This article is the first installment of a series in which I use my Observational Rushing Numbers to shed light on just how good the 2017 rookie running backs were at carrying the ball. You can find each previous article about these numbers on the series’s hub, including a January article about Todd Gurley’s 2017 resurgence.
Just 12 months ago, Christian McCaffrey was a member of the 2017 rookie class’s elite: DLF’s May 2017 ADP data had him as the third-highest player taken in the class. Given a not-so-promising blocking unit and some competition with Jonathan Stewart, smart owners entered the season without expecting a great rushing stat line in 2017. Sure enough, pessimistic projections came to fruition as he put up a pedestrian 117 rushes for 435 yards, just 3.7 yards per attempt.
Dynasty players seem to have remembered those low expectations, because they haven’t let McCaffrey’s poor 2017 ball-carrying statistics hurt his value too much — he’s still a middle-second-round startup pick per DLF’s May 2018 ADP data. The reasoning is twofold: (1) With over 600 receiving yards in the regular season, he bolstered his production with nice receiving numbers in 2017 and should do similar in the future. (2) The rushing talent is there, it’s just being masked right now by poor offensive line play — which should eventually improve. Are those premises actually correct? There’s little reason to expect a downtick in future receiving production for McCaffrey, but that question gets much trickier with the latter assumption.
I’ll be using this space to answer that question using my Observational Rushing Numbers (ORNs), tracking stats that I record to quantify and separate running back play from offensive line play. I’ve taken ORNs from the first 14 regular season games of each rookie running back with at least 75 carries (in addition to some other players from this year and last). Let’s see what the stats have to say about the Panther, in comparison to the rest of the class.
(If you’re wondering what any of these stats means in a fuller sense, check the series glossary.)
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