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Christian McCaffrey's versatility helps him stand out to Broncos in crowded RB class

INDIANAPOLIS —The 2017 draft class has its fair share of impressive running back prospects.

From Leonard Fournette to Dalvin Cook, there are plenty of options for teams in need of a steady back.

And Christian McCaffrey said he thinks he's a better option than any of them.

"I don't think there's anybody else that can do all the things I can," McCaffrey said Thursday from his media availability at the NFL Combine, "as far as [how I] run between the tackles, outside, pass protect and play X, Z, slot and do a lot of stuff in the return game, as well. I think that's what sets me apart." That versatility has caught the attention of the Broncos' brass, which interviewed McCaffrey on Wednesday evening.

For McCaffrey, the meeting room was full of familiar faces. He's long known John Elway as more than just the Broncos' Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager. Elway's also the former teammate of Christian's father, Ed McCaffrey.

At the Combine, though, their meeting was business oriented as Broncos executives and coaches tried to determine whether McCaffrey could provide a needed boost to an offense that has other needs, as well.

"It was awesome," McCaffrey said. "It was really cool. These are guys that my dad played with, guys that I've been around my whole entire life. It was a really cool meeting."

While the specifics of the meetings were not disclosed, McCaffrey faces general questions about how his game translates to the NFL. There are concerns about his ability to bear the load as an every-down back, and he'll face a slew of other questions this week.

During his media availability, though, McCaffrey said he doesn't doubt that he can be an every-down player for a team and that he has "no idea" why his ability to transition to the NFL is in question.

"I play with a chip on my shoulder always," he said. "I feel like a lot of people don't give me credit for my skills and talents and that's just the way it is, but I also don't really care too much. I don't feel like I'm crazy disrespected. I have a chip on my shoulder at all times. That's been my whole life. I'm constantly trying to prove myself."

He certainly drew attention while at Stanford, though. Especially in the leadup to the previous season, his name was on every Heisman short list after a sophomore year that saw him rush for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns. While he fell short of those lofty expectations, he tacked on another 1,603 yards on nearly 100 fewer carries in 2016. He also bumped his touchdown production up from eight to 13.

And as he mentioned often to the dozens of media members surrounding his table, he feels he won't just be limited to the run game with whichever team that decides to spend a high draft pick to get him. That selection could come as early as the middle of the first round of April's draft.

"Something I really pride myself on is not just being a running back, not just being a running back that can catch the ball, but if I move out to the slot, I become a receiver," McCaffrey said. "If I move out to X or Z, I become a receiver, not just a running back. I really try to pride myself on route running, catching and being able to be a mismatch anywhere on the field."

At Stanford, he certainly proved to be just that. He piled up more than 1,000 combined receiving yards in three seasons with the Cardinal and was always a threat to break free for a score. He had a touchdown of at least 50 yards in each of his seasons in Palo Alto.

McCaffrey's game, however, extends far beyond his abilities as a running back and wide receiver.

As a sophomore, McCaffrey returned 15 punts for a routine 8.6-yard average, but his willingness to make big plays could be appealing to Broncos fans. In his career with Stanford, he returned 34 punts and called for no fair catches.

Even the threat of a McCaffrey return could make all the difference on special teams. After his sophomore campaign, teams stopped kicking to him during his final year at Stanford. His opportunities dropped from 1.07 punt returns per game to 0.91, and his chances to return kickoffs plummeted from 2.64 per game to 1.27. 

That fear of an opposing returner completely changed opponents' game plans and set the Cardinal up with good field position on a regular basis. In the AFC West, which features a similar player in the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill, a player like McCaffrey could swing the field position battle and, in turn, the game. 

But forget the consistency McCaffrey provides on special teams or the way an opponent may change its game to combat him. The 6-foot running back is more focused on his ability to make the home-run play.

"I think there's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey said. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today, and a lot of times it gets taken for granted. So any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous.

"That's really why I love the return game, because there's so much space in front of you and there's another opportunity to make a big play."

Whether in Denver or elsewhere, McCaffrey expects to do just that.

If he does, it won't matter how crowded the draft class is for running backs.

Christian McCaffrey will stand out.

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