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Christian McCaffrey climbs 5 spots in ESPN’s top-10 running back rankings

McCaffrey has been as high as No. 1. After an incredible year with the 49ers, CMC finds himself in the upper echelon of RBs once again

San Francisco 49ers Offseason Workout Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

When the 49ers traded for Christian McCaffrey, the play-caller, quarterback, and tight end each got better. In the analytics community, the value of a running back doesn’t exist. In their eyes, running backs are hardly people.

But what the internet fails to grasp is that not all running backs are created equal. If you look at statistics from the Carolina Panthers before and after the trade, your argument will be supported that you shouldn’t pay top-tier money for running backs.

But when you look at the 49ers, a team that already had weapons, drop an electric talent like CMC into their offense, you can see the results. McCaffrey proved that these debates don’t have to be “this or that.” He stepped into a loaded offense and quickly established himself as the best player.

So, it’s no surprise that McCaffrey made the top-10 list for ESPN’s running backs. He was No. 2:

2. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 8

Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: 7

After a fall into the back half of last year’s top 10 because of injury, McCaffrey returned to elite-back status in 2022.

He finished with nearly 1,900 total yards, and he averaged nearly one touchdown per game after the trade to San Francisco in October.

McCaffrey now has three seasons with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards, trailing only Marshall Faulk (four) in NFL history.

“He’s one of the most versatile offensive players in the league,” an AFC executive said of McCaffrey. “He can be used on perimeter runs, interior runs, out of the backfield, split out. He’s in tremendous shape and has size, strength and speed. Injuries have taken him off the field, but when he’s healthy, he is still a game-changer and a guy that needs to be accounted for at all times.”

McCaffrey helped me realize that it’s less about having an effective running back and more about having an effective eligible receiver. Kyle Shanahan refers to whoever can catch the ball as an “eligible.”

The 49ers leaned on McCaffrey has a pass-catcher, and that’s what put them into an unstoppable category on offense. Sometimes, he was a decoy, but most of the time it was no secret that No. 23 was getting the ball.

Now, after a full offseason to make CMC the focal point of the offense, his usage will likely skyrocket and the production will look like a video game.