SANTA CLARA – Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey’s NFL debut Sunday will be against one of his best friends.
But the bigger head-to-head challenge for McCaffrey will come from the second of the 49ers’ two first-round draft picks.
McCaffrey was chosen with the No. 8 overall pick. His former Stanford roommate, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, was the 49ers’ selection at No. 3 overall. The Panthers and 49ers open the regular season on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
“It’ll be good. It’ll be pretty familiar,” McCaffrey said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “We did it a lot the past three years. I’m excited, man. That’s one of my best friends in the whole world.”
McCaffrey figures to be a vital weapon for the Panthers as a runner and receiver. The 49ers will likely turn to rookie linebacker Reuben Foster to help neutralize him in coverage. The 49ers traded back into the first round to select Foster with the No. 31 overall pick.
“He’s a heck of a player, man,” McCaffrey said of Foster. “He’s fast. He’s physical. He’ll stick his nose in there. He’s good getting to the ball and he’s an high energy player, somebody that is definitely going to be tough to go against.
“He’s a good player. He can cover. You watch some of the preseason games. He did a good job doing it. He’s an all-around great linebacker. I think that’s why they chose him as one of their first-rounders.”
McCaffrey said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan babysat him a long time ago. And McCaffrey has known 49ers general manager John Lynch, who was a Denver Broncos teammate with his dad, Ed McCaffrey.
“I kind of knew they weren’t going to pick me,” McCaffrey said. “They had some other needs. But I love all those guys over there.”