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The Case for Christian McCaffrey as the RB1 (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Bo McBrayer | @Bo_McBigTime | Featured Writer
Aug 11, 2022
Christian McCaffrey

Nothing makes a person feel as simultaneously old and worldly than calculating how long they have been doing something. For example, I have been obsessed with the game of football since I was five years old, and my dad picked up an NFL preseason guide for me at the local minimart in 1992.

That’s right — 30 years have elapsed since I memorized every stat in that book and decided that the Dallas Cowboys would be my favorite team. My favorite player was Emmitt Smith, but I was just as astonished when watching Barry Sanders. Those two running backs are forever enshrined in Canton, but the NFL re-stocked the shelves with the likes of Marshall Faulk, Terrell Davis, and LaDainian Tomlinson.

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LT was the best RB when I started playing fantasy football online in 2006. He was the next in line from Faulk as the unquestioned PPR assassin (before that scoring format was popular). There were singular performances by Priest Holmes, David Johnson and Todd Gurley that lifted the fantasy tide until Christian McCaffrey from Stanford was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the 8th overall pick in 2017. McCaffrey, or as the fantasy community has universally dubbed “CMC,” quickly transitioned from one of the best RBs in NCAA history into his generation’s Sanders or Faulk on the professional gridiron. The key attribute that makes CMC truly special for fantasy purposes is his versatility.

CMC has been a bountiful source of fantasy points from the word “go” in his rookie season. Even on only 117 rushing attempts in 2017, he averaged 14.3 PPR points per game (RB12). His 80 receptions were third among RBs, behind only Le’Veon Bell and Alvin Kamara that season.

2018 was CMC’s grand entrance into fantasy lore. His rushing attempts spiked to 219, along with his yards per carry (from 3.7 to 5.0). That already-elite receiving upside hit a new benchmark when CMC was targeted the third-most times in a single season for an RB in NFL history with 124. He converted those into 107 receptions for 867 yards and six touchdowns through the air. Even if he had zero rushing attempts in 2018, he would have still scored 229.7 PPR points. That would have equated to WR16, ahead of Tyler Lockett. All in all, CMC recorded 356.75 fantasy points that season, the RB2 behind Saquon Barkley.

There would be no doubt about RB1 in 2019. CMC was handed an astonishing 403 touches, including 117 receptions on a new NFL RB record 141 passing targets. McCaffrey scored 19 touchdowns in total, en route to the second-best PPR season in fantasy football history with 471.2 points (Tomlinson scored 481.1 in 2006). This was all accomplished on a 5-11 Panthers team that finished last in the NFC South.

I’ll be brief with 2020 and 2021 because they were just that for McCaffrey. He played a total of three games in 2020. A high ankle sprain caused him to miss Weeks 3-8. He returned with an all-out barrage at Arrowhead before spraining his shoulder and missing the rest of the season. His PPR average in those three games was 30.1 points.


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2021 was the first time we were a bit uneasy about CMC as the consensus top pick in fantasy drafts. He suffered a severe hamstring strain in Week 3 and missed five games. He returned for a few games before spraining his ankle in Week 12 and was again lost for the season. What about the points? In the four games McCaffrey was on the field for more than half of the Panthers’ offensive snaps, he averaged 24.1 PPR points. That is one-tenth of a point less than Derrick Henry in his eight healthy games and 2.1 more PPG than last season’s runaway RB1 Jonathan Taylor.

A good portion of fantasy managers have now been burned twice by CMC as their first-round pick and avoid him in fears of him being “injury-prone” and will not draft him in the first round. Let’s go over why that is not a good strategy.

McCaffrey is now presumed healthy going into the 2022 season. He is still the unquestioned top weapon on a poorly-run Panthers team. Head coach Matt Rhule has already declared that the Carolina offense plans to use him with one word in mind: ATTACK. Injuries are a normality at the RB position; nearly every back succumbs to them eventually. Fortunately for CMC, none of his have remotely approached the type of maladies that can threaten a career. He has not torn an ACL nor ruptured an Achilles. He has not been in concussion protocol. When CMC is on the field, he is the best fantasy football player in the NFL.

I will be taking CMC with the 1.01 quite often in 2022. The sheer magnitude of McCaffrey’s fantasy upside is still unmatched this season. Even if the Panthers intelligently managed CMC’s workload, he would still warrant the first pick in fantasy drafts over the consensus pick, Taylor. JT had a remarkable season in 2021 but still benefitted from injuries to Henry and McCaffrey to become the RB1.

Taylor is not the best receiving back on his own team, and neither is Henry. McCaffrey’s receiving production raises his PPR floor and ceiling to unattainable heights for any other RB except Austin Ekeler. Knock on wood that CMC can dodge the crummy injury luck he’s had the last two years. If anything, the 26-year-old is as fresh as he possibly could be for a gigantic bounce-back in 2022.

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