Christian McCaffrey proving to be gamechanger for 49ers


Last Thursday, the 49ers’ assistant head coach, Anthony Lynn, asked Christian McCaffrey, the Niners’ new running back: “Can you throw? Ever thrown a pass in a game?”

It had been four years, but yes, McCaffrey had done it. Late in the 2018 season, against New Orleans, he took a handoff from Cam Newton, the New Orleans defense surrounded him, and he lofted a spiral 17 yards downfield to tight end Chris Manhertz, all alone. Touchdown.

“I sent them the video of the play,” McCaffrey said.

This play:

“I wanted to make sure they knew I could throw,” he said, laughing, over the phone from the Niners’ locker room at SoFi Stadium Sunday night. You could tell from his voice that he was pretty proud of it. “As soon as they asked, I figured it might be something for Sunday.”

Yes, it just might be something for Sunday. By the time McCaffrey got to practice Friday, a halfback-option throw was in the gameplan—a backward pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to the right side, McCaffrey taking a couple of jab-steps like he was running a wheel-route, hoping to draw in the defense, just like he had in 2018 in Carolina. Then, if it worked and the defense got sucked in, wideout Brandon Aiyuk would have a clear path to the end zone. And the career running back, they all hoped, would be able to loft it over coverage.

“We repped it a couple of times in practice, then in the [Saturday] walk-through,” McCaffrey told me.

“Was Aiyuk open when you repped it?” I said.

“He was open every time,” McCaffrey said.

“So you knew it’d be called,” I said. “What were you thinking when the play got called, and you’re there in the huddle?”

McCaffrey said: “Let it rip. Let it rip, you know? It’s there. The play’s there. You just gotta make it.”

History’s written by the winners. In sports, history is made by the winners, and for the third time in 10 months, San Francisco, with a new star, is writing football history against the Super Bowl champions.

“I’ve got to ask,” I said to McCaffrey amid the din of the locker room, “did you know you’re only the fourth player since the 1970 merger who has thrown a TD pass, caught a TD pass and run for a TD?”

“I found out today,” he said. “It feels good. Really good. It’s a cool stat, but there’s a bigger stat.

“The win.

“To be able to go into a winning locker room, with great players, on a new team with so many guys who can make plays, it’s just exciting.”

He’s another one. Shanahan thought just what any football coach would think about a great back with the ball on the flank—he’ll draw a lot of attention, and maybe a good wide receiver could leak out and assuming McCaffrey wouldn’t get tight, he’d be able to hit Aiyuk for an easy touchdown. So the halfback-option play got practiced, and the Niners warmed up before Sunday’s game at SoFi.

“I threw a little before the game,” McCaffrey said, “but I didn’t want to make it too obvious.”

Five plays into the second quarter, down 7-0, Shanahan called it. “My arm was loose,” McCaffrey said. “I just thought, if BA is open by a step, let it rip. I knew when the corner came up a little [and Aiyuk had a step on two safeties], he was gonna make the catch if I put it out there. That’s not an easy catch. He had to turn his shoulder for the ball, and he made me look really good.”

The reality is it was a very good throw, a spiral floating 34 yards in the air to Aiyuk, who caught it in stride at the two- and scored easily. That tied it. McCaffrey’s nine-yard TD catch, on a play where he was a Jimmy Garoppolo afterthought late in the third, gave San Francisco the lead for good, 17-14. And he powered into the end zone early in the fourth from one yard out, bulling into 287-pound defensive tackle Marquise Copeland, giving the Niners a 24-14 lead and essentially ending it.

The Niners, 4-4, trail surprising Seattle (5-3) by a game. The Rams, 3-4, will have an uphill fight in the division, particularly after a second division loss to the Niners. It wasn’t lost on McCaffrey when he took the field at SoFi Sunday that he very well could have been suiting up for the home Rams had the trade gone down differently. Even the son of a well-traveled former NFL receiver wasn’t altogether ready for the uncertainty of a trade.

“This has been such a weird two weeks,” he said. “I grew up in the business so I understand it’s a business but you don’t really know how to act until you experience the actual event. I didn’t think about where I’d go till I got the call from [Carolina GM] Scott Fitterer.

“It was weird. I practiced that Thursday, went to meetings that Thursday, went home, and [Fitterer] called, and the next day, early, I was on a flight and practiced with the 49ers Friday. It’s a crazy league. But I loved the 49ers run game. I knew that’s where God wanted me to go and now I’m happy to be here.”

On a couple of plays Sunday, McCaffrey stood outside the celebratory group of players while they got all happy. It’s like he wasn’t really in the club yet, and he was still learning who everyone was and making sure he didn’t overstep his bounds. But players accept great players. McCaffrey is one of those.

“I can’t even put into words how happy I am,” he said. “It’s a crazy journey in the NFL. You see this stuff happen and you never think it’ll happen to you. But it has. I’m glad it did.” Niners are too.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft CB Rankings: Devon Witherspoon highlights loaded draft class


The 2023 NFL Draft is growing nearer, with just weeks remaining until teams make selections that could alter the future of their franchise forever.

