Thursday night came with some NFL news that caught the nation’s attention: the San Francisco 49ers pulled off a stunner, trading four 2023 draft picks in exchange for one of the league’s best running backs, Christian McCaffrey.
At the time of this writing, it is unclear whether the 26-year-old star will suit up against the Kansas City Chiefs in their Week 7 game on Sunday — though rumblings have indicated he will be available for at least a handful of plays.
New #49ers RB Christian McCaffrey, who has already spoken to coach Kyle Shanahan and team brass, travels tomorrow to his new home. If he plays Sunday, which he likely will do, expect a red zone package. Then he'll ramp up from there.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 21, 2022
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid believes the defense will see McCaffrey, and he expects defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit to be ready for it. Reid noted that this situation is different from a player who signed mid-year after being out. McCaffrey played in the first six games of the season for the Carolina Panthers.
“We know he’s a talented guy, and I’m sure they’ll work him in,” said Reid in his final presser of the week Friday. “We’re expecting that, but you prepare for what he does well, and Kyle will use him in what he does well, I’m sure.”
Speaking to reporters in the locker room, rookie defensive end George Karlaftis said he’s just another piece to the puzzle in an already-tricky 49ers offense to defend.
“They’re very versatile,” said Karlaftis. “They have guys that can do everything. Deebo [Samuel] plays running back. He plays receiver. Their tight end (George Kittle) can do it all. They got a fullback (Kyle Juszczyk) that can be a running back, who could be a tight end, so they’re very versatile in what they do... [McCaffrey] just brings another element to their offense... He got traded [Thursday night], so I don’t know how much he’ll be playing, but I think we’ll be ready for it.”
The last time the Chiefs saw McCaffrey was 2020, as Kansas City hosted the Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium.
McCaffrey exploded for 151 yards of total offense — 18 carries for 69 yards and a rushing touchdown, as well as 10 catches for 82 yards and a receiving touchdown. McCaffrey’s rushing touchdown cut the score to 33-31 with less than two minutes to play, but the Panthers missed a 67-yard field goal as time expired to lose the game.
Seven members of the Chiefs current defense had snaps in that game, including defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, who registered five tackles.
“He was used kind of like how [Juszczyk] is used,” remembered Nnadi, who stopped McCaffrey twice. “They use him for anything, whether you want to run the ball, go out for routes, anything. A swiss army knife.”
The near-win against the Chiefs marked McCaffrey’s final game of the season, as he suffered a shoulder injury. He would then play only seven games in 2021 due to hamstring and ankle injuries.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is cognizant of McCaffrey’s injury history, but in 2022, through six games, he has remained healthy.
“I know that’s a concern, but I have injury concerns about every single player on our team,” said Shanahan. “And it happens, and that’s really the riskiest part of our sport. If I always thought that with every player, I think I’d be frozen and never be able to make a decision. So that is the toughest thing about our deal, and that’s why you can never get too high or too low, whatever your team’s situation is, whatever you think your team is. That’s changing every single day, and you’ve got to be able to adjust to that.”
When asked about their reaction to hearing of the trade and new member of this week’s opposition, both Karlaftis and Nnadi appeared unfazed.
“I can’t speak for everyone else, but me personally, I wasn’t really worried,” began Nnadi, “because shoot, this is almost the day before the game. And I feel like how everything goes, there’s all these types of things that has to get done from physicals, he has to get used to the system. So if he does play, cool. If he doesn’t, that’s expected. I’m still going to focus on my gameplan.”
McCaffrey told reporters Friday he would learn “as much as humanely possible” in the next 48 hours.
#49ers Christian McCaffrey says it will be coaching decision if he plays Sunday but “you can process a lot in two days” and will learn as much as “humanely possible” to get ready to play pic.twitter.com/rMKYOZhxCl— Cam Inman (@CamInman) October 21, 2022
As far as 2022 goes, McCaffrey currently sits fourth in the league with 670 yards from scrimmage, an impressive feat, even for him, simply considering he spent the beginning of the season on a 1-5 club.
But whether it’s five plays, 10 plays or 50 plays, the Chiefs sound as though they will be prepared for what he brings to the table.
“He’s a really great running back who will get the job done — whatever the offensive coordinator on the team needs,” added Nnadi. “Me personally, for what I have to do with my job, it kind of is the same in terms of gap integrity, things I have to do. With him, he’s a very patient back and he’s an instinctive back.
“Whatever gap he wants to go through, he’s going to do his best to go through, but my job, I’m there to make sure that don’t happen.”