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RB Christian McCaffrey | Carolina Panthers | Rookie
2016 Stats (Stanford): 253 carries for 1,603 yards, 13 touchdowns, 37 receptions for 310 yards, 3 TDs
In April’s draft, Christian McCaffrey went No. 8 overall to the Carolina Panthers as the second running back off the board. He had over 1,900 yards rom scrimmage during his junior season at Stanford, and over 2,300 combined yards in 11 games, which would be impressive if it couldn’t be compared to his 2015 campaign. As a sophomore, McCaffrey set a FBS record for total yards (3,864), including 2,019 on the ground, 45 receptions and over 1,000 yards as a kickoff returner.
The Panthers have Jonathan Stewart in place at running back, but he has missed at least three games in five straight seasons and his yards per carry average has gone from 4.6 in 2014 to 4.1 in 2015 to 3.8 in 2016. Carolina seems set on diversifying their offense this year, by drafting McCaffrey and wide receiver/running back Curtis Samuel with their first two picks. So McCaffrey is in line for a multi-faceted role, even as a theoretical No. 2 on the depth chart.
It has to be taken with a grain of salt, but the Panthers’ team website has trumpeted the idea that Stewart will see the “bulk of the carries” this year. That’s despite McCaffrey’s presence, and what exactly it means for a carry split can’t be pinpointed. McCaffrey will get a fair percentage of his touches outside of the running game, but Stewart is an absolute threat to at least take away goal line work. Over the last two seasons he has 15 rushing touchdowns, and 87 combined red zone carries (40 inside the 10-yard line, 25 inside the 5-yard line). That’s a legitimate damper on McCaffrey’s fantasy ceiling, even if Stewart is virtually sure to miss a few games.
McCaffrey is a very polished route runner, so his usage in the passing game is not necessarily going to be limited to the screen game and short dump-offs. That said, this nugget from Pat Thorman of Pro Football Focus has to be noted.
On passes aimed 5 yards downfield or less, Cam Newton ranked last in comp % (55.3) & was the only starting QB with more INT (5) than TD (1). pic.twitter.com/wKzsHI3Qh1
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) May 1, 2017
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has never been a picture of accuracy, completing over 60 percent of his passes just twice in six seasons. But last season’s lack of proficiency on very short passes is troubling, even with Carolina’s running backs combining for just 44 catches.
Right off the bat, McCaffrey has greater value in PPR scoring than in standard scoring. But his current 12-team ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator shows no real difference, in high-end RB2 territory as RB16 (pick 3.08) in standard leagues and RB15 (pick 3.08) in PPR. Stewart frankly looks like a better draft day value, as RB42 (standard) or RB45 (PPR) and a ninth or 10th round pick in 12-team leagues.
In PPR leagues I’m buying McCaffrey as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3/weekly flex starter, with a slight downgrade on that in standard leagues. But this ADP is above that level by a few rounds right now, and there’s real fantasy bust potential as a rookie for the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up.