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CFB Player Bracket: Christian McCaffrey vs Baker Mayfield

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (5) during a Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against Southern California Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Two Heisman finalists face off in the quarter-finals of our bracket. McCaffrey overcame a pair of running backs in Saquon Barkley and Royce Freeman, while Mayfield beat out Pat Elfein and Mason Rudolph. The quarter-final stage represents a step up in competition, however, for this pair of FBS standouts.

To see the entire bracket and every matchup breakdown, click here

The case for Baker Mayfield

Mayfield had to be patient at Oklahoma after being ruled ineligible for his sophomore season in 2014. He seized his chance as a junior, ranking as our third overall QB. Mayfield recorded a negative passing grade in only a pair of games a season ago, finishing with a +40.0 passing mark on the year. Leading a team to the playoffs as a first-year starter is not common.

Mayfield thrived in Oklahoma’s offense, using both his arm and his legs to great effect. He managed 43 combined touchdowns, including seven on the ground. The threat Mayfield poses on the ground is only subsidiary to his threat through the air. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and the accuracy to move the chains efficiently. Mayfield connected on 60 of 93 intermediate targets (10-20 yard range) for 976 yards ten touchdowns and just two picks, showing the ability to drive the football into tight windows. He also recorded an adjusted completion percentage of 77.2, which was sixth in the nation. Decision-maker is also a positive for the Sooners’ quarterback, who consistently takes good care of the football.

The case for Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey was barely challenged for top spot in our running back rankings in 2015. His +49.1 overall grade was almost 25 percent better than his closest competitor, LSU’s Leonard Fournette. McCaffrey actually fell short of Fournette’s pure rushing grade, but made up for it with a league-leading +15.5 mark as a receiver. The combination of burst, vision and top-end speed make him an absolute nightmare to cover. Throw in the route running ability of an elite receiver, and it’s clear why McCaffrey ended the year as our top receiving running back. He finished with numbers of 45 catches for 643 yards, five touchdowns and 14 broken tackles, smashing the competition with an FBS-leading 3.2 yards per route run.

The fact McCaffrey failed to top our rushing grade rankings is testament to Fournette’s quality, rather than any indictment of the Stanford running back’s ability between the tackles. Few defenders could even make contact one on one with McCaffrey in the open field. He possesses a special ability to change direction at full speed, wasting little motion during his cuts. In addition to the aforementioned acceleration, McCaffrey shows the patience to enable creases to develop. The Cardinal is a homerun threat on every play, but also knows when to plunge ahead for a handful of yards to stay ahead of the chains. His 71 broken tackles from 337 carries does not account for the defenders who failed to get close enough to even make contact.

The Verdict: McCaffrey advances

McCaffrey reset the expectations for college running backs with his performance in 2015. Mayfield was only amongst the best quarterbacks, while McCaffrey was the undisputed top player at his position. Scarily, he could be even better next season. McCaffrey’s diverse skillset makes him impossible to matchup with. His speed-power combination is rare. He rarely goes down on first contact, but is also incredibly elusive in space. McCaffrey has a genuine chance to top this bracket.

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