Christian McCaffrey Fantasy Football Outlook & Value 2021



Christian McCaffrey was the consensus RB1 and first overall pick on virtually everyone’s draft board last season. Unfortunately, the Panthers’ running back only got on the field for three games last season. Carolina’s star back hadn’t missed any time in his career before last season, but he dealt with two major injuries last year in a high ankle sprain and a shoulder injury. Carolina may opt to reduce his workload this season to keep McCaffrey healthy. Still, he also reworked his training regimen to be less aggressive and give himself more opportunity for rest. Hopefully, with a less aggressive training approach and a strong offseason, McCaffrey will be healthy for 2021 and able to play a full slate of games as one of the best running backs in the NFL.

2020 Recap 

RUSH YDSRUSH TDSRECSREC YDSREC TDSFPTSFPPG
225517149181.927.3

It’s a shame McCaffrey only played in 3 games last season because he was on pace for career-high numbers across the board. He was on pace for around 315 carries for 1,200 yards with 90 catches for 795 yards with 32 touchdowns from scrimmage. That would have been a pace of 436.8 half-PPR points and the second-most in a season in NFL history behind only LaDanian Tomlinson’s untouchable 2006 season. McCaffrey has been the best receiver at the running back position since being drafted in 2017, and last season was no different. CMC’s 27.3 half-PPR points per game were the most in the NFL by a massive margin – the second-most, Dalvin Cook, scored almost 5 fewer half-PPR points per game. Even if CMC’s workload is slightly reduced to keep him healthy, he should still be the best running back in fantasy football this season.

2021 Projection 

RUSH YDSRUSH TDSRECREC YDSREC TDSFPTSFPPG
1,367.41486.1757.44363.521.4

I’d imagine that the Panthers’ key decision-makers are going to take a hard look at Christian McCaffrey’s workload in 2020 and reduce it by a bit. After all, that’s why you spend a fourth-round pick on Chuba Hubbard even with CMC on the roster. Still, even with a slightly reduced workload, McCaffrey is projected as the RB1 on my spreadsheets by a significant margin. I have him scoring about 30 more half-PPR points than the RB2 in my rankings, Dalvin Cook. In CMC’s last healthy season, he had 116 receptions, the second-most in the NFL. I have his receptions total significantly reduced from that mark for a few reasons (more on that soon), but he’s still going to be among the leaders in the NFL and the top pass-catching running back.

ADP & Auction Value 

ADP: 1, Round 1, RB1

Auction Value: $67

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Christian McCaffrey is being drafted as the top player off the board by ADP and has the highest average auction value. However, it does surprise me that he’s currently only priced at $7 more than the second-drafted running back in Dalvin Cook for auction leagues. As I mentioned above, CMC is projected significantly ahead of Cook in my rankings, and that’s with a notable workload decrease for McCaffrey – his upside is even greater. If I have the second or third pick in a snake draft, I’m doing everything I can to trade up and get CMC. If I’m in an auction league, I’d be willing to spend close to half my budget on CMC. He is that damn good, and if he plays 16 games this year, he’s going to be on a lot of championship rosters in fantasy football leagues.

Floor

Barring significant injuries like he had last year, it isn’t easy to envision a scenario where Christian McCaffrey isn’t the RB1 in fantasy. There are running backs who will produce more on the ground – I have Derrick Henry projected to run for over 2,000 yards again. There are running backs who can compete with CMC’s pass-catching capabilities – Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, and Austin Ekeler stand out here. However, there are no running backs who combine the elite production both on the ground and through the air that McCaffrey can. Whoever said running backs aren’t valuable in the NFL anymore has never watched CMC play – he carries his team’s offense, and with everything funneled through him, I believe his floor is as a top-three RB for fantasy at the bare minimum. 

Ceiling 

I really would be shocked if Christian McCaffrey plays a full season and doesn’t finish as the RB1 in fantasy. I have him projected a bit lower than what his upside entails, and he’s still the RB1 by a decent margin. Before last year, McCaffrey had 100+ catches in two straight seasons. In 2019, he touched the ball over 400 times and had 1,000+ rushing and receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns. If CMC responds well to rehabilitation and the coaching staff isn’t as concerned about his long-term health as I anticipate, he absolutely has that type of upside once again this season. Last year’s injury may scare fantasy managers, but it may not scare off the real-life managers from giving CMC everything he can handle this year.

Carolina Panthers Offense 

Carolina PanthersThis Panthers’ offense is slated to look much different than the unit McCaffrey played with when he was a First-Team All-Pro back in 2019. That team started Kyle Allen for 12 games, Cam Newton for 2, and Will Grier for 2 at quarterback. This offseason, the Panthers traded for embattled former first-round pick Sam Darnold in hopes that a change of scenery is exactly what he needs to turn his career around. D.J. Moore is still the top receiver on the team, as he was in 2019, but he’s joined by Robby Anderson, who caught 95 balls for 1,096 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. Moore had 66 catches for 1,193 yards of his own and 4 touchdowns last year. Curtis Samuel was the third receiving option last year, but he signed a three-year contract with the Washington Football Team in free agency. Carolina drafted Terrace Marshall Jr., a former LSU receiver, to complement Moore and Anderson in the second round. Ian Thomas only had 20 catches for 145 yards last year, and he hasn’t been able to fill the void left by Greg Olsen at tight end. The Panthers will be hoping Tommy Tremble, the rookie out of Notre Dame will help out at that position. This offense only scored 21.9 points per game last year, the 9th-fewest in the NFL, but a healthy CMC should make a big difference. I have a lot of faith in head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady to make this offense much more competitive in 2021.

Strength of Schedule  

The NFC South is not a fun place to be for running backs as the Saints (1st), Buccaneers (4th), and Falcons (9th) all ranked as top-ten defenses last year against fantasy running backs. However, Christian McCaffrey has done his fair share of damage against his divisional rivals in the past. The NFC South plays the AFC East in inter-conference play, meaning CMC will face the Dolphins (12th), Patriots (15th), Bills (18th), and Jets (20th), a handful of middle-of-the-pack defenses against RBs in fantasy. Carolina also plays some tough defenses against fantasy running backs in Washington (2nd) and Philadelphia (11th) in the NFC East, but the Giants (22nd) and Cowboys (26th) present much easier matchups for McCaffrey. Rounding out the Panthers’ schedule are the Vikings (27th), Cardinals (16th), and Texans (32nd), some very beatable defenses. All in all, this schedule sets up very nicely for Christian McCaffrey to be an elite fantasy football weapon.

Bottom Line

One year ago, we discussed Christian McCaffrey as an unfair advantage for fantasy managers with the number one overall pick following his historically great 2019 season. While he only played in 3 games last year, and there will be concerns over a potential workload decrease, I don’t believe much has changed. McCaffrey is still my projected top scorer in all of fantasy football, and I can’t wait to see him get back on the field this season. If you’re lucky enough to have the #1 overall pick in your fantasy draft, grab CMC and don’t think twice about it.

2021 Fantasy Football Player Outlooks
I've been writing about sports for Lineups since the beginning of 2020 and on my own website since 2018. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. I've been playing fantasy football for as long as I can remember and am now in far more leagues than any person should take part in. There are few things that give me as much joy and excitement as fantasy football, and I'm excited to share my input with you in your journey towards a championship.

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