49ers roster 2023: Christian McCaffrey the (real) reason why Niners offense exploded

Christian McCaffrey might actually be the new heartbeat of the 49ers offense.
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23)
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

While Brock Purdy gets plenty of credit for invigorating the 49ers offense last year, Christian McCaffrey actually did the yeoman's work.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy did a lot of things right and well during his surprising ascent over the tail end of the 2022 regular season and into the playoffs. Those efforts are why he's effectively pegged as the Niners' future starter going forward despite both Trey Lance and Sam Darnold being on the roster.

After all, San Francisco averaged 10 more points per game with Purdy under center than they did with his predecessor, now-Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

However, it's just as reasonable to give credit to the player whom the 49ers acquired in a blockbuster deal at the NFL trade deadline last year, All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.

Perhaps he's the reason why the Niners offense ultimately exploded down the stretch.

OK, admittedly so, we (I) weren't originally fans of the McCaffrey deal, noting his injury history and San Francisco continuing to invest big at running back. That said, McCaffrey's three-touchdown game against the Los Angeles Rams last year (one rushing, one receiving, one passing) certainly changed that opinion quickly.

True, 2020 and 2021 were injury-prone years. However, he stayed healthy the previous three seasons and even became one of only three players in NFL history to reach the elusive 1,000/1,000 club (1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving), joining Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk and San Francisco's own legend, Roger Craig.

McCaffrey subsequently added 746 rush yards and 464 receiving yards with 10 combined touchdowns for the 49ers following the trade.

Over just 11 regular-season games.

Despite the Niners having a loaded offense, McCaffrey might actually be the No. 1 option.

How much are the 49ers paying Christian McCaffrey?

San Francisco inherited the four-year, $64 million contract McCaffrey inked with his original team, the Carolina Panthers, ahead of the 2022 season.

According to Spotrac, the deal itself is fairly backloaded with only $3.424 million as the cap hit for 2023:

However, McCaffrey's cap hit jumps north of $14 million in both 2024 and 2025, which could make him an excellent candidate for a restructure, should the 49ers still view the 2017 first-round draftee as an integral part of their offense.

It's likely they will.

Is Christian McCaffrey now the 49ers' best offensive player?

Again, the Niners offense is loaded. And there are only so many touches to go around, meaning McCaffrey is going to have to split time with other All-Pros like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, while watching others like wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk satiate his own budding career.

Samuel, in particular, is relatable to McCaffrey but in opposite fashion: a wide receiver performing the duties of a running back.

McCaffrey, meanwhile, might be one of the best pass-catching route-runners in the NFL. Yes, a running back outperforming wide receivers in that category.

That certainly makes the 27-year-old McCaffrey unique. And if you look at the cover of most fantasy football magazines, you'll probably see a few that list McCaffrey as the No. 1 option for fantasy owners, meaning he's pretty important.

Best player, though? That might be All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams.

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