A solid secondary is crucial to any team’s defensive prowess, and for the teams looking to tighten up in coverage, this year’s draft is the one to do so.

The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class is an incredibly deep one, but which corner will be first off the board? Chris Simms unveiled his 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback rankings this week on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast, posting Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon at the top of his list of corners in this year’s crop.

But trailing Witherspoon very closely are four other potential NFL superstars, with Simms ranking Michigan’s DJ Turner at No. 2, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez at No. 3, Maryland’s Deonte Banks at No. 4 and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo at No. 5.

The 2023 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, April 27, and end on Saturday, April 29. The first round will take place on Thursday with rounds two and three airing on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Click here for Simms’ quarterback rankings,and here for his list of top wide receivers.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Simms’ Top Five CB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Tier One

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

2. DJ Turner, Michigan

3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

Tier Two

4. Deonte Banks, Maryland

Tier Three

5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

RELATED: 2023 NFL Draft order: Complete list of every pick from Round 1 through Round 7

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft CB Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ CB draft rankings. For Simms’ in-depth analysis, read below for a breakdown on each prospect and be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

No. 1: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

What Simms said: “This guy is must-see TV. He’s up there with one of the most twitchy, sudden people I’ve ever seen in my life to the point where when he takes off, you’re like, ‘Wait, is that real? Did he really get to full speed in half a step?’ … Bump or off, both are phenomenol —  it’s rare to have that. He’s got very good play strength for a guy that’s 5’11” and a half at 181 lbs. He doesn’t know that, he thinks he’s 220 … It’s efficient and easy. He’s sudden and can see the ability to accelerate whether it’s downhill or sticking the foot in the ground and changing direction. As compared to my No. 2 and No. 3 guy, he might be a hair tighter in his hips, but his twitchiness and explosion and acceleration … you just start to go, ‘What does this guy not have, besides the fact that he’s not 6’2” or over 200 lbs.’ He’s phenomenol.”

No. 2: DJ Turner, Michigan

What Simms said: “To me, (DJ Turner is) the most technically sound corner in the draft. There’s nobody better at technique. Like Witherspoon, the ability to mirror receivers at the line of scrimmage, the quick feet, it’s phenomenol. His hips are better than Witherspoon … His ability to flip those hips, turn and break on the ball, it’s right up there. It’s actually more smooth hip-wise than it is for Devon Witherspoon … What more can you say about the guy? Start-stop ability, amazing. Make-up speed, amazing. Other than Witherspoon, I think he’s put in the second-most tough spots out of anybody I’ve watched in this. He plays man-to-man, in your face a ton against big-time receivers. He’s awesome defending double moves. He could be the best nickel or outside guy, and he’s also the fastest guy in the draft. He’s got it all.”

No. 3: Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

What Simms said: “There’s not much to pick apart here … He’s got a little more size and meat on his bones. The Tee Higgins of the world, the bigger receivers of the world, they’re gonna have a harder time pushing him around and doing that stuff. He’s got incredible ball skills … He looks prototype. He looks Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey-ish in his uniform …  He just wasn’t as edgy as the other guys … He’s gonna match up better with DeAndre Hopkins than the other two. But I don’t know if he’ll match up better with Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase than the other two … But his technique is real. He’s a top-20 pick. You talk size, technique and straight speed, of course this guy is one of the top corners in the draft.” 

No. 4: Deonte Banks, Maryland

What Simms said: “He has more measurables like Gonzalez. 6 foot, 197 lbs., there’s a thickness to him and a power and strength element that certainly jumps out. Let alone, speed is Real Deal Holyfield … man-to-man, great legs, runs easy … He’s comfortable in his speed. He’s never panicked. He’s comfortable in going, ‘You have a step on me? That’s fine, I’m good,’ … But he’s also incredible, like Witherspoon and Turner, at getting on top of people when they try to run a go-route. No one can ever really get around him for the most part … He’s sticky as hell, he’s got very good feet, but he doesn’t know how to use his hands at all yet. So he’s not really that great at jamming people at the line of scrimmage, but he’s never not there … I thought his ability to play the ball and create PBUs in those 50/50 situations where the quarterback tries to throw the ball back shoulder and all that, he’s got a great feel and vision to be able to cover and see the throw at the same time that I was very impressed with.”

No. 5: Kelee Ringo, Georgia

What Simms said: “When you turn on the film, you go, ‘What? This guy’s a corner, he’s not a safety?’ Because he has a prototype safety vibe … Against the bigger, straight-liner guys, nobody’s gonna push this dude around. That’s certainly not going to be an issue, that along with the straight speed. Hey, the change of direction stuff is not beautiful. He’s a little heavy-footed because he’s a bigger guy … but it’s not bad … When he opens up, he can really go; obviously with a 4.36 second 40 time … He’s very smooth as far as an athlete overall.” 

For more preview content of the 2023 NFL Draft, stay tuned to Chris Simms UnbuttonedProFootballTalk and NBC Sports EDGE for all the latest updates, player analysis and mock drafts.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

  1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  2. DJ Turner, Michigan
  3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
  4. Deonte Banks, Maryland
  5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!