Christian McCaffrey is one of the best running backs in the league – this we already knew. I mean, we’re talking about someone who had 6,191 all-purpose yards in his final two seasons with the Stanford Cardinal before being selected by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He had an impressive rookie season with 435 rushing yards, 80 catches for 651 receiving yards, and 7 total TDs, but that was just the beginning. In 2018 and 2019, he emerged as an All-Pro running back with 2,485 rushing yards, 223 receptions, 1,872 receiving yards, and 32 total touchdowns in 32 games played.
Unfortunately, 2020 and 2021 had different plans for the young back. After playing in 48 straight games for the Panthers between 2017 and 2019, he would only play in 10 of their next 33 games due to two ankle sprains, a shoulder injury, and a hamstring injury. Many people wondered if his career was over.
The NFL is Better When Christian McCaffrey is Healthy
Christian McCaffrey proved the doubters wrong with quite the comeback in 2022. He had 393 rushing yards, 33 catches, 277 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns through the first six games of the season before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers – a move that has changed his career for the better.
McCaffrey finished the 2022 season with 1,139 rushing yards, 85 catches, 741 receiving yards, and 13 total touchdowns in 17 games. He appeared in every game for the first time since 2019 and even played in all three of the 49ers’ playoff games – where he totaled 299 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns.
He’s back at it again in 2023 – opening the season with 152 rushing yards, 3 catches, 17 receiving yards, and one touchdown in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With his impressive 65-yard rushing TD to start the second half, McCaffrey now has a touchdown in 10 consecutive games (including the playoffs).
He’ll look to continue that touchdown streak next week against the Rams, but before then – let’s take a look back at how he got here.
1. 33-17 Win vs. Dolphins (December 4, 2022)
On December 4, 2022, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Miami Dolphins 33-17 to improve their record to 8-4 on the season. It was Christian McCaffrey’s sixth game since being traded to the 49ers and he finished with 17 carries for 66 yards, 8 catches for 80 yards, and one receiving touchdown in the win.
His lone touchdown came with just four seconds left in the second quarter and gave his team a 17-10 lead heading into halftime. CMC lined up on the left side and started running towards the left pylon, but quickly cut back with enough space to catch a sizzling pass from Brock Purdy for a 3-yard touchdown.
He had a tough time finding holes in the run game with 48 of her 66 yards coming off two runs – an 18-yard rush that led to his TD late in the first half and a 30-yard rush that helped seal the team’s win in the final quarter. He did most of his damage as a receiver with a team-high 8 catches and10 targets.
It marked the 19th time in his career that he had at least 10 targets in a game, the 20th time he had at least eight catches, the 14th time he had at least 80 receiving yards, and the 19th time he had a receiving touchdown in a game – not bad for a running back, am I right? That’s what we like to call the CMC factor.
2. 35-7 Win vs. Buccaneers (December 11, 2022)
On December 11, 2022, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 to improve their record to 9-4-0 on the season. It was Christian McCaffrey’s seventh game since joining the 49ers and he had 14 carries for 119 yards, one rushing TD, 2 receptions for 34 yards, and one receiving TD.
His first touchdown of the game came with 4:79 left in the second quarter and gave his team a 21-0 lead with plenty of time left. CMC lined up as a receiver along the left sideline and danced his way around the defender for separation as he ran toward the left pylon. Purdy threw a perfect pass for a 27-yard TD.
His second touchdown of the game came with 14:01 left in the third quarter and gave his team a 35-0 lead following a Tom Brady interception. It was a two-play drive that saw CMC squeeze through a hole by the left guard before outrunning the rest of the defense to the right pylon for a 38-yard rushing TD.
It marked the 13th time CMC rushed for at least 100 yards in a game, the third-highest yards/attempt average (8.50) in his career (minimum of 10 attempts), the 11th time he had both a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game, and the 19th time he had at least 150 total yards from the scrimmage.
3. 21-13 Win vs. Seahawks (December 15, 2022)
On December 15, 2022, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 to improve their record to 10-4-0 on the season. It was Christian McCaffrey’s eighth game since the Panthers dealt him and he finished with 26 carries for 108 yards, one rushing TD, and six catches for 30 receiving yards.
His lone TD came with just 47 seconds left in the first half and helped give his team a 14-3 lead heading into halftime. The 49ers needed just six yards at the start of the drive after a forced fumble and recovery by the defense. CMC had a five-yard gain before punching it in up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown run.
Earlier in the game, CMC had a monster drive that saw him rush five times for 32 yards and bring down two catches for 18 yards – totaling 50 yards on a drive that ended with a 28-yard TD to George Kittle from Brock Purdy. He also had a 25-yard drive (five rushes) in the fourth quarter to help eat some clock.
