermediate areas, Christian McCaffrey should fit seamlessly in Carolina's rushing attack. Because of Newton's mobility and nuances he brings to the field as a runner, the Panthers consistently have one of the league's most diverse and "multiple" rushing games.

That's nothing new for McCaffrey.

Stanford asked Christian McCaffrey to do everything (run from shotgun, with the quarterback under center, behind unbalanced lines, behind man and zone run blocking, intricate counter concepts, plus atypical inside-and outside-zone) in his time in college. Frankly, there was not another back in the 2017 Draft Class that offered a similar understanding of running concepts as McCaffrey. Unlike most college backs, McCaffrey's learning curve as a rookie should be rather short. That's unparalleled. 

The big question mark remains Newton's short-area passing that is necessary to truly unlock McCaffrey's ceiling in fantasy football, but conceptually, this is a fantastic spot for McCaffrey as a rusher. There is a definite chance he ends up being a significantly better real-football asset than in fantasy, but there is no denying McCaffrey will add an element to the Panther attack that Cam Newton has never had before in his career. We have to forecast for that change.

Graham Barfield
Senior Analyst

Graham is a senior analyst for Fantasy Guru and works closely with statistics to produce quanitative analysis for complementary weekly content. He will be appearing before the season and during the season on The Fantasy Guru Podcast with John Hansen and Joe Dolan. Be sure to follow Graham on Twitter at @GrahamBarfield.

< class="col col-md-4 col-lg-3" >
December 31, 1969
< class="col col-md-4 col-lg-3" >
December 31, 1969