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Christian McCaffrey and Devin White highlight the NFL's speed revolution

A football player with a football on a field getting ready to play
Photo: Bernhard Lang/Getty Images

From the "Air Raid" to run-pass options (RPOs), modern NFL offenses are more dangerous than ever because of one word: space. They use the whole field — and they're fast.

The impact: This evolution has resulted in a revolution at multiple positions, both on offense and defense.

  • The ground-and-pound running back has morphed into a versatile, all-around threat who can line up anywhere on the field and create a mismatch.
  • The run-stopping inside linebacker has morphed into a speed demon, capable of rushing the QB and defending slot receivers/pass-catching TEs.
  • The slot, or "nickel," cornerback, formerly a third-down reserve, has morphed into a de facto starter and one of the most important positions on the team.

When the Panthers host the Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football (8:20pm ET, NFLN), we'll get to see 2 of these modern "archetypes" go head-to-head. They'll be matched up all over the field.

The Carolina Panther's Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey. Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
  • Name: Christian McCaffrey
  • Archetype: Versatile RB threat; Playmaker
  • The big picture: "McCaffrey played football, basketball, baseball, and track throughout his youth. … Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that these all-around athletes [are] the key to the future of the NFL." (The Ringer)
Tampa Buccaneer's player Devin White
Devin White. Photo: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Name: Devin White
  • Archetype: Coverage LB; Sideline-to-sideline
  • By the numbers: 3 teams have used top-10 picks on coverage linebackers in the last 2 years: Roquan Smith (Bears, 2018), White (Buccaneers, 2019) and Devin Bush (Steelers, 2019). 10–20 years ago, these guys would have been safeties.