So I, like probably many of you, was really scratching my head after Carolina elected to take a similar player in Curtis Samuel after using the number eight pick in the NFL Draft to select Christian McCaffery. Obviously, the current school of thought for Carolina is to give Cam Newton weapons, and versatile ones at that. Both McCaffery and Samuel provide value as rushers, pass catchers, and returners. But there’s more to it than simple “they can do this or that”. So let’s examine the fits for each of them, and why Carolina may have made the right choices.
Christian McCaffery comes from a power rushing scheme with Stanford, where he was utilized between the tackles as well as the obvious receiver roles. McCaffery as a runner reminds me a bit of Leveon Bell because he runs between the tackles with patience, and waits for holes to develop. While the offensive line isn’t a strength, thus kind of running can be beneficial as it allows the play more time to develop and allows other holes to potentially open for the running back. On top of that, McCaffery doesn’t have to be an every down back right out the gate, allowing him to put on some weight before he takes over a bell cow role.
As far as Samuel goes, it appears he will be utilized more-so in the mold of Ted Ginn, as a speedster up top of the defense and underneath as a receiver. However, the ideal utilization in the rushing game would be as the pitch man in option plays. You may recall that the Panthers tried (emphasis on TRIED) to use Jerricho Cotchery and Philly Brown on triple option plays. Neither one of them was a particularly threatening ball carrier, though they had their moments. Now Samuel brings a home run element to that play, and using McCaffery as the interior run option gives the offense two different home run threats along with the ever prevalent Cam Newton in the running game. Mike Shula’s rushing schemes in 2015 were considered some of the most complex and creative in the league, so giving him two more versatile options makes for some dangerous play calling, if utilized correctly.
Obviously, this part of the game is where both of these guys can win. However, I will speculate on how the Panthers will use them.
McCaffery, as a running back who will likely be used as the motion option out of the backfield to create mismatches. McCaffery should be used to motion outside into the slot and outside to create mismatches with linebackers and corners. As many draft analysts have stated, McCaffery would have been a 2nd or 3rd round pick as strictly a receiver. So he provides so much value as a highly versatile option who Carolina can use out of their typical two-to-one running back formations.
Curtis Samuel will be used as a different animal. Carolina should use him as more of an h-back or slot receiver in the run game, though it would also make sense for Carolina to use him out of 2 back sets in the running game. Out of that set, rushing him or McCaffery will cause problems for any defense trying to shut down power runs. However, out of h-back and slot rushes, the team can capitalize on Samuel’s speed as a perimeter rusher. Despite John Ross’s 40 yard time, Samuel was in the top three and gives a lot of burst in the running game. Ideally, you use him on sweeps and trick plays to capitalize on the issues McCaffery raises for a defense, as well as use him to spell McCaffery on downs he isn’t in.
I think that picking McCaffery and Samuel kickstarted a new era in Carolina:creative plays with high impact players. You take those players who can do so many things and put them into positions to succeed, and let them do what they do best. They thrive with the ball in their hands, whether it is as a running back or wide receiver. Give them the ball in space, let them do their work. Cam needs the weapons, and Gettleman has provided a few that can make his life easier. Don’t overthink it, Carolina. You have some nightmares at your disposal.