When healthy, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is the most valuable player in fantasy football. The running back’s unmatched combination of volume and efficiency made his 2019 season one of the most dominant in the history of the sport. However, injuries have limited the running back to just 10 games over the past two seasons. Now entering his age-26 season, is McCaffrey still worthy of a top pick in redraft leagues?
Christian McCaffrey 2022 Fantasy Football Profile
2022’s Best-Case Scenario
If you could guarantee a clean bill of health for every single player in the NFL, then Christian McCaffrey would likely be the first-overall pick in just about every fantasy football format. His 2019 season was truly one for the record books, as the former first-round pick finished the season with 1,387 rushing yards on 287 attempts to go along with 116 receptions for 1,005 yards and a combined 19 touchdowns. He did all this while playing on an atrocious offense, and his 29.5 fantasy points per game were over eight points more than the next closest running back (Dalvin Cook, 20.9). By comparison, Jonathan Taylor averaged “just” 22.5 points per game last year.
It’s unlikely that a healthy McCaffrey could ever match that level of success again, as his 2019 season was truly one for the ages. However, the last two years proved that he is still an elite fantasy option when on the field. While injuries limited him to just three games in 2020, he still managed to record 30.1 fantasy points per game, which would have easily been the best in the league. In 2021, meanwhile, he averaged 18.2 fantasy points despite scoring just two touchdowns in seven games. The low touchdown total means that his 18.2 points per game is his floor, and that floor would have still been enough to make him the RB6 on the season. Keep in mind this 18.2 average also includes two games where injuries limited him to just 30% and 36% of the offensive snaps, respectively.
Over the past three years, we have seen McCaffrey dominate the fantasy football world regardless of quarterback, coaching scheme, and offensive line talent. He is one of the few situation-proof running backs in the league if he maintains his usual workload. The only question is if Carolina’s coaching staff will change up his usage in 2022.
Can McCaffrey Maintain His Workload?
There is no way to definitively tell if Christian McCaffrey will remain on a 400-touch pace until the season actually begins. However, we can analyze Carolina’s offseason moves and see if the organization is actively planning to limit McCaffrey’s touches.
The problem with taking McCaffrey off the field is that somebody else would need to come on the field and handle a portion of those touches. While there are only one or two backs that can match McCaffrey’s raw talent, there are enough runners out there capable of serving as McCaffrey’s 1B if the Panthers wanted to reduce his workload.
Fortunately for McCaffrey, none of Carolina’s offseason moves indicate that they plan on reducing the star running back’s workload. The Panthers didn’t add a single running back during the NFL Draft, and only signed D’Onta Foreman in free agency.
Foreman proved that he can be a solid emergency fill-in during his time with the Tennessee Titans, but it’s highly unlikely he develops into anything more than that. Chances are, Foreman is only there to be an upgrade on Chuba Hubbard. Much like how Mike Davis didn’t play much when McCaffrey was healthy in 2020, look for Foreman to exclusively function as an emergency backup.
From a coaching standpoint, Matt Rhule and the rest of the staff have every reason to put McCaffrey on the field as much as humanly possible. After two disappointing seasons, Rhule enters 2022 on the hot seat and could lose his job if the Panthers start off slow. While a coach with more job security might worry about McCaffrey’s long-term health, Rhule knows that he won’t be around too long if the Panthers don’t start winning, and he knows Christian McCaffrey gives him a better chance to win than D’Onta Foreman.
For better or worse, all signs point towards McCaffrey receiving his usual workload until his body physically can’t handle it. Historically, we know this means McCaffrey has the highest ceiling in fantasy, but it also means that he could break down for the third straight season.
Does Christian McCaffrey Carry Too Much Injury Risk?
Before we go too far, let’s establish that football is a violent sport and every single player carries a significant amount of injury risk. It’s entirely possible that McCaffrey suffers yet another injury and misses the vast majority of the season. However, the nature of McCaffrey’s previous injuries does not put him at an advanced risk of re-injury.
— Edwin Porras, DPT (@FBInjuryDoc) June 14, 2022
As shown in the tweet above, McCaffrey’s previous shoulder, ankle, and hamstring injuries are all incidental and do not lead to long-lasting injuries. While some injuries, like an Achilles tear, can be a kiss of death for a running back, McCaffrey’s relatively minor ailments should all heal with time and he should be back to his old self by the start of the season.
The only real reason to worry about McCaffrey is his age. The running back is entering his age-26 season, which means he is on the older side as far as running backs are concerned. Running back production tends to fall off a cliff after their age-27 season, and McCaffrey is close to that threshold. While that could be a red flag in dynasty leagues, redraft players shouldn’t put too much stock into his age.
While it feels dangerous to invest a high pick in a player that missed the majority of the past two seasons, McCaffrey’s elite ceiling and floor make him worthy of an early first-round pick in any fantasy format. Jonathan Taylor rightfully deserves to be the first-overall pick, but McCaffrey should be the second guy off the board in one-quarterback leagues. He’s been proven to produce in any situation, and he doesn’t carry a significant risk of re-injury.