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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

How Christian McCaffrey unlocked the 49ers offense, per John Lynch

Sep 21, 2023 at 1:18 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers struggled to a .500 record in their first six games last season. Knowing that the talent was there, the team's decision-makers looked to make a move that could elevate the roster to a Super Bowl contender. That move was trading for running back Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey suited up in red and gold just two days after arriving in Santa Clara. His first start came the next week against the Los Angeles Rams. San Francisco won that game and the 11 that followed, reaching the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons.

The decision to add yet another playmaker paid off.

"We really felt like Christian, already having [WR] Deebo [Samuel], having [WR Brandon] Aiyuk, having [TE George] Kittle, having [RB] Elijah [Mitchell] in the fold, another running back, having all the weapons we had, we thought just another piece, this guy could really unlock us and just present a big time challenge," general manager John Lynch said this week in a sit-down with NBC Sports Bay Area.

"You want to double Aiyuk? Okay. Now you've got Deebo and Christian singled, and Kittle. [It becomes] kind of the pick your poison. And even though they play different positions, I think he and Deebo are fairly similar in their skill sets.

"We thought it would be a nightmare. I knew our head coach would be real creative in the way he employed them and take advantage of all his skills. You might not do that if you just had someone who's going to play them at running back. I knew Kyle [Shanahan] would play him all over the field.

"Our personnel [group] did a great job of kind of putting together tapes and saying, 'Here's what he could do for us,' and you really saw it. You could envision what he could be for us and what he could add to us."

Most figured McCaffrey would not be mentally ready in time to play the Chiefs on October 23, 2022. The plan was to limit his snaps early on as the running back acclimated to his new team and a new playbook. That wasn't McCaffrey's plan, though. He played 23 snaps in his 49ers debut. That number increased to 43 against the Rams.

"I'll never forget him showing up on a [Friday] thinking, no way he can play," Lynch admitted. "He said, 'I'm playing.' ... The way he picked that up right away, the jolt he gave to our team, and what he continues to give to our team, it's pretty special."

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