Fantasy Football: What to expect from Christian McCaffrey in 2021

After an injury-marred 2020 campaign, will Christian McCaffrey be the clear No. 1 back in fantasy football again this year?

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers, Fantasy Football
NFL Analyis Network

In 2019, Christian McCaffrey lapped the field to finish as the No. 1 running back in fantasy football. In Week 1 last season, in the new system of offensive coordinator Joe Brady, he got off to a nice start on a repeat (23 carries for 97 yards, two touchdowns; three catches for 38 yards-RB2 in fantasy for the week). He scored two times again in Week 2 (18 carries for 59 yards; four catches for 29 yards), on his way to a top-six finish for the week.

But an ankle injury in that Week 2 game sidelined McCaffrey until Week 9. He produced big in his return (18 carries for 69 yards, 1 TD; 10 receptions for 82 yards, 1 TD), finishing as the RB2 across scoring formats for the week. But suffered a shoulder injury in the game, and a quad injury helped sideline him for the rest of the season.

On a per-game basis, McCaffrey was the top-scoring running back in fantasy football last year. When totally healthy, which was only Week 1 when it comes down to it, he was still nearly an every snap player (97 percent). His role as the Panthers’ workhorse was unaffected by a new coaching regime, and all six of his total touchdowns came in the red zone.

McCaffrey had 76 touches in three games last year. That was good for a 405-touch pace over 16 games. As a comparison, he had 403 touches in 2019. His balance of touches favored carries over targets compared to 2019, but the volume would have been the same over a full season.

Christian McCaffrey 2021 Fantasy Outlook

Behind McCaffrey, the Panthers lost Mike Davis in free agency and used a fourth-round pick on Chuba Hubbard. So Hubbard is the handcuff to McCaffrey, for those who are so inclined. The departure of Curtis Samuel in free agency opens up some targets in the passing game. In theory, Sam Darnold is an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater under center.

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McCaffrey has averaged essentially 25 touches per game in each of the last two seasons. Over his last 19 games, going back through 2019, he has topped 20 PPR points 17 times. In one of the other two, he cleared 17 PPR points.

The broad narrative out there says McCaffrey is the slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts again this year. A heavy workload gives him a high floor (top-5 running back/overall fantasy scorer), and the ceiling is a repeat of 2019 as the RB1 by a good margin. But color me skeptical of the 2019 best-case scenario, as he became the third player in NFL history with a 1,000/1,000 (rushing and receiving yards) season. I don’t see him as the unquestioned No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts, with room for Dalvin Cook or even Derrick Henry in that conversation.

Durability is not a serious concern with McCaffrey. Last year is the only time he has missed a game in four NFL seasons. So that’s not the root of my skepticism. But last year’s run of injuries shouldn’t be completely discounted either. A simple correction from a record season in 2019 is coming, and it didn’t get a chance to flesh out last year.

Along the line of the 1,965 total yards and 10-15 total touchdowns McCaffrey posted in