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Comparing Christian McCaffrey with Marshall Faulk

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The Carolina Panthers RB is off to an historic start but “peak Faulk” is still another level away

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft recently had a running back prospect coming into the league who was said to be so good that he’d be the exception to any thought that you shouldn’t take a running back near the very top of the draft. One draft writer called him “the closest thing to Marshall Faulk I’ve ever seen.” An indication that the NFL agreed: this prospect was the third back taken second overall since Faulk in 1994.

And while Saquon Barkley has been mostly outstanding given the deficiencies in personnel around him with the New York Giants, he is not Marshall Faulk.

That “next Faulk” distinction has instead moved over to the shoulders of Christian McCaffrey, yet another “well this is the exception” back who went seventh overall to the Carolina Panthers in 2017, a year before Barkley. In McCaffrey’s case, his numbers through three seasons do start to reflect that of a unique back who could provide rushing and receiving ability that 99% of his peers can’t pull off.

A trait seen by few other backs in history, with Faulk being one of those few.

As Peter King noted on Monday, these are some career numbers for Faulk and McCaffrey:

In all games—regular season and postseason—here are the rushing/receiving yards per game of a transcendent Hall of Famer and a player who could be on his way to that status:

• Marshall Faulk (118 games): 107.8 scrimmage yards per game.

Christian McCaffrey (49 games): 113.5 scrimmage yards per game.

One thing I have not yet figured out is where King is getting 118 games. Faulk played in 99 games for the Rams, 77 games for the Colts, and 176 games overall. He mad 156 starts. King lists 49 games for McCaffrey, meaning he’s accounting for playoff games too, but Faulk played in 12 career playoff games. So he’d be at 109 games for the Rams, including playoffs, and 79 games for the Colts.

I’m not sure where 118 comes from as anything other than a typo. Faulk played in 188 games, including playoffs, so it seems like King has left out 70 games. 70 games is a long career. So McCaffrey isn’t almost halfway towards having the career length of Faulk ... he’s much closer to 25% than he is to 50%.

And that’s a huge difference.

But McCaffrey’s numbers are still fantastic.

Through Faulk’s first three seasons, he averaged 1,457 yards from scrimmage per season, compared to 1,814 yards from scrimmage per season for McCaffrey through three seasons. McCaffrey is averaging more yards per carry, more yards per target, and has scored six more touchdowns than Faulk through his first three seasons.

McCaffrey has 303 receptions for 2,523 yards and 15 touchdowns. Faulk had 164 receptions for 1,425 yards and four touchdowns through his first three seasons, albeit in a different era and a different offense. Faulk’s time would be coming and McCaffrey is still nowhere near that.

Faulk first led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 1998 with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, when he had 2,227 yards. Of those, 908 yards were from receiving and he caught 86 passes. But Faulk’s peak three years really came in 1999 with the St. Louis Rams.

Over his first three seasons with the Rams, all All-Pro seasons, Faulk averaged this:

1,374 rushing yards, 5.4 YPC, 84 receptions, 881 yards, 8.3 YPT, 20 touchdowns, 2 fumbles

McCaffrey is averaging this:

973 rushing yards, 4.7 TPC, 101 receptions, 841 yards, 6.7 YPT, 13 touchdowns, 2 fumbles

As awesome as McCaffrey has been — and he’s been awesome without much in the way of support around him, similar to Faulk’s career with the Colts — he can’t quite touch what Faulk meant to his team, the league, or the position. Yet.

And he’s not nearly as close as halfway to having a resume as long as Faulk.

That being said, Faulk said earlier this year that McCaffrey was better than him.