Shula: McCaffrey's value to offense is so high

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CHARLOTTE – The fact that rookie running back Christian McCaffrey set a new franchise record for receptions by a running back in a single season is not all that surprising.

But the fact that he surpassed 47 receptions – the previous record set by Jonathan Stewart – in just eight games? That's pretty noteworthy.

"I mean, yeah, I'd rather win, but it's a cool accomplishment," McCaffrey said after recording five catches against the Buccaneers, pushing his season total to 49.

That puts McCaffrey third in the NFL in receptions, behind only wide receivers Antonio Brown (57) and Jarvis Landry (50).

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula was asked if he's ever been around a running back who catches the ball so well, and only one name came to mind.

"Probably the closest guy would be Warrick Dunn," Shula said. "Warrick was so explosive and fast. But Christian – and with respect to Warrick because if he sees this he'll probably disagree – Christian is probably a little bit better route runner from different areas of the field. Christian is better lining up out of the backfield as a receiver."

When the Panthers drafted McCaffrey in the first round, everyone knew he had rare ability to create separation and catch the ball. That's been on full display.

But there have been two main critiques through McCaffrey's eight career games: lack of production in the traditional run game and making the first defender miss at a lower rate than expected.

McCaffrey has rushed 49 times for 117 yards – a 2.4-yard rushing average – and he's averaging 7.7 yards per catch, but his value extends well beyond the numbers next to his name.

"His value to our offense is so high," Shula said. "He presents so many problems for a defense."

There's a lot that goes into that. McCaffrey attracts so much attention, he lines up in so many different spots (backfield, slot, out wide) and he's been an effective outlet for quarterback Cam Newton underneath.

"It's hard to put a number on that," Shula said. "We would not be 5-3 without him, for sure."

View the top photos from Panthers at Buccaneers by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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