A year removed from the 49ers making a big splash trade for Christian McCaffrey, the dividends have been more than anyone could have possibly dreamed of.
When the San Francisco 49ers brokered a deal with the Carolina Panthers to bring over the exciting but oft-injured Christian McCaffrey, it certainly raised eyebrows across the league.
Yes, the Niners were pushing the envelope in search of a sixth Lombardi Trophy, and yes, the Panthers were brokering a full rebuild that necessitated bringing in as much NFL Draft capital as possible. But the fit didn't seem to be there.
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Yes, McCaffrey was better than any running back the 49ers had on their roster, but why would they spend their increasingly low amounts of draft capital for a position that head coach Kyle Shanahan has shown could essentially be taken off the street and made to play well?
Some downright (and hilariously in hindsight) said the Niners were the big losers in the trade.
The Panthers didn't care, of course, and they ultimately would use the draft picks (second-, third- and fourth-round selections in 2023, and a fifth-round round selection in 2024) to help facilitate their move to the No. 1 pick to take Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.
But 12 months later, it can be guaranteed that San Francisco would not only make the trade again but would sprint to confirm it.
McCaffrey has 80 rushing attempts for 459 yards and six touchdowns so far this season and 18 receptions for 141 yards and another touchdown, becoming one of the rare non-QB players to have some serious momentum in the MVP conversation.
But don't just take my word for it. Let's ask former 49ers cornerback and current Skip Bayless tormentor Richard Sherman:
McCaffrey has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic 49ers fan, taking less than a season to break the franchise record of most consecutive games with a touchdown. Not only did he break the record in less than a year, he had to unseat the 49ers GOAT in Jerry Rice to do so.
And that's what it comes down to. McCaffrey makes the team better. The 49ers have never lost a game that McCaffrey has started (excepting the NFC Championship, but extenuating circumstances reared their head there) and along with the upgrade at quarterback in Brock Purdy, the Niners have a truly elite offense.
With a full offseason for Shanahan to prepare the playbook for McCaffrey and Purdy, the team has hit 30, 30, 30 and 35 points in respective games this season already. It's weird to say, but the 49ers have a better offense than defense in 2023 (and that's a very high bar).
A true leader in the locker room and the best running back on the field, there's no doubt that McCaffrey has been a pivotal part in the evolution of San Francisco's offense from just above average to a truly unstoppable juggernaut in the first month of the NFL season.
A complete running back in every way, McCaffrey's play has flipped the narrative of this trade completely.
What was once seen by some as an unnecessary overpay from the 49ers has turned into one of the all-time great midseason trade steals in the history of the NFL.