The Carolina Panthers spoke all offseason about redesigning their offense to help out Cam Newton, but that transformation didn’t happen in earnest until they drafted Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 overall pick in the recent NFL draft. The do-it-all McCaffrey, a Heisman Trophy finalist at Stanford, could be the playmaker the team has lacked for years outside of Newton.
McCaffrey spoke with Shutdown Corner for a few minutes by phone on Thursday, and though he chose not to talk about his most fascinating pre-draft decision — opting not to play in the Cardinal’s bowl game or conducting private workouts with NFL teams — which could open the floodgates for others to follow suit down the road. But McCaffrey did say he was looking forward to the high expectations already being beset on him after his lofty draft status and playing alongside one of the NFL’s biggest star quarterbacks.
“For now, I am just training, trying to get ready for OTAs and learn this playbook,” McCaffrey said. “It’s exciting but nerve-wracking again, and I can’t wait to really get started.”
McCaffrey, who is promoting New Era gear, spoke about his draft experience, his first interactions with Newton, what position McCaffrey will play in the NFL, playing classical piano and listening to Drake, and his memories of watching his father, Ed McCaffrey, play for the Denver Broncos. Mostly, though, Christian McCaffrey just remembers having contests with his brothers in the Broncos locker room.
Shutdown Corner: Was the draft stressful for you at all? Not just the process but especially those final few hours before you were picked.
McCaffrey: The whole experience is a grind, but it’s a lot of fun. You get close with a lot of people. It’s constantly moving. You have the combine and then the pro day, and you still have to work out and train in between.
But then the draft itself, that night, it’s very stressful. You just don’t know. Once you get that call, it’s a big weight off your shoulders. I think for me, it was extremely exciting to know exactly where I’ll be playing. Now I can get back to playing football.
SDC: You said at the combine you felt “disrespected” compared to other backs in the draft class. Then you were the eighth overall pick — do you still feel that way?
McCaffrey: I just feel like I always have a chip on my shoulder. No matter what. It doesn’t matter what people say. I don’t think too much about it. I just think that’s the best way to play, when you talk to a lot of great athletes. They always feel like they have something to prove, and that’s the way I try to play.
SDC: What has your interaction with Cam Newton been like so far?
McCaffrey: A little bit, yeah. We’ve had the chance to talk just a little. He’s a great guy. He’s very energetic and a great teammate and I just can’t wait to play next to him.
SDC: It’s his birthday today. What did you get him?
McCaffrey: I don’t know yet. [laughs] I might need some help on that. I don’t know that there’s anything I could get him that he doesn’t already have.
SDC: Speaking of birthdays, your 21st is in a few weeks — right smack dab in the middle of OTAs, if I am correct. Any plans for the big night?
McCaffrey: Oh, no. I haven’t even thought about it, really. I’ll probably be working out or something, just because it’s in the middle of team stuff. Man, I don’t know what I’ll be doing.
SDC: How much of a role do you think your coach Lance Taylor, who was on the Stanford coaching staff before joining the Panthers in February, played in helping you land in Carolina?
McCaffrey: Oh, I think a big role. I spent a lot of time with him. We came into Stanford together at the same time [in 2014], and we ended up leaving together. He was with me just about every single day and to go through what I did with him by my side, we went through a lot. We saw some good games and we saw some bad games.
He was an unbelievable coach to me, and we had such a great relationship. I am not certain how much of a role he played [in getting him drafted there], but I know he always has my back. I really appreciate that.
SDC: A touchdown is a touchdown, but you were involved with five different types of scoring plays — rushing, receiving, passing, kick return and punt return — at Stanford. Does any one feel better than another?
McCaffrey: If you get in the end zone, it’s a great feeling. I don’t care if you’re running, catching it … no matter how you get in it’s great. A [kick or punt return] might be the hardest way, but they all count the same. I can’t honestly say I like one more than another.
SDC: I am guessing you might not be throwing any TD passes anytime soon with Cam there.
McCaffrey: Hey, man, you never know. Maybe I’ll throw one to him!
SDC: Speaking of which, has Coach Ron Rivera or any one else indicated what your role might be on special teams or offense? Are you being asked to learn multiple positions?
McCaffrey: I am going in as a running back. That’s my position. That’s what I have been told. So I’ll go in and do all that stuff that comes with that. Hopefully, I get split out a little bit. The biggest emphasis for me will be to work as hard as I can and learn [Mike Shula’s] playbook and watch the older guys do their craft. I want to pick their brains on stuff so that when I do get out on the field, I can play fast. That’s the biggest thing I need to do.
