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Christian McCaffrey received more respect from ESPN than from his peers

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Being a professional athlete understandably puts you in the spotlight. Whether you do something good or (literally) drop the ball, it’s going to make headlines. During his time in the NFL, Christian McCaffrey has experienced that reality first-hand.

But what happens when different amounts of praise come from different sources? Whose opinion matters more: the media or the guys in the trenches?

That’s where McCaffrey, the San Francisco 49ers running back known as CMC, finds himself.

Christian McCaffrey Received More Praise
Running back Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers signs autographs for fans during warm-ups against the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 13, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ian Maule/Getty

This summer, the NFL 100, which is voted on by the players, ranked McCaffrey as the 35th-best player in the league. ESPN’s experts, however, had a much different view.

And, when the season kicks off, that discrepancy could make an on-field difference.

McCaffrey did better in ESPN’s ranking than NFL 100

During the offseason, all sorts of rankings flood the internet. Arguably the marquee attraction, at least in the world of football, is the NFL 100.

That list, which is voted on by active NFL players, asks them to rank the 20 best players in the league. Those ballots are then aggregated into a 100-man list, theoretically crowning the best players on the gridiron.

In the 2023 edition, McCaffrey clocked in at 35th.

“While everyone else looks to the bargain bin for running backs, the 49ers spent four draft picks on CMC last October,” the official write-up said. “He rewarded them by transforming their offense overnight, amassing 1,210 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games. Quarterback Brock Purdy may be the feel-good story, but McCaffrey arrived during Week 7, and the Niners didn’t lose from Week 8 until the NFC Championship Game.”

Then, on August 28, ESPN released its prediction for the “top 100 players for this season.” According to the post, the site “asked a panel of dozens of ESPN NFL experts to rate players based on performance expectations for the 2023 season as compared with their peers. Emphasis was placed solely on the upcoming season and predicting potential greatness, rather than past performance, career résumé or positional value.”

The experts thought rather highly of McCaffrey, who broke into the top 10, landing squarely in the 10th spot and was the highest-ranked running back on the list.

“When McCaffrey stepped into the 49ers’ starting lineup in Week 8 after being acquired from Carolina, the Niners’ offense took off. With McCaffrey as the focal point, San Francisco was third in scoring and expected points added and seventh in yards per game, going 12-1 with him in the backfield,” wrote Nick Wagner, ESPN’s NFL Nation reporter for the 49ers.

“Now he gets a full offseason to absorb coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and the Niners will be able to dream up new ways to use McCaffrey. That combination, fueled by McCaffrey’s relentless approach, has him positioned for another big season, if not his best yet.”

The piece also included a quote from Niners assistant coach Anthony Lynn, suggesting that CMC is “trending in the right direction” and a prediction for his 2023 stat line.

His estimated production is 873 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, plus 547 more yards and three additional scores receiving.

Could the difference in methodologies explain the discrepancy in ranking? It’s possible, but 25 places seem like a major difference if things boil down to slightly different wording. At the end of the day, the NFL players who voted on this year’s Top 100 list clearly feel less optimistic about McCaffrey’s upcoming season than ESPN’s experts do.

Discrepancy may give McCaffrey extra spark in 2023

In fairness to McCaffrey, it’s quite possible that he is tuning out the noise. You won’t last in the NFL if every media remark stresses you out. But, at the end of the day, professional athletes are still human beings.

Since the NFL 100 ranking is voted on by the players, it carries unique significance. Even if there aren’t specific names attached to the ballots, the list suggests a general sense of the league’s opinions. And while McCaffrey rose from unranked to No. 35, that’s still low for someone with 1,880 total yards and 13 touchdowns during the 2022 campaign.

Will he even be aware of that position? And if he knows about the NFL 100, will he see it as a slight? Newsweek reached out to McCaffrey about it, but previous comments suggest he’s not above viewing the NFL landscape as a source of motivation.

“They gave up a lot to get me, and I know that,” McCaffrey after joining the 49ers last year, according to NBC Sports. “It’s not extra pressure, but there’s definitely a sense of urgency on my plate that I want to win. I got traded. So, yeah, I got a chip on my shoulder.”

And if a similar chip remains this year, the sky could be CMC’s limit. We know he’s talented, and he seems like an ideal fit for the 49ers offense. If you add a bit of inner fire into the mix, he could be back near his best.

That would certainly grab his peers’ attention and shake up the 2024 edition of the NFL Top 100.

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