Back in May when a photo of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey working out went viral on the internet, I’ll admit I was pretty impressed.

The eighth overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft has been increasingly awe-inspiring with each season he has been in Panther blue. Speaking of which, did you know “Panther blue” is actually a 50-50 mixture of UNC-Chapel Hill blue and Duke blue? That’s just a lovely piece of Tarheel State trivia.

Back to McCaffrey, the highly-touted prospect and Heisman Trophy finalist who appeared to lack “every down” NFL size when he came into the league two years ago. His 5-11, 205-pound frame and boyish face didn’t help his reputation, despite being the son of former Denver Broncos receiver “Easy Ed” McCaffrey.

Panthers players like Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton came into the league as elite specimens with the measurables to make any scout drool. McCaffrey’s 1,098 rushing yards and 867 receiving yards with 13 total touchdowns in 2018 didn’t earn him the respect that was automatically handed elite physical players like Kuechly and Newton.

McCaffrey’s fresh-faced rookie persona took a hit this summer, though, when the photo of him working out made the internet rounds. Wearing shorts and a practice sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off, it was plain to see the running back had put on significant bulk in the offseason. Pictures online are hard to trust these days, but subsequent video proved it – McCaffrey was no longer the Doogie Howser of the NFL.

Any question as to his maturation as a physical player who could play every down vanished last Sunday. McCaffrey literally played every offensive snap. His use as a workhorse is well-documented, such as 247sports.com reporting midway through last season that McCaffrey was on the field for 96.3 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps, with the next highest-used running back Ezekiel Elliot of the Dallas Cowboys playing 89 percent of offensive snaps.

Fast forward to this past Sunday when the 23-year-old McCaffrey was one of just a few bright points in the Panthers’ 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He posted over 200 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns.  

He also set a record for the modern era, becoming the first player to post 10 or more receptions and 120 or more rushing yards in two career games, according to NFL Research. He rushed 19 times for 128 yards and two scores, in addition to catching 10 passes for 81 yards. Between his averages of 6.7 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per catch, McCaffrey was generating 7.4 yards per touch. The only offensive player in the game to surpass his total was Newton with 239 passing yards.

There is an abundance of versatile running backs in the NFL today. The New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley put the league on notice last year as a rookie with 1,307 rushing yards and 721 receiving. Alvin Kamara led the NFL last year in scrimmage yards per game with 152.8, and  Elliot stepped up his receiving game with 77 catches for 567 yards to go with a league-high 1,434 rushing yards.

McCaffrey is easily in the same boat with those players, ready to thrive in a league where running backs are expected to run, catch and block. With new weapons being added to the offense each season and a dynamic Newton under center, McCaffrey has the chance to break his share of franchise records before it’s all said and done.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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