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Christian McCaffrey Should Be the No-Brainer No. 1 Pick In Every Fantasy Football Draft

Christian McCaffrey Should Be the No-Brainer No. 1 Pick In Every Fantasy Football Draft article feature image

Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey

Editor's note: The following analysis was written in June, but when coupled with the latest rankings and projections in our 2021 Fantasy Draft Kit, is still valuable research for your next draft.

Christian McCaffrey Fantasy Ranking

Overall Ranking1
Positional RankingRB1
Consensus rankings via Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon are based on half PPR scoring and as of early June.

Some decisions are difficult, but drafting Christian McCaffrey with the first overall pick of your fantasy draft will be the easiest choice you will make all season.

McCaffrey's 2020 Season

  • Games played: 3
  • Rushing: 59 attempts, 225 yards, 5 touchdowns
  • Receiving: 19 targets, 17 catches, 149 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Fantasy finishes: RB50 in PPR, RB51 in standard, RB50 in half PPR

McCaffrey is coming off an injury-plagued season that burned fantasy managers everywhere with the No. 1 overall pick. He appeared in just three games all year after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and a shoulder injury in Week 9. He rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown and reeled in 10 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown in that game, which would be his last of the season.
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The 24-year-old Stanford product is expected to return to full strength for the 2021 season from his menagerie of small injuries, which are less likely to linger than one catastrophic injury. It's also worth noting that the Panthers were at no point competitive for a playoff spot in 2020 and had little incentive to urge their $64 million star back prematurely. He finished the year with 59 attempts for 225 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 17 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown — an average of 27.3 fantasy points per game in half PPR.

Past Fantasy Performances

It would be criminal to assess McCaffrey's value based on his disappointing 2020 season. The 2017 first-round pick is a former consensus All-American and has earned first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

In 2019, McCaffrey posted record-breaking stats and was the second-highest scoring fantasy player — including quarterbacks — to only Lamar Jackson. McCaffrey averaged 26.3 fantasy points per game in half PPR (Weeks 1 through 16) and his receiving stats alone would have ranked him 16th among receivers. His 393.9 fantasy points was 99.5 fantasy points more than the second-highest scoring non-quarterback that season, Michael Thomas.

McCaffrey's 2021 Fantasy Outlook

McCaffrey has managed to perform at an extremely high level in spite of anemic quarterback play and decent competition for targets.

nfl-betting-fantasy football-injury report-week 14
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey

Former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was on the decline in 2018 and 2019, when McCaffrey was the second-highest and highest-scoring running back in fantasy. Last season, the Panthers leaned on Teddy Bridgewater, who was recently dealt to the Broncos on the heels of a less-than-ideal 2020.

This will be Sam Darnold's first season in Carolina following a trade from the Jets in April. Darnold is a former No. 3 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft.

The jury is out whether the 23-year-old USC product will be an upgrade from Bridgewater, but Carolina's system will be a step up from the Jets, who have seemingly been in rebuild mode for years. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady should also offer much more support and expertise than the Adam Gase-led staff Darnold had to endure for the last two seasons in New York.

McCaffrey enters the 2021 season with similar competition to previous years, both out of the backfield and as a receiver. Backup Mike Davis was replaced by 2021 fourth-rounder Chuba Hubbard on the Panthers' depth chart, and receiver Curtis Samuel replaced by 2021 second-rounder Terrace Marshall Jr. This means McCaffrey should receive a similar workload to previous seasons of at least 200 rushing attempts and close to 100 catches if healthy.

How To Draft McCaffrey

McCaffrey's rushing and pass-catching abilities make him a near-unstoppable force in fantasy football. The injuries that plagued him in 2020 should not deter managers entering 2021.

Do not overthink this one: He should be the no-brainer No. 1 pick in all formats.

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