It was the 14th time he rushed for at least 100 yards in a game and ninth time both rushing for 100 yards and scoring a rushing touchdown. He had 8 targets in the game and brought down six of them (five of which came in the first quarter), but only had 30 receiving yards as he struggled to turn them into gains.
4. 37-20 Win vs. Commanders (December 24, 2022)
On December 24, 2022 (Christmas Eve), the San Francisco 49ers beat the Washington Commanders 37-20 to improve their record to 11-4-0 on the season. It was Christian McCaffrey’s ninth game with the 49ers and he finished with 15 carries for 46 yards, one rushing touchdown, and 2 catches for 12 yards.
His lone touchdown came with just 2:13 left in the fourth quarter and helped give his team a late 37-20 lead. It capped off an eight-play drive, but CMC only saw two carries in the drive. He ran it up the middle for eight yards and punched it in with a 1-yard TD run following a 10-yard redzone catch by George Kittle.
McCaffrey had a tough go in this game. His longest run was for 9 yards (which is unlike CMC) and he only had two catches on two targets in the game – both were 6-yard catches. His teammate, Ray-Ray McCloud, had an early 71-yard rushing TD – which was more yards than CMC had the whole game.
It marked McCaffrey’s ninth-lowest rushing yards in a single game (minimum 10 rushing attempts) and sixth-lowest yards/attempt average in a single game (min. 10 attempts). He has only had two or fewer targets in six games in his career (this being one) and just the 11th time he had two or fewer catches.
5. 37-34 Win vs. Raiders (January 1, 2023)
On January 1, 2023 (New Year’s Day), the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 37-34 to improve their record to 12-4-0 on the season. It was Christian McCaffrey’s 10th game in a 49ers’ uniform and he finished with 19 carries for 121 yards, one rushing TD, and 6 catches for 72 yards in the victory.
His lone TD came with 5:22 left in the third quarter and helped cut the 49ers’ deficit down to a field goal – they trailed the Raiders 21-24 at the time after three quarters. With 14 yards to go, CMC ran it up the right end and got some quality blocking from his fullback, who gave him a hole to pile through for a rushing TD.
McCaffrey had several big plays in this game, including 60 yards on the 49ers’ first drive of the game – which featured a 37-yard rush that ended just three yards short of a touchdown. He also had a 38-yard reception late in the fourth quarter, which led to a 14-yard rushing TD by Jordan Mason on the next play.
It marked the sixth time McCaffrey finished with at least 190 scrimmage yards in a game, the seventh time he had at least 120 rushing yards in a game, the 19th time he had at least 70 receiving yards in a game, and the 11th-highest yards/attempt average (6.37) of his career (minimum 10 rushing attempts).
6. 38-13 Win vs. Cardinals (January 8, 2023)
On January 8, 2023, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 38-13 to finish the regular season 13-4-0. It was Christian McCaffrey’s 11th game since joining the 49ers and he finished with just 10 carries for 45 yards, 3 catches for 34 yards, and one receiving touchdown in the regular season finale.
His lone touchdown came with 10:40 left in the first quarter – nearly four minutes into the game – and gave his team an early 7-6 lead. CMC lines up to the right of Brock Purdy and initially acts as a blocker before finding open space to his right, where he caught the ball and tumbled his way to a 21-yard TD.
McCaffrey wasn’t used a lot in this game, but they didn’t really need it. He played a big role (21 yards off five rushes and one catch) in the final drive of the half, which set George Kittle up for a 4-yard TD. He also had a 19-yard rush two minutes into the second half – which set up a rushing TD by Elijah Mitchell.
He ended up finishing the 2022-23 regular season (including his time with the Panthers) with 244 carries for 1,139 rushing yards (4.7 yards/attempt), eight rushing touchdowns, 85 receptions for 741 yards (108 targets), and five receiving touchdowns. He came in second in the Comeback Player of the Year award.
7. 41-23 Playoff Win vs. Seahawks (January 14, 2023)
On January 14, 2023 (Wild Card round), the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 to advance to the Divisional Round. It was his first playoff game since being traded and the second playoff game of his career. He had 15 carries for 119 yards, 2 catches for 17 yards, and one receiving TD.
His lone touchdown came with just over five minutes left in the first quarter and helped give his team an early 10-0 lead. McCaffrey lined up to the left of Brock Purdy, who faked the handoff to CMC and avoided a sack before finding an open CMC to his right. He waltzed his way into the endzone for a 3-yard TD.
