MIAMI – Christian McCaffrey was so good in 2019, it felt like every superlative was exhausted by November. But even now, more than four weeks after McCaffrey and the Panthers wrapped up the season, it's still possible to uncover new accolades.
That's how legendary running back Marshall Faulk on Wednesday described McCaffrey's year. That word, phenomenal, wasn't a new descriptor. What Faulk followed with was:
"He's a better version of me."
Yeah, that's new.
Faulk is a Hall of Famer, former MVP and the only player to surpass 12,000 rushing yards and 6,000 receiving yards in his career. So how is McCaffrey, after just three NFL seasons, better?
"He got to watch me. He got to see me. It's what happens," Faulk said. "You get to be a better version of."
That evolution is best told through total scrimmage yards after each player's first three seasons. Faulk was at 4,372 through three years with the Colts. McCaffrey is at 5,443. And it took Faulk six seasons to enter the exclusive club McCaffrey burst into this past year.
In 1999, Faulk joined Roger Craig (1985) as the only players to total 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a season. But to Faulk, McCaffrey's 1,000/1,000 year in 2019 featured bigger hurdles.
"He had to do more with less help. I had a lot of help," said Faulk, who in 1999 was part of a Rams offense that was called "The Greatest Show on Turf."
"And how many quarterbacks did (McCaffrey) have?" asked Faulk.
That answer, of course, was three: Cam Newton, Kyle Allen and Will Grier. In 1999, Faulk had just one quarterback, and all Kurt Warner did that year was throw for 41 touchdowns while winning the MVP award and the Super Bowl.
Faulk also believes McCaffrey is the better of the two "out of the backfield." Faulk averaged 63.9 receptions through his 12 seasons. McCaffrey has 303 after three years and is the only running back in NFL history with two 100-catch seasons.
Clearly, at this pace, McCaffrey has an excellent shot at breaking away from Craig and Faulk to become the only player with multiple 1,000/1,000 seasons. And Faulk would be perfectly OK with that.
"As many times as he can, man. That's what this game is about," Faulk said. "Trust me, it's hard. It is a hard feat. Just think about it — in the whole history of the league, only three guys — think about the guys that are playing running back in this league. Only three guys have done it. It's such a big deal that they don't pay a whole lot of attention to it because it's like, 'Nobody does that.' It's such a big deal."
It's such a big deal that McCaffrey will head into the 2020 season firmly entrenched as one of the league's biggest stars. And now, instead of just being compared to Faulk, McCaffrey is the more talented of the two — according to the guy with a gold jacket.
"He and I, we've texted and we've had a relationship since he came in," Faulk said. "I told him at the Combine when they were questioning his size and durability, I said, 'Play football. That's what you do. That's all you can do it play football and they'll get a chance to see.'"
Relive Christian McCaffrey's historic 2019 season through photos.