Christian McCaffrey

Shanahan has ‘no doubt' McCaffrey is NFL's best player

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  • Programming note: Watch Greg Papa's full interview with Kyle Shanahan on "49ers Game Plan," airing at 11:00 p.m. PT Friday on NBC Sports Bay Area

Kyle Shanahan is no stranger to coaching elite offensive talent.

The 49ers coach has overseen some of the most dynamic offenses in NFL history but had never seen an individual campaign quite like the one superstar running back Christian McCaffrey has put together during the 2023 season.

On the latest episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan," Shanahan revealed to Greg Papa what has impressed him the most about McCaffrey's unprecedented impact on San Francisco's offensive success this season.

"He's had the best year as an offensive player that I've been a part of," Shanahan told Papa. "Been on a lot of good offenses and some years with some really good players, but Christian has been amazing in every facet we've asked him. When we throw him the ball, when we hand off the ball, when we give it to other people and he's got to block or just carry out being a distraction or a decoy, he's amazing.

"The durability he's had, how hard he goes, how hard he practices, how hard he prepares, which started way before the season started, really just after last season ended. The consistency, just physically and mentally of what he does is second to none."

It's incredibly high praise from Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons when quarterback Matt Ryan earned MVP honors during the 2016 NFL season. Shanahan's tenure with the Falcons also included a remarkable season for wide receiver Julio Jones, who posted 136 receptions and 1,871 receiving yards in 2015.

Despite that, McCaffrey's 2023 season stands alone in Shanahan's eyes. While the gaudy numbers McCaffrey has posted are impressive in their own right, Shanahan explained the way the star running back has accumulated his statistics is even more noteworthy.

"Honestly, you look at his stats and all that, and really, nothing has been forced to him," Shanahan shared. "When you get a rushing title, you're usually finishing out some games, just getting a lot of carries and things like that. When you get a lot of touchdowns like he does, it's because you're usually a goal-line running back and you're always getting those all the time.

"He does that most of the time we're there, but he scores from far out too. For him to get the numbers he's had, the way he's done it, is just kind of unheard of. There's no doubt to me he's been the best player in the league this year for an offensive player. I know we talk about MVP's, so I'll let the world decide about that.

"It's truly special, the numbers show it, and more importantly the film shows it. And that's why everyone looks at him the way they do. you know the respect our peers have for the real talented ones and Christian has that from our own team and everyone in this league."

McCaffrey won't play in Sunday's regular-season finale but remains primed to win the rushing title for the 2023 season while holding a 315-yard advantage over Los Angeles Rams running back Kyren Williams, who also will miss Sunday's matchup at Levi's Stadium.

If McCaffrey wins the rushing title, he will become the first 49ers player to earn the prestigious honor since Joe Perry accomplished the feat in 1954. McCaffrey has led the league in rushing for the entire season, starting with a 152-yard performance in the 49ers' Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The dynamic offensive weapon finishes the 2023 season with 2,023 scrimmage yards and 21 touchdowns, serving as the engine that helped propel the 49ers' offense to the No. 1 NFC playoff seed as the team chases its ever-elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.

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