The touchdown capped off quite a drive for McCaffrey. The 49ers started at their own 15-yard line, but that didn’t last long as CMC busted out a 68-yard run that brought them to Seattle’s 17-yard line. He also had 18 yards on six carries in their first drive of the second half, which ended with a Purdy rushing TD.
It was the exact opposite of how he performed in the first playoff game of his career – which came on January 7, 2018 against the New Orleans Saints (he was with the Panthers). While he only had 16 yards off 6 carries in that game, he finished with 6 catches (8 targets) for 101 yards and one touchdown.
8. 19-12 Playoff Win vs. Cowboys (January 22, 2023)
On January 22, 2023 (Divisional Round), the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 19-12 to advance to the NFC Championship. It was his second playoff game with the 49ers and third playoff game in his career. He finished with 10 carries for 35 yards, one rushing touchdown, and 6 catches for 22 yards.
His lone touchdown came just two seconds into the fourth quarter and helped give his team a 16-9 lead late in the game. CMC capped off a six-minute drive with a 2-yard rushing TD on the first play of the final quarter, giving him a total of 30 yards (4 rushes, 1 catch) on that drive. The game was no longer tied.
CMC wasn’t used a lot in this game and was struggling to turn his touches into large gains – which he normally does well. He had just 10 carries, but only averaged 3.5 yards per attempt and had eight targets, but only averaged 2.75 yards per target. He did, however, get the first playoff rushing TD of his career.
In fact, the 49ers utilized Elijah Mitchell more than CMC in the run game – Mitchell had 51 yards on 14 carries. And, while CMC had more targets than anyone else on the team, George Kittle (5 catches for 95 yards) and Deebo Samuel (4 catches for 45 yards) were able to do more with the targets they received.
9. 7-31 Playoff Loss vs. Eagles (January 29, 2023)
On January 29, 2023 (NFC Championship), the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 7-31 – missing out on a Super Bowl berth and officially ending their season. It was the third playoff game with the 49ers and he finished with 15 carries for 84 yards, one rushing TD, and 4 catches for 22 yards.
His lone touchdown came with 8:29 left in the second quarter and helped tie the game up at 7-7 with plenty of time left. CMC was handed the ball to the right and broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage before breaking two more tackles simultaneously – giving him an open road to a 23-yard rushing TD.
He put the team on his back for that drive. Brock Purdy had gotten injured and the 49ers were forced to roll with Josh Johnson – their fourth-string QB. The drive started at the Eagles’ 46-yard line and CMC had 44 yards off two carries and two catches. Unfortunately, the 49ers weren’t able to keep up with Philly.
The Eagles took over and held a 21-7 lead by halftime before scoring 10 more points in the second half – they scored a total of 24 unanswered points to end the game. Still, that touchdown by CMC was a beast of a run and meant he had scored at least one touchdown in the first four playoff games of his career.
10. 30-7 Win vs. Steelers (September 10, 2023)
On September 10, 2023, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-7 in their season opener to begin the year 1-0-0. It was the beginning of Christian McCaffrey’s first full season with the team and he finished with 22 carries for 152 yards, one rushing touchdown, and 3 catches for 17 yards.
His lone touchdown ended up being one of the best plays of Week 1. It came just 58 seconds into the second half and helped give his team a commanding 27-7 lead. He was handed the ball and found a hole by the right tackle before spinning off one of his own players and running it in for a 65-yard rushing TD.
He wasn’t featured as much as you’d like in the passing game, but they didn’t need it – Brandon Aiyuk had that covered with 8 catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns. CMC did, however, average 6.91 yards per rush attempt and finished with the fourth-most rushing yards (152) in a game in his career.
CMC ended up leading all running backs in rushing yards in Week 1 and extended his touchdown streak to 10 games – something only a handful of players have ever done in their career. He has now scored a touchdown in 13 of his 15 games since being traded to the 49ers and is showing no signs of stopping.
What’s Next for Christian McCaffrey and the San Francisco 49ers?
With Week 1 in the books, Christian McCaffrey and the San Francisco 49ers (1-0) will be traveling to LA to take on the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday (September 17). He had 94 rushing yards, 8 catches, 55 receiving yards, and three total TDs (passing, rushing, and receiving) against the Rams last season.
Moving forward, Christian McCaffrey is primed for another impressive season – so long as he can stay healthy. The 49ers are one of the few teams that know how to get the most out of their skilled players and when you combine that with CMC’s talent, there isn’t much an opposing defense can do to contain him.
With that said, a healthy Christian McCaffrey can easily go off for 1,100+ rushing yards, 80+ receptions, 700+ receiving yards, and 12+ touchdowns this season (and that’s low-end production for him). His ability to find the right hole – and his offensive line’s ability to create holes – will have him feasting all year long.
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