INDIANAPOLIS – Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey’s connections to the Packers are both direct and tangential.
However they’re classified, they’ll have virtually no impact on whether or not Green Bay selects the all-everything offensive weapon in April’s NFL Draft, but they’re fun to kick around anyway.
First and foremost, his older brother Max is a receiver on Green Bay’s current roster. A rookie last season out of Duke, Max McCaffrey joined the Packers’ practice squad in December and was elevated to the 53-man roster the day before the NFC title game in Atlanta due to Green Bay’s injuries at wide receiver, though he was a gameday inactive.
While Max went undrafted a year ago and originally signed with the Raiders as a rookie free agent, Christian is considered among the top four running backs in the 2017 draft class and could go in the first round.
The former Heisman Trophy runner-up obviously is the more highly regarded prospect from a football family – McCaffrey’s father, Ed, played a decade as an NFL receiver for three different teams – but growing up and competing with a talented older brother definitely had an impact.
“Max is my best friend in the whole world,” McCaffrey said on Thursday at the scouting combine in Indy, as the running back prospects met with the media. “Growing up, we were very competitive with each other. We were constantly playing one-on-one basketball or playing football, tearing up the yard, doing everything together pretty much.
“All his best friends were my best friends, and even still today, we go at it a little bit. He’s been an amazing influence in my life.”
Going back even further, one of McCaffrey’s first moments on a football field involved the Packers, too. There’s a Sports Illustrated photograph in the McCaffrey house of a 19-month-old Christian amidst the confetti falling at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego after his dad, then a Broncos receiver, helped Denver beat Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII.
“I had a little blond afro, and I was running on the field in my dad’s jersey,” he said. “It looked like a dress and all that was falling down. I remember the picture but I was too little to remember it.”
Closer to the present, McCaffrey also played one season at Stanford with Packers running back Ty Montgomery, who is developing into a similar do-it-all weapon in Green Bay’s offense following his transition from wide receiver in 2016.
As a dynamic playmaker who scored touchdowns in college four different ways (rushing, receiving, punt and kickoff return) and racked up more than 6,000 all-purpose yards over the last two years, McCaffrey never doubted Montgomery could succeed when he heard about the move.
“I wasn’t even shocked,” he said. “I could see that coming. He’s a heck of a player. He can play receiver, play running back. He can do it all. When that happened, I was excited for him.”
Many Packers fans are excited about the prospect of McCaffrey being available when Green Bay is on the clock with the 29th overall pick in the first round of the draft, but there’s no telling the level of the Packers’ interest at this point.
In one order or another, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are considered the top two running backs in the draft, with McCaffrey and Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara the next two.
The thought that all four could be picked in the first round would have been unheard of just a few years ago. No running backs were taken in the first round in either 2013 or 2014, but then the Rams (Todd Gurley at No. 10) and Chargers (Melvin Gordon at No. 15) both grabbed a first-round back in 2015, and the Cowboys placed a whole new value on the position by using the fourth overall pick in Ezekiel Elliott last year.
“It’s changing the game for the running backs,” said Fournette, who actually began his final college season at Lambeau Field, of all places, as LSU took on Wisconsin. It was an experience he called “different” with an “interesting” atmosphere.
“When (Elliott) and Todd Gurley came out, they did a great job preparing us running backs nowadays to get a chance to be picked in the first round.”
Elliott went on to lead the league in rushing as a rookie by a wide margin and was in the league MVP conversation.
“It shows that anybody can step up and be an immediate force on the football field, even as a rookie,” McCaffrey said.
He believes he can be a high-impact player right away as well. One can only imagine what a coach with a creative offensive mind might draw up for a weapon like McCaffrey.
“I don’t think there’s anybody else that can do all the things I can as far as run between the tackles, outside, pass protect, play X, Z, slot, do a bunch of stuff in the return game as well,” he said. “I think that’s what sets me apart.
“Anytime I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous.”