SDC: You’ll be a returner too, we assume.
McCaffrey: I believe so, yes.
SDC: Any fun Cal-Stanford jabs from Coach Rivera yet? He’s a Cal grad, as you know.
McCaffrey: No, we talked about it a little bit. [laughs] Nothing but respect for him, of course.
SDC: You now have two connections to “The Play” — your new head coach and your dad’s quarterback, John Elway. They were both on the field the day the band came on the field.
McCaffrey: I know, I thought about that after I was drafted. It’s funny how things like that work out.
SDC: You were about 7 years old when your dad’s career came to an end. Do you have any solid memories of him playing?
McCaffrey: Not a whole lot. Toward the end of his career, I remember being in the stands and just yelling his name, but that’s about all I can remember. I was born in 1996, and he retired [before the] 2004 season, so I don’t recall a lot clearly. But I see clips from the time all the time.
I do remember being in the locker room. Those guys treated us, my brothers and me, so well. I used to play Power Rangers with Shannon Sharpe. I had competitions with who could go in the ice tubs the longest with my brothers. I remember that stuff more than I do the actual games.
SDC: Who won the ice tub challenges?
McCaffrey: [laughs] I can’t remember that. I think we split the all-time series.
SDC: Give Michigan fans a little scouting report of what they’re getting in your younger brother, Dylan, a very talented quarterback.
McCaffrey: Oh man, Dylan is a heck of a player. He’s got all the physical ability a quarterback needs. He’s 6-5, 200-plus [pounds]. He’s going to run real well, too. But I think the biggest thing for him is that he’s a great leader and a great kid. I am so proud of him, watching him grow — literally and metaphorically.
It has been a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what he becomes. I know Michigan is going to get a hard worker. They’re going to have a lot of success with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh, and [Dylan] is going to work his butt off for him.
SDC: He’s got your Dad’s height gene, eh?
McCaffrey: Yeah, I am jealous. [laughs]
SDC: Little rapid fire here … Best class you took at Stanford?
McCaffrey: I took a public speaking class in college that I really liked. They take you out of your comfort zone for sure. But I did alright. I learned a lot in that class. Funny story: My Mom was a TA for that class when she was there, and my Dad took the class because she was a TA, so … that’s how they met.
SDC: What kind of car do you drive?
McCaffrey: I drive a Jeep. A Jeep and a BMW, too.
SDC: OK, I am a music guy, so I have to ask you about your talents. Do you have a favorite song to play?
McCaffrey: Man, there’s a lot. One of my good friends, Michael Mann, he was [my brother Max’s] roommate at Duke, and he was our next door neighbor. We played “Canon [in D Major]” by [Johann] Pachelbel — we kind of freestyled it a little bit, but that was probably my favorite to play.
SDC: Freestyling Pachelbel, eh? Fancy. OK, best concert you’ve seen?
McCaffrey: Oh man, it would probably Zac Brown Band. I also saw Chance The Rapper and Drake, so those would probably be the top ones.
SDC: Who would you most want to play music with on stage?
McCaffrey: I don’t know if I am ready for all that. [laughs] There are so many different songs, so many different genres. I think I would probably pick those guys I mentioned, Zac Brown, Drake or Chance The Rapper.
SDC: You must have a hidden talent we don’t know about. You seem like a Renaissance Man.
McCaffrey: I don’t have a whole lot of other hidden talents. I love to fish. I am a big “Call Of Duty” guy, and I am pretty good. So that might be my hidden talent right there.
SDC: Your family might be one of the most athletic families in the history of, well, families. What sport is the McCaffrey clan not good at? There has to be one.
McCaffrey: There are some of us who are not very good at some stuff, but out of sheer competitiveness, I am not going to answer that. [laughs] That’s just the competitive household we live in. If someone says we are bad at something, we’ll go get good at it.
SDC: OK, last one … back to football. Week 1 — Panthers at 49ers is also McCaffrey at Solomon Thomas, your teammate who was the third overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers. And the game will be 13 miles from where you played college ball. Pretty wild, eh?
McCaffrey: It’s crazy to think about how it’s happening like this. I went up against the guy every day in college in practice, and he was a beast to face. He’s one of my best friends in the whole world. He was my roommate. So proud and happy for him. It will be a lot of fun going up and playing against him. We both love competing. It’s going to be pretty cool to be able to line up against a guy like that.
SDC: Guessing there will be a family gathering at Levi’s Stadium and just a lot of familiar faces in the crowd that day.
McCaffrey: Oh yeah. It’s going to be a lot of fun that day.
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