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Christian McCaffrey Creates Good Problems For The 49ers

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The four future draft picks the Carolina Panthers valued more than Christian McCaffrey are already off to a poor start, and the extra draft pick the Los Angeles Rams valued more than McCaffrey is looking even worse.

That’s football nerd slang for what McCaffrey did to the Rams on Sunday, and it is a reminder that those of you who lapse into word vomit like “asset management” and “draft capital” are the kind of people the rest of us would emigrate to avoid. The 49ers spent four draft picks to acquire McCaffrey, the Rams allegedly (hey, what’s another uncorroborated rumor in the world of football insiders?) wouldn’t give up a fourth pick of their own to do the same, and the rest can be explained by McCaffrey’s triple crown in San Francisco’s 31-14 victory over the Rams Sunday. McCaffrey received, threw and ran for a touchdown and was responsible for nearly half of the team’s yardage as the centerpiece of the 49ers’ most important performance of this twitchy season.

Assuming health, which is a required caveat when it comes to McCaffrey, the 49ers have apparently solved their offensive shortcomings through the most Inspector Gadget-y of ways, by taking their run-heavy offensive philosophy and somehow balancing it by trading for another running back. McCaffrey’s presence helped James R. Garoppolo, the oft-maligned eyebrow without a portfolio, have one of his most impressive afternoons, and McCaffrey also reduced a fair amount of the local carping about head coach/general manager/capo di tutti capi Kyle Shanahan. That’s two hot seats cooled in one day, which is nice work no matter how many conceptual future humans it costs.

Of course, this seems overstated, as are most things regarding this team-and-fan-base ship of fools. The 49ers are only 4-4, a seven-seed in the NFC playoff table if we lose November and December in a galactic crap game, and they are a full game behind Geno Smith and the Seahawks. That should curdle the average mood right there.

But McCaffrey returns to the 49ers an offense that can actually unnerve a opposing teams in the same ways that Deebo Samuel did last year as a hybrid running back/receiver. They also have the tiebreaker over Seattle with the return match coming in Week 15, they are 3-0 in the division after beating the Rams for the eighth consecutive time in the regular season, and the back end of their schedule is very workable, with only three games against winning teams, and all of those are suspicious (the Chargers, Dolphins and Seahawks).

In short, the 49ers could for the second year running lift their hind leg on the first half of their season and still end up a conference power. Of course, this being the NFC, nobody is a power because nobody is fully trusted even now. Yes, you’d rather your favorite team was Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Dallas or Minnesota, but a week and a new running back ago, the 49ers looked more like Chicago or Washington. So the real truth is that every gaggle of mesomorphs on this side of the standings is as day-to-day as day-to-day gets. The entire conference is all about that recency bias, and the 49ers are one of the league’s best teams since 4:30 p.m. Pacific time.

And all these happy vibes and quieted ulcers and newfound job security cost the 49ers was four potential mammals, three of whom will probably end up in Canada and the fourth working a forklift at Costco. That’s the real secret of next year’s draft—for every future star, there are 15 future high school P.E. teachers. January is eons away, but 2023 looks like it’s just around the corner.

In the end, both of these hypotheses look like a lie anyway. It’s the NFC, where things that should sink float, and Geno Smith is America’s MVP until further notice.