There was a time when NFL decision-makers believed running backs couldn't perform into their 30s. Then Christian McCaffrey came along.
When Matt Rhule began his tenure in charge of the Carolina Panthers one of his first personnel moves was to hand running back Christian McCaffrey a lucrative contract extension. The move raised eyebrows because of a commonly held belief among NFL personnel that running backs were disposable.
Instead of crumbling under the weight of those expectations and his advancing age, McCaffrey shattered the glass ceiling for everyone at his position. The two-time Super Bowl Champion is every bit as productive now as he was during his early 20s. That's a remarkable accomplishment for a 34-year-old back who has carried the heavy load that McCaffrey has during his time in Carolina.
Admittedly, the former Stanford star is still more of the exception than the rule. Not every running back keeps himself in such impeccable shape. McCaffrey's workout regimen continues to be the stuff of legend inside NFL circles. Few professional football players would dare to dabble in the sort of professional long-distance running competitions that McCaffrey has seemingly done for fun in recent years. His top-10 finish at last year's Boston Marathon has widened his appeal to fans that don't generally concern themselves with the success or failure of professional football players on Sundays.
Of course, McCaffrey still isn't the sort of player who is anxious to boast about his crowded trophy case. Even when asked about his two Super Bowl rings in Carolina his first response is still to compliment the offensive line that paved the way for so many of his impressive touchdown runs. McCaffrey has a lengthy career ahead of him in politics when he finally desires to hang up his spikes.
The only question McCaffrey needs to answer now is just how much longer he plans to keep defying the odds. The Panthers are happy to continue to base their offense around his unique ability to grind out yards on the ground and also make explosive plays in the passing game. At some point they'll need to pivot away from placing such a heavy load on their star running back's shoulders, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down to date.
In truth, the biggest impact McCaffrey may have on the NFL over the long haul is in shattering the idea that running backs can only play at a high level for a limited number of seasons. GMs around the league now understand that giving a running back a long-term deal isn't always a mistake. McCaffrey has made his peers millions of dollars just by the sheer brilliance of his lengthy playing career.