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Luke McCaffrey emerges as early standout in rookie minicamp, OTAs


Jeff Driskell dropped back in the pocket as rain covered him and the rest of the Washington Commanders during the first practice of OTAs with rookies and veterans on the field together. He spotted his target through the deluge, reared back and fired the ball towards the end zone.

His man was rookie wideout Luke McCaffrey, who had gotten behind third-year safety Percy Butler. He laid for the pass near the back of the end zone and grabbed the pass before sliding and rolling out of bounds. He held the ball in the air as the referee signaled a touchdown, flexed as he jogged to the sideline and celebrated with tight end Zach Ertz.

The play was one of the highlights of practice but hardly the only impressive moment McCaffrey has had since joining the team. While most of the attention surrounding the team has been justifiably focused on No. 2 pick Jayden Daniels, McCaffrey has been a consistent standout, and he could be playing his way into a larger role in the offense.

"I really like his story," offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said of McCaffrey. "He dealt with some adversity, and he kept fighting. And he loves football, like, loves it. He doesn't care if he plays quarterback, running back, whatever. He just wants to play. And that's fun to be around."

All draft picks are gambles to a certain degree, but general manager Adam Peters was confident in his decision to take McCaffrey with the 100th overall pick. He was part of the San Francisco 49ers' front office that traded for his brother, Christian, and he knows one of his other brothers, Max, from his own stint from the 49ers.

Taking a player who has athletic genes from both his mother and father certainly helps, but Peters also got some endorsements from Christian himself.

"I got a little encouragement from his brother," Peters said with a smile. "I didn't need it, I can tell you that right now. I didn't need it. And just watching him ascend from really Nebraska and watching him play, what he did there, and it was actually really fun just watching it chronologically and how he evolved at every step of the way until really the Senior Bowl when he was outstanding."

The rookies and veterans were on the field for the first time as they began OTA practices. Check out the top photos of Jayden Daniels working with Terry McLaurin, Brian Robinson and more.

Peters is right; McCaffrey's play stood on its own. After starting his college career at Nebraska as a quarterback, he transferred to Rice and moved out to receiver. He was immediately productive, catching 58 passes for 723 yards and six scores, but he improved in every metric as a senior, ending the 2023 campaign with 992 yards and 13 touchdowns on 71 receptions.

McCaffrey's athleticism, plus his experience at other positions, was what caught Peters' eye.

"He took a road less traveled where he started off as a quarterback and really taught himself how to be one of the best receivers in the country in the last two years," Peters said. "And so, he's got size, he's got speed, he's got great movement skills, and I think he's only going to ascend."

McCaffrey wants to take things a day at a time as he gets acclimated to the NFL. It's a mature approach, but although he's only getting started on a long developmental path, his skill set is hard to ignore. There's already a savviness to the way he runs routes with quickness and intention. It seems like he and Daniels are already building some chemistry, which he credits to his previous experience as a quarterback.

"It's a position that's hard to understand unless you've played it," McCaffrey said. "The biggest thing I've noticed is the communication aspect. You speak the same language...and that's something going into rookie minicamp you try and get a head start on, because it's a brand new language, a brand new system."

Head coach Dan Quinn didn't want to praise McCaffrey too much for how he looked on his first day. He wanted to highlight all the rookies, who went through what he called an "efficient" and "effective" practice. He did admit there were some things that stood out about the rookie wideout, though.

"He's got a good catch radius," Quinn said. "He understands leverage to go."

And it does say something about McCaffrey's approach to the game that he was able to play, and succeed, at multiple positions.

"Most of the time if they find the right space and then apply that same...go-getter attitude for it, you'll see them take off again," Quinn said. "And I have a sense that would happen with him but it's not so uncommon. But you have to be a really rare competitor that [says], 'Yeah, I can do that, and I can do that.'"

McCaffrey wants to keep it simple for his rookie season. "I'm just trying to go in and dive in and learn everything I can," he said. His ultimate goal is to get better, so he's taking full advantage of every rep he gets to hone his craft and eventually become a meaningful contributor.

So far, he's smashing that goal with ease.

"He's up there all hours of the day trying to learn and trying to get it down, and every drill we do, he is full speed," Kingsbury said. "So, you can work with that."

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