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Fantasy Football: Should Christian McCaffrey be the consensus overall RB1?

Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) scores a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

Part of every PFF employee’s responsibility to both the public as well as their own personal family is to note any running back drafted in the first round is a mistake. Time and time again, unheralded — and thus cheaper — backs have managed to thrive in cozy situations; the idea that running backs don’t matter has some serious legs when considering life under the NFL’s rather arbitrary salary cap.

Paying running backs boatloads of money is generally bad for the whole “trying to build a contender” business. I get it, you get it, PFF gets it. Great.

With that said: Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey is objectively a great professional football player. Perhaps the franchise would’ve been better off devoting the No. 8 overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft elsewhere; either way, all we’ve seen the artist known as CMC do since entering the league is largely ball the hell out.

What follows is a breakdown on just how good McCaffrey has been during his four-year career and whether or not we should again treat him as the consensus first overall pick in fantasy football drafts of all shapes and sizes.

We’re already looking at one of the best (fantasy) players ever

Pass-catching running backs join dual-threat quarterbacks as the top two borderline cheat codes of fantasy football. Go ahead and throw the occasional wide receiver that gets rush attempts and whatever the hell Taysom Hill identifies as in there too — fantasy is about racking up as many receptions, yards and touchdowns as possible, so players who have multiple avenues to production are usually preferred to those who are more one-dimensional producers.

It took McCaffrey a year to really get his feet wet at the NFL level in terms of his rushing ability; that hasn’t stopped him from functioning as an elite fantasy footballer from the second he stepped onto a professional field.

  • 2017: overall PPR RB9
  • 2018: RB2 (by 0.6 PPR points)
  • 2019: RB1
  • 2020: RB54

Obviously the latter performance was caused by CMC playing just three games while dealing with severe ankle and shoulder injuries. Overall, McCaffrey actually averaged more PPR points per game in 2020 (30.1) than he did in 2019 (29.5). Those campaigns rank third and sixth in terms of the highest-scoring single-season performances from any running back in NFL history (minimum three games, I know, kind of cheating here).

At the moment, McCaffrey holds the top mark among all running backs to ever play the game in PPR points per game. Alvin Kamara, Jim Brown, Saquon Barkley and LaDainian Tomlinson are the only other backs to join CMC above the 20-point threshold.

Credit to CMC for vastly improving his ability between the tackles throughout his career; we see him at the top of all these charts because of his ability to catch the rock. He holds the top two marks in NFL history in single-season receptions and is responsible for 40% of all running back campaigns that hauled in triple-digit receptions.

The potential hurdle for McCaffrey ahead of 2021 is the presence of (another) new quarterback under center. However, potential investors shouldn’t fret too much because…

Spencer Rattler Oklahoma quarterback
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