SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Every first-round pick has a lot of hype to live up to. There just seems to be a little more when it comes to running back Christian McCaffrey.
And it's not just fans and media types. His new teammates have been eager to see what he's got; to see if his skills are as advertised.
McCaffrey had just one practice with the veterans in the spring. Training camp – and the introduction of padded practices – were always going to be his first chance to truly shine.
Sure enough, it didn't take long before head coach Ron Rivera was hearing rave reviews about No. 22, who quieted concerns about his size when he reported to camp with an impressive chiseled physique.
"A lot of our guys like what Christian is going to bring to the table," Rivera said. "When guys come up to you and make comments about a guy's ability, that's fun. Guys come up and tell you, 'This guy can be special, Coach.' We're seeing it, and hopefully you continue to see it."
One of the guys who has seen it firsthand is All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly.
"He's quick. He's got shake. He's fast," Kuechly said of McCaffrey. "He got me today on one run, but luckily Thomas (Davis) was right next to me. He's very precise with his movements. He is in and out of breaks quick. He does a good job, and I think he is going to be somebody who can help us out."
Cornerback James Bradberry, a proud member of the defense, couldn't quite contain his excitement when he saw McCaffrey shake free of the pursuit.
"He's going to make a lot of plays for us," Bradberry said. "I saw him make a move on Luke and a lineman today. He made a pretty sharp cut. I gave a little ooh-aah when he did. He looks pretty sharp."
The more you watch McCaffrey, the more you see what makes him special. Yes, he has tremendous speed and explosiveness. Yes, he's got outstanding hands out of the backfield. We knew that already. It's the instincts and ability to read the play that allow him to take full advantage of those physical gifts.
"His first move is to set you up, and then where he goes from there, it's up to him," Rivera said. "He's naturally (good) at what he does, but he also works very hard at it. That's why he can be a very good player in this league."
The buzzword attached to McCaffrey throughout the draft process was "versatility," and the Panthers have embraced his ability to line up almost anywhere.
And a running back lining up at a wide receiver spot is a lot more problematic for a defense when he's comfortable and capable of running a wide array of routes.
"He can run all kinds of different routes, and I think when you have a running back who can do that it poses problems," Kuechly said. "When they motion him out wide, he's got a route tree that he can run versus some other running backs who are either going to just run a slant or like a zig route. He's got different routes he can run.
"They've done a good job of making sure to put him in different areas of the field and letting him kind of do his thing."
That was the plan all along, and it looks to be a good one.
"We're all excited about who he is going to be for us," Rivera said. "It's been exciting to watch him."
View photos from the first padded practice of training camp.