CHARLOTTE — It was as challenging to keep track of Christian McCaffrey’s most exciting plays in the Carolina Panthers’ NFL opener on Sunday as it is to label his hybrid skill set.
He’s a rugged inside basher, offering two touchdown runs and most of his 128 yards rushing against the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams as evidence.
Yet also an elusive pass-catcher, or how else do you snag 10 passes for 81 yards?
McCaffrey is a little guy, 5-11.
And a muscle man: 205 pounds, zero fat after an offseason body tune-up that made his arms go viral.
It’s such that McCaffrey’s biceps require their own introduction in formal settings.
The home team lost 30-27 on a sweltering afternoon at Bank of America Stadium. Win or lose Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Bucs or the rest of the season, the new Face of the Franchise makes the Panthers worth watching.
“We’ve got a lot of fighters, and that’s a good sign,” McCaffrey said in his best leadership voice. “That’s a sign of a team that’s not going to back down no matter what’s happening. So we’ve got a long season ahead of us, and we’ll learn from our mistakes.”
While doing so, the Panthers are clearly determined to help their 23-year-old Swiss Army knife become only the third NFL player to compile 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season (Roger Craig did it in 1985 and Marshall Faulk in 1999).
“Survivor: 1,000-1,000” makes for a dandy drama.
Can the kid take the 16-game pounding?
Can the Panthers find enough other options to keep opponents honest?
To prepare, McCaffrey at home in Colorado last offseason hired a chef, lifted weights, ate egg yolks, downed bison chili, went to bed early.
The Panthers hoped for a potential star when they grabbed a versatile Stanford player with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft (McCaffrey was the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up when Alabama running back Derrick Henry won and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson finished third).
Thoughts were confirmed when Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly couldn’t cover McCaffrey at training camp at Wofford College.
But this is next-level stuff. The 2019 McCaffrey is bulked up for a lead role in a gladiator movie and remains quicker than spilled coffee.
“Awesome,” coach Ron Rivera said Sunday. “He gave us an opportunity coming out of the backfield catching passes and then running the ball the way he did. He gave us an opportunity to win.”
McCaffrey plays the piano, too.
Cam on McCaffrey
Veteran NFL offensive coordinator Norv Turner is an ideal play-caller for the 1,000-1,000 cause. He knows the Rams and everyone else in the NFL are locked onto No. 22, requiring creativity.
The first McCaffrey touchdown Sunday came on an 8-yard run off a direct snap after which McCaffrey faked a handoff to quarterback Cam Newton.
The problem is, the rest of the Carolina offense: McCaffrey accounted for 209 of the team’s 343 yards of offense.
Newton, bouncing back from shoulder surgery, seemed hesitant to throw deep.
The Panthers lost the turnover battle 3-1.
The other Panthers running backs are almost anonymous (fullback Alex Armah’s 1-yard touchdown run was the only other carry by a running back).
But Newton’s health benefits immensely from McCaffrey. The 30-year-old has taken more punishment on designed runs than any other NFL quarterback. He ran only three times against the Rams.
Newton was asked what it was like to have McCaffrey carry the load.
“Great,” he said.
It’s the contribution you expect from a talent-filled family in which mom is probably the best athlete.
Lisa McCaffrey was a good soccer player at Stanford, where Ed McCaffrey was a wide receiver before going on to a long NFL career.
Christian’s older brother Max was a wide receiver at Duke and played briefly in the NFL.
One younger brother, Dylan, is a backup quarterback at Michigan. Another, Luke, is a quarterback at Nebraska.
There are other 1,000-1,000 candidates among active NFL running backs. Most notably: Alvin Kamara (Saints) and Saquon Barkley (Giants).
Good luck keeping up, guys. McCaffrey one game in is on pace to finish with 2,048 yards rushing and 1,296 yards receiving.
Of course, he can’t keep it up.
Or can he?
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.