Panthers’ McCaffrey Gets It Done With Old-School Ethics

Christian McCaffrey is one of those premier players that refuses to be told what he cannot do. When he arrived at Stanford after playing multiple positions in high school – generally excelling whenever he was questioned by his coach – McCaffrey was seen as too small and too slender to play as a running back in head coach David Shaw’s power running scheme. Shaw quickly learned how things were going to be with McCaffrey, a player whose drive, determination, and unlimited skill set have him on the verge of one of that all-time great NFL seasons by a running back in the league’s 100th year.

“I’m a running back,” McCaffrey told Shaw. “I came to Stanford. I want to run the power play.”

In a world of five wide receiver sets and platooned running backs, McCaffrey is the ultimate outlier. This premier player seemingly never comes off of the field – he is a fantasy football owner’s dream – and he is a true three down back in an era where players of that type have, by and large, been completely phased out of the league.

McCaffrey can play this way – and this volume – because he is simply outstanding at everything it takes to be a modern running back, even if he is doing it all with an old-school work ethic and durability. The Panthers obviously use him as a runner – through eight games in 2019 he has over 1,200 yards and 13 total touchdowns – but his play is so much more than that.

The Carolina Panthers look for McCaffrey on basically every play. He is a great blocker and a fantastic decoy, but he isn’t used in that way. Instead, he is often running routes out of the backfield or – when the Panthers get creative – out in the slot where he becomes an absolute match-up nightmare against a linebacker, a safety, or all but the best coverage cornerbacks. We haven’t seen a player in the mold of Marshall Faulk in the league since the Ram’s great hung up his cleats.  McCaffrey is the closest thing we have seen to the Super Bowl XXXIV winner in years.

The eighth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft has years ahead of him performing at this level. Yes, he touches the ball way too much, but he plays with a style that never seems to leave him on the end of crushing hits like a lot of running backs. He tends to give out the punishment instead of receiving it, picking his moments as all premier players do in order to maximize his production for the team.

It is too early to tell if McCaffrey will be an all-time great, but his first couple of years in the league have done nothing but show he has the class to get there. McCaffrey is a record setting back – first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving in 10 games – and he is only getting better.

Article by Premier Players

Hamilton Making A Case For Best Ever In Formula 1 Racing

It is not often that you get to see one of the premier players of all-time in his (or her) chosen sport. In an era of great individual sport athletes – think Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Roger Federer as perhaps the best ever at their discipline – there is another premier player tearing it up weekend after weekend all over the world.

Allow me to introduce you to Lewis Hamilton, an English Formula 1 driver who is staking a claim to be the best racer of all time at the age of 34.

In 2019, Hamilton claimed his sixth Formula 1 World Crown. That was his fifth title in six years – the only year in that run he missed the championship was in 2016 – and they add to the Formula 1 World Crown title he won in 2008. He has won over 80 races, has claimed over 150 podiums, and sat on pole position close to 100 times. From his very first win at the top level of single-seater racing in Australia in 2007, Hamilton has simply dominated his sport in the way only a premier player can do.

The record in his sport is seven titles. That mark was set by the legendary Michael Schumacher, but it’s a record that Hamilton will be looking to equal and then break over the next few years. It is his remarkable consistency and motivation that sets Hamilton apart from the pack and that has him so close to a record that was expected by many to be untouchable given how dominate Schumacher was in his own era.

Hamilton has this unerring ability to drive right on the edge while rarely going over it. That is a skill that all racers seek to learn, but that only the best are able to pull off during a race. Mental strength is huge when driving Formula 1 cars, with the ability to put minor setbacks behind you immediately. Add in the physical strength and reflexes that are required for a body to react to lightning fast mental decisions at 200 mph and you have an athlete that is a premier player in his sport and who could have been great at whatever sport he chose to take up.

The mindset of an elite sportsman is a fascinating beast. Hamilton is one of those people who wants the challenge just to prove year after year that he is the best. For most of this decade, he has been exactly that.

Article by Premier Players

Japan Shocks The Rugby World With Play, Tournament Level

The Japanese national rugby team is not one that contains any of the premier players in the sport. Those players come from traditional rugby playing nations – like Beauden Barrett of New Zealand and Owen Farrell of England – and not an Asian country with an international rugby footprint that was barely a blip on the radar until they beat the mighty South Africa in a match since dubbed ‘The Brighton Miracle’ at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

This fall, however, the Japanese got to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, their first time holding the event. There, a country with a rugby playing history similar to the USA, shocked the world. Not only did their Tier 2 team beat Tier 1 powers Scotland and Ireland, but the country also embraced the competition in a way that few could have expected when the decision to award the tournament to a “non-rugby playing nation” was initially made.

Japan, or the Brave Blossoms as they are known, may never reach these heights again depending on how their investment and pushing of the game goes after 2019. What Japan has managed to do, however, is remind even the most cynical and snarky of sports columnists that sport can be a beautiful and uniting thing.

Set against the background of Typhoon Hagibis, a late season storm that was the most devastating to hit the Kanto region of Japan since 1958, the country rallied around their premier players.

Players such as Michael Leitch, a New Zealand born forward who has been in Japan since moving there as a 15-year-old high schooler and has proven – as captain – to be the perfect link between the Japanese players and the West. Players like Kenki Fukuoka, a livewire of a winger who at 5-foot-9 and 183-pounds has the electric skill set of a top tier slot receiver in the NFL, but who is now retiring at 27-years-old to follow his passion to become a doctor. Players like Shota Horie, a dreadlocked hooker who is a powerhouse at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds and who was putting his hand up to take every run and make every tackle even as the giant South Africans were slamming him into the ground.

They are just some of the many premier players on the Japanese 31-man roster who are now heroes in their own country. Players who will be well taken care  of even by fans because of the fight and determination they showed in pulling this country up into a rugby playing nation for at least one month.

The USA wants the 2029 World Cup (2023 will be held in the traditional country of France). Rugby is a growing sport here and the country obviously has all the infrastructure needed to host such an event. Japan has shown that a minor nation – albeit in a heavy developed country – can put on a show that was better than any expected.

Can the USA do the same if given the chance?


Article by Premier Players