The Carolina Panthers did the safe, predictable and ultimately smart move. With their first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, No. 8 overall, they selected running back (and all-around offensive dynamo) Christian McCaffrey. Cam Newton should be very happy.
The Panthers have in recent years defined themselves by a run-centric offense. Featuring the mobile Newton with a mix of running backs (primarily Jonathan Stewart and, until 2014, DeAngelo Williams), the team's rushing yards and attempts were among the most in the league. Indeed, that trend continued in 2016, with Carolina ranked in the top 10 in both categories. But those numbers mask the story of the Panthers' rushing crisis.
The departure of Williams was one factor; he was never satisfactorily replaced. The other was the team's ever-increasing reliance on Newton's legs: The QB had eclipsed 500 rushing yards five times in six seasons and 700 twice. But Newton is the face of the franchise, the man who put the entirety of the Panthers on his back to take his team to the brink of a Super Bowl championship -- and who is earning more than $20 million in 2017.
Newton was Carolina's second-leading rusher behind Stewart last year, with 90 counted carries for 359 yards and five scores. While not all of that was by design -- and never will be -- it's also not a sound football strategy, no matter Newton's physical gifts. He's already suffered rib fractures, an ankle procedure and a concussion.
As we all know, McCaffrey is not guaranteed to be a slam-dunk draftee, but his selection has exceptional upside. The 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist from Stanford had 632 carries over three years, for 3,922 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns, while also catching 99 passes for 1,206 yards and 10 scores. A prolific punt and kick returner who broke Barry Sanders' single-season FBS all-purpose yardage record, McCaffrey is versatile on top of being just dynamic. These are two important buzzwords for the Panthers, who are also trying to fill the shoes of free agent loss and jack-of-all-trades Ted Ginn Jr.
Catching, running, taking rushing snaps away from Newton and returning are all things the Panthers required. Getting all four from one player makes McCaffrey's selection both one of the best-player-available variety, as well as one that meets glaring needs. Newton can breathe a sigh of relief.