NFL News & Analysis

PFF News Mailbag: Christian McCaffrey's fit with 49ers, best 2022 draft pick and more

Inglewood, California, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) carries the ball against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

  • Christian McCaffrey trade: How the former Panthers running back fits with the 49ers.
  • Bad football or bad offense? Passing grades are down around the NFL as more teams are using two-high coverage shells.
  • Patriots starting QB? Signs point toward Mac Jones playing Monday night if he’s medically cleared.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

There have already been fireworks before the Nov. 1 NFL trade deadline.

NFL fans have questions about the Christian McCaffrey trade, quality of play this season and the Mac JonesBailey Zappe quarterback situation in New England, and we’re here to answer them in this week’s mailbag.


@JohnnyO129: Will the Panthers really trade Cmac?

The answer is … yes. They did.

The Carolina Panthers traded running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers. McCaffrey goes to the 49ers for a 2023 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, 2023 fourth-round pick and 2024 fifth-round pick, according to multiple reports.

Some quick takeaways:

The 49ers didn’t have a first-round pick in 2023 since they traded it away to move up to select Trey Lance in 2021. They still have two third-round picks in 2023 since they received compensatory selections for losing minority coordinators to head coaching jobs. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was hired by the New York Jets as head coach in 2021, netting San Francisco picks in 2022 and 2023. And offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was hired by the Miami Dolphins this offseason, giving the 49ers two more third-round picks in 2023 and 2024. San Francisco's next pick in the 2023 NFL Draft will now come in the fifth round. They also have sixth- and seventh-round selections.

The 49ers owe McCaffrey just $690,000 for the remainder of the 2022 season. He’s then due $12 million in 2023, $12 million in 2024 and $12.2 million in 2025. Only $1 million of his 2023 salary is guaranteed for injury.

The 49ers have already invested a ton in running backs to pull off this deal. They used a 2021 third-round pick on Trey Sermon and a 2022 third-round pick on Tyrion Davis-Price, plus a 2021 sixth-round pick on Elijah Mitchell. Sermon is no longer on the team, and Mitchell, who's currently on injured reserve with a knee ailmen, led the team in rushing last season. Davis-Price has just 14 carries for 33 yards this year playing behind Jeff Wilson. Now, obviously, McCaffrey climbs atop the 49ers’ running back depth chart.

At his peak between 2018 and 2019, which he hasn’t been able to reach since due to injuries, McCaffrey was worth 0.25 PFF wins above replacement per season. In 2020 and 2021, he averaged 0.07 PFF WAR.

The 49ers essentially gave up the equilvalent of a first-round pick using the old Jimmy Johnson valuation model for McCaffrey.

The Arizona Cardinals acquired wide receiver Marquise Brown and a third-round pick for a first-round pick during the 2022 NFL Draft, and he averaged 0.19 PFF WAR from between 2020 and 2021.

The Philadelphia Eagles acquired wide receiver A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans for first- and third-round picks. Brown averaged 0.37 PFF WAR between 2020 and 2021.

The Las Vegas Raiders traded first- and second-round picks to the Green Bay Packers for wide receiver Davante Adams, who averaged 0.72 WAR between 2020 and 2021.

The Miami Dolphins acquired wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs for first-, second- and sixth-round picks and two fourth-round picks. Hill averaged 0.46 PFF WAR between 2020 and 2021.

McCaffrey was nearly that valuable in his best seasons, but he hasn’t reached that peak for three years now. Through six games this season, he's already registered more snaps than he played in 2020 and 2021.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports that McCaffrey will “likely” play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in a red-zone package.

McCaffrey’s father, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, played under 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike Shanahan, but Christian McCaffrey has not played under a Shanahan system in his NFL career.

• McCaffrey has been more than just a running back through his NFL career. He's played 514 career snaps in the slot or split outside. Only 76 of those snaps have come in the last three years, however. He's played 28 snaps this season in the slot or split out wide. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers use McCaffrey this season and in the future. 49ers running backs have played 52 snaps in the slot or out wide this season, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel has spent 45 snaps in the backfield.

• The Panthers netted a more impressive haul than some people around the NFL believed they could get for McCaffrey. The expectation was they could get a second- or third-round pick “plus.” They wound up with second- and third-round picks “plus.”

• McCaffrey is PFF's fourth-highest-graded running back this season with an 83.3 mark. He has PFF's second-highest receiving grade among running backs and seventh-highest rushing grade. Since he was selected eighth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, he's the third-highest-graded running back behind Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry.

• The 49ers have run outside zone as their primary run concept on 40.3 percent of run plays this season. McCaffrey has averaged 3.6 yards per carry on outside zone runs in his career with a 68.8 rushing grade. He's earned a 72.7 rushing grade on outside zone runs over the last three seasons at 3.8 yards per carry.

• The Carolina Panthers now will lean on D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard at running back. They also have rookie Raheem Blackshear on their 53-man roster and Spencer Brown on the practice squad. Foreman has 12 carries for just 37 yards this season, while Hubbard has six carries for 34 yards plus one 1-yard catch.

• The biggest question surrounding the Panthers now becomes how much more they'll clean out after trading McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson. Wide receiver D.J. Moore, defensive end Brian Burns and defensive tackle Derrick Brown would draw the most interest around the NFL, but there has been skepticism that Carolina would actually trade the young nucleus that would make them appealing as a destination for a new head coach.


@BigDill_andU: Why has the play on the field gotten so bad? It's simply hard to watch on any given Sunday.

I don’t know if it’s the play in general that’s gotten so bad or if it’s just that teams aren’t passing as well as they have in recent years.

The average overall PFF passing grade is down by 12.4 percentage points from the average overall PFF passing grade from 2018 to 2021. Big-time throw rate is down 21.1 percentage points from last season. Overall passer rating is at its lowest since 2017.

The primary cause seems to be that teams are struggling to throw on split-safety coverage shells.

MOFO (middle of field open) safety position has been on the rise since 2017. And teams are having far less success throwing against coverage with the middle of the field open rather than against MOFC (middle of field closed) this season.

Season MOFO% MOFO passing grade MOFC passing grade
2022 46.5% 65.7 81.0
2021 44.4% 82.0 81.0
2020 42.6% 82.3 91.3
2019 40.4% 73.8 86.1
2018 37.6% 75.5 90.6
2017 37.8% 74.3 83.1

I will say this, though: Teams are having more success throwing against MOFO safety position over the last three weeks. Teams have a 75.1 overall passing grade throwing MOFO safety position since Week 4. Teams have a 73.2 passing grade against MOFC since Week 4.


@chaos_a_man: Which is better, a CB with most INTs or a CB with the lowest passer rating when targeted ?

I would personally go with the cornerback with the lower passer rating when targeted. The cornerback with more interceptions could also be giving up a lot of yards and touchdowns. If a defensive back has a low passer rating against, he’s probably giving up a low completion percentage, low yards per attempt and not many touchdowns. And he probably has more interceptions than touchdowns allowed.

Both passer rating allowed and interceptions can be fluky, but at least more goes into passer rating allowed. It’s a formula that includes touchdowns, yards per attempt, interceptions and completion percentage. A cornerback can be in the right place at the right time for a tipped or batted pass for an interception.

All of that is to say that I’d take PFF coverage grade over both of them.


@Stengelese52: Will this be an active trade deadline?

One source I spoke to this week expected it to be, but we’re still just under two weeks out. It takes two to tango and all of that.

Things got started early with Robbie Anderson being dealt from the Panthers to the Cardinals.


@TheBoyMrTim: Best Draft Pick from this year's class ?

There are a lot of worthy candidates. New England Patriots cornerback Jack Jones currently is the highest-graded rookie with a 90.5 mark, and he was selected in the fourth round. It’s tough to argue that he’s been the best pick through six weeks.

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (73.2 overall grade) and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen (71.7 overall grade) also have been great and have played more snaps.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London is the highest-graded offensive rookie with an 82.5 mark. New York Giants tight end Daniel Bellinger was taken in the fourth round and is PFF’s fourth-highest graded tight end, which is no small feat.


@TheOrigCatfood: Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe moving forward?

I reported Wednesday that Mac Jones had started the week around 85-to-90 percent but that it was up to the New England Patriots’ medical staff to clear him to play. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported Thursday morning that Jones expects to be available Monday night against the Chicago Bears. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported Thursday that Jones will start over Bailey Zappe when he’s healthy enough to play. And it at least sounds more likely that Jones will play this week.

That tells me it’s Jones’ job moving forward, as I’ve said all along. And if Jones doesn’t play on Monday, then that tells me the Patriots’ medical staff doesn’t believe that he’s healthy enough to start. Zappe’s impressive performance in two starts gives New England the ability to be patient with Jones.


@AJ_1878: Is Zappe now 1st choice backup over Hoyer?

I certainly believe he’s done enough over two starts to pass Brian Hoyer on the quarterback depth chart. The Patriots also don’t necessarily need to rush Hoyer back from his concussion now too, which is good.


@ashley1992__: Hi Doug, do you think the Patriots make any “surprise” trades/moves before the trade deadline?

I was talking to a source this week who said he could see the Patriots pulling off a vintage move and acquiring a player recently selected in the second round, noting they’ve done it in the past when they traded for Akeem Ayers, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Bostic, Eric Rowe and Josh Gordon.

The Patriots are 3-3 now. As my buddy Bill Barnwell over at ESPN wrote on Thursday, there’s no clear-cut third-best team in the AFC. I think it could be worth pulling off a move before the deadline to make a push, especially since the AFC East is tough this season. New England still has two games against the Buffalo Bills, two against the New York Jets and one against the Miami Dolphins.

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