Sean Payton Has “Crystal-Clear” Vision for Christian McCaffrey

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TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 29: Running back Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal on the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 29: Running back Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal on the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton says he has a “crystal-clear” vision for Christian McCaffrey.

While Saints fans generally agree that most, if not all, of this year’s early draft picks should be used to upgrade the team’s defense, some analysts have rumbled about the possibility that the Saints spend one of those early picks—possibly even a first round pick—on the offense. Far and away the most popular name so linked is Christian McCaffrey.

Mar 3, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

On the one hand, I’d question whether or not McCaffrey will fit into the Saints draft spots. McCaffrey at 11 could be a reach. But there’s next to no chance that the running back falls to 32. The Saints could trade down to take McCaffrey in the middle of the first round, which would land them some valuable mid-round picks. But will they find a willing partner?

On the other hand, no one can question whether or not McCaffrey fits into the team’s roster. After trading away Brandin Cooks, the offense could use one or two more weapons. And even with Cooks the team’s lack of a satellite back have been well documented by Saints beat writers. Sean Payton’s offense has generally operated with a versatile, Joker-type running back, of which Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush are the prime examples. Since Sproles’s departure in 2013 the team has been cycling through replacements, none of whom have stuck. C.J. Spiller is the most obvious example of the front office’s attempt to replace Sproles’s production. The team did resign Travaris Cadet, who served the role in 2016. But McCaffrey would be a huge upgrade. He would arguably be the best satellite back that Payton ever had.

That doesn’t mean that the team will draft McCaffrey. But as Nick Underhill reported, Sean Payton and the front office are focused on finding players for whom they have a clear vision.

As Payton said recently in an interview with MMQB, McCaffrey is exactly that.

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In the MMQB interview with Peter King, Payton expounded on his vision for McCaffrey. “He’s got the ability to make people miss, but also to make tough yards in the pile. I’ve got a crystal-clear vision of the player. He’d be like Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush for us, kind of the Joker role. But I think you have to have him on a pitch count.”

As Saints fans are now deeply familiar, Payton thinks everyone needs a pitch count. And as Payton is aware, with Mark Ingram firmly entrenched as the RB1 of this Saints offense, a pitch count would be pretty easy to manage.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the Saints are set of McCaffrey. But Payton sounds pretty open to the possibility. On the one hand, there’s no denying that this defense badly needs playmakers. And if there’s an early run on quarterbacks, it might push some top-tier defensive talent down to the Saints at 11. The same scenario might also make it harder for the Saints to trade down, which they would no doubt like to do to land McCaffrey.

But on the other hand, it’s seriously exciting to think of the impact a player like McCaffrey could have in Payton’s offense. He’d make up for Cooks’ loss and then some. And then a lot, actually. That could be the best offense in the league, easily.

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