Christian McCaffrey is back in the Bay Area, where he became a star at Stanford before leaping to even greater heights in the NFL.
It’s only right that he stepped off the airplane in Northern California wearing a Stanford hat.
The connections don’t end there. McCaffrey joins a 49ers team coached by Kyle Shanahan, son of Mike Shanahan, who coached McCaffrey’s father, Ed, with both the Denver Broncos and — you guessed it — the 49ers.
History aside, McCaffrey knows how special the pairing is between he and his new team, one that schemes up and executes the running game among the best in the modern NFL. McCaffrey said Friday that he can’t wait to become a part of it.
“I’ve obviously watched them for a long time,” McCaffrey said. “In my opinion, the best run game and one of the most explosive offenses in the league. I think you just go down the roster and you look at all the guys – I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about – just getting in the locker room, getting to meet the guys. How could you not want to play here as an offensive weapon?
“I’m extremely fired up. Obviously I have a little bit of a history with coach Shanahan. I can’t express how happy I am to be here.”
McCaffrey has plenty of reasons to be excited. When healthy, San Francisco has consistently ran the ball well thanks to Shanahan’s designs, which use traditional concepts and insert some unconventional thinking to spring runners for big gains. Since 2019, the 49ers have finished second, 15th and seventh in rushing, with much thanks due to Shanahan’s direction and an effective blocking unit that includes tackle Trent Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone better at putting guys in positions to have success and tailor into what they’re good at,” McCaffrey said of Shanahan. “For me, I’ve watched him do some unbelievable things with some great running backs and even the running backs in the room right now. I’m just excited to learn from them and hear how coach Shanahan coaches not just the running back position, but every single position on the field. It’s something you kind of hear legends about.”
Previously unknown runners like Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson and Elijah Mitchell have all found success in San Francisco’s offense in that span of time. Mostert and Breida used their accomplishments to land contracts elsewhere, while Mitchell — who led San Francisco in rushing in 2021 with 963 yards on 207 attempts — has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries.
With Mitchell out, Wilson currently leads San Francisco on the ground with 400 yards at an average of nearly five yards per carry. But none of the aforementioned runners are backs of the caliber of McCaffrey, who recorded a 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard receiving season in 2019, his last fully healthy season.
“I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do, whether it’s in the pass game, the run game, blocking,” Shanahan said of McCaffrey on Friday. “I think he’s a very talented player. Just watching how he plays, he’s a very smart player. He always gets to the right hole, is very smooth, and I’ve seen that at every level he’s played in.”
McCaffrey might not see the field right away, but this isn’t about the short term for San Francisco. After swinging and missing on most of their picks spent on running backs since 2017 (Joe Williams, Trey Sermon, and Tyrion Davis-Price), the 49ers have an unquestioned star at running back — as long as he can stay healthy.
They also have Deebo Samuel, a receiver who has proven to be an effective runner in unorthodox packages. With McCaffrey now in the fold, San Francisco has become significantly more dangerous offensively.
“It’s an honor to be compared to him, so I’m happy to share the locker room with him and I think we can do some exciting things,” McCaffrey said of Samuel.
Whether it’s Week 7 or 8, McCaffrey figures to make a significant difference in San Francisco. Once he digests Shanahan’s playbook, it will be time to get going.