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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Why Christian McCaffrey was the missing piece for the 49ers

Rohan Chakravarthi
Oct 21, 2022 at 3:00 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers made a blockbuster move, trading for Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey in exchange for a 2023 second-rounder, third-rounder, and fourth-rounder, as well as a 2024 fifth-round pick.

McCaffrey was flown out to San Francisco early Friday morning and was even seen in his new uniform, No. 23, at practice in the afternoon before speaking with reporters.

While the 49ers gave up significant draft capital, the trade was not expensive as anticipated, given McCaffrey's contract and San Francisco's draft situation.

From a football perspective though, McCaffrey was the missing piece for the 49ers.

Declining Efficiency

Earlier this week, I wrote an article on the porous efficiency that the 49ers have displayed running the football in 2022, specifically after Jimmy Garoppolo entered the picture following Trey Lance's season-ending injury.

Since the injury, the 49ers have ranked 29th in expected points added per play(EPA/play) on the ground and 26th in rushing DVOA over the entire year, proving that something needed to change.

Personnel issues have been the primary problem for the 49ers, as the loss of Elijah Mitchell and the limited skillset of Jeff Wilson Jr. made the 49ers rushing attack one-dimensional, which has caused San Francisco to rely on the passing attack in several weeks.

While Kyle Shanahan's creativity allowed for several chunk plays over the weeks, the overall efficiency with Wilson in the backfield was poor, as he doesn't possess the speed to be considered an outside-zone threat, making the 49ers' running game predictable between the tackles.

While Tevin Coleman was a recent addition to the offense and showcased potential hitting the outside zone against Carolina, his vision was questionable and the veteran made some poor decisions with his carries against Carolina.

My solution to the rushing woes was implementing a different running back into the offense, which provided more of a two-dimensional attack, at least until Mitchell returned to the fold.

With McCaffrey, those woes are solved.

McCaffrey's Impact

With Christian McCaffrey in the fold, the 49ers finally have a running back group reminiscent of their strong 2019 rushing attack, where the team reached the Super Bowl before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs?

How, do you ask?

Well, McCaffrey provides the 49ers with a threat that can hit the outside-zone, but function effectively between the tackles, similar to the two-headed punch of Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida in 2019, which led to extreme efficiency from both running backs in head coach Kyle Shanahan's scheme.

Once Elijah Mitchell returns, the 49ers will have two running backs that can operate that formula, making their rushing game less predictable and creating opportunities with the receiving ability of the former Panther tailback.

While McCaffrey has seen his fair share of injuries over the past two seasons, the running back has been healthy in all six games this season, and should see a difference in San Francisco compared to Carolina.

Over his career, McCaffrey has seen 19.64 touches per game, which is a tremendous amount of usage for a running back in today's NFL.

However, in San Francisco, the 26-year-old running back will no longer have to be the focal point in both the running and receiving game, as the 49ers have options in Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and even Kyle Juszczyk that can all carry an offense when their number is called.

Lastly, McCaffrey isn't only a solution for 2022, but his contract can keep him employed in San Francisco for the next three seasons, which means that he should be incorporated with Trey Lance next season when the young quarterback returns from injury.

McCaffrey already had success behind a struggling offensive line, predictable playcalling, and poor quarterback play when operating the zone-read this season.

Now, with all of those factors reversed, as well as the threat of a rushing quarterback, the duo should flourish in the running game, which could lead to the statistics that San Francisco posted earlier in the year, establishing themselves as an elite rushing team once again.

But, for 2022, McCaffrey provides quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a safety blanket that can evade tacklers, and gives Kyle Shanahan an opportunity to become more creative as he schemes favorable matchups for his skill-position players.

This is a good move by the 49ers, not only in the short-run, but for the future as well.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • BigAl
    Yep. We've been running alot of outside zone again this year too. This move certainly benefits Lance next year as well. CM is one of the few RBs in the league who makes everybody better and Im not sure anybody stresses a Defense like he does
    Oct 22, 2022 at 10:31 AM


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