Eagles should take Christian McCaffrey in the first round | Ed Rendell
Quarterback Carson Wentz needs weapons on offense, and the Stanford running back is one of the best.
AS I PREPARED to write about the upcoming NFL draft, I knew some readers might recall my part in the "Draft Ricky Williams Movement." It got a lot of notoriety, particularly when my good friend Angelo Cataldi and the "Dirty 30" went up to New York and loudly booed the Eagles' selection of Donovan McNabb in the first round. McNabb proved all of us wrong, though, and became the most productive quarterback in Eagles history. Let the record show: Williams did not turn out to be chopped liver, either. He was a very effective NFL running back and led the league in rushing yards in 2002. And for a complete picture, the record should also show I was a strong advocate for the Eagles' taking Randy Moss in 1998.
Despite the years of ribbing I've taken from fans after the McNabb fiasco, I am fearlessly venturing into the draft morass again and advocating that the Eagles use their first-round pick this month on Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
Before you start yelling or cursing under your breath, let me explain. First and foremost, I think the Eagles would make a real mistake if they based their selections on trying become a Super Bowl contender this season. If Carson Wentz is going to be the franchise quarterback, they should draft with the idea of giving him weapons he can bond with and play alongside for the next 10-plus years. Secondly, I strong believe that your first-round pick should almost always be an instant game-changer. I realize that, in some situations, a need is so great that you pick for a position rather than go for the best game-changer on the board, such as when they needed to pick offensive tackle Lane Johnson in 2013.
Sadly, the Birds have not always done gone with a game-changer. The best example would be in 2011, when they drafted Danny Watkins in the first round. He was a guard - my gosh, a guard. No guard, no matter how good he might be, will change a team's fortune and, sadly, Watkins turned out to be better at putting out fires than putting down rushers.
So, with these principles in mind, let's take a look at how I think the Eagles should approach this year's draft. They have a ton of needs - cornerback, defensive line, linebacker and running back. Clearly, of all those positions, running back is the one that can have the greatest impact on a team's fate. If you don't believe me, think about what Ezekiel Elliott meant to the Cowboys. When that running back is also a great receiver and punt returner, his impact can be dramatic. The Birds are blessed with one of those in Darren Sproles, but this will likely be his last season, and, as good as he is, he sometimes is just too small to run north-south. Only one running back in this year's draft can do all of those things well - McCaffrey. The 6-foot, 200-pounder has a college record that is almost unbelievable (by comparison, LeSean McCoy is listed at 5-11 and 208 pounds). In three years at Stanford, he gained 3,922 yards and averaged 6.2 yards a carry. He rushed for 21 TDs. He caught 99 passes and averaged over 12 yards a catch, with 10 receptions going for TDs. And remember, McCaffrey plays in the Pac-12, and Stanford traditionally plays one of the toughest schedules in the country.
In some of his biggest games, McCaffrey was spectacular. In 2015, when I thought he deserved to win the Heisman Trophy, he gained 2,019 yards, averaged six yards a carry, rushed for eight TDs and caught five touchdown passes. He surpassed 100 yards rushing in his 11 of his 12 games that season, and exceeded 200 yards three times. Against UCLA, he carried the ball 25 times for 243 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and scored four touchdowns. In the Pac-12 championship game against USC, he ran 32 times for 207 yards, caught four passes for 105 yards and had one touchdown rushing, receiving and passing. In the Rose Bowl against Iowa, he carried 18 times for 172 yards and again had four catches for over 100 yards. Stanford won all three of those games.
In 2016, McCaffrey was limited in a few games because of an injury, yet he still broke 100 yards six times, including one 199-yard game and two 200-yard performances. His best games were against USC, rushing 31 times for 172 yards and one touchdown and caught three balls for 66 yards and one touchdown. Against Cal, he rushed 31 times for 284 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Some people say that McCaffrey is a good receiver and that while he can run wide, he is not a durable back who can run the ball between the tackles. That is simply not the case. In 25 games during his sophomore and junior years, he carried the ball 30 or more times in seven games and 25 or more times in five others. So, he is more than durable and more than capable of running between the tackles, as well as running wide.
Before the NFL Scouting Combine, the experts said McCaffrey was a late first-round draft choice. After his stellar performance at the combine, experts now think he is likely to picked in the first half of the first round. Draft guru Todd McShay actually has the Eagles picking him with the 14th pick, but Mel Kiper has him going to the Redskins at 17. Good Lord, I hope that doesn't happen. It's hard to think of playing against him twice a year for the next 10 years.
Well, that's my advice to the Birds and, of course, the old maxim is "free advice is worth what you pay for it."
But I strongly believe Wentz and McCaffrey could go down among the best tandems in NFL history. If you plan to attend the NFL draft here in Philly, it's OK to boo every pick made by the Cowboys, Giants or Redskins, but please be sure to cheer the Eagles' picks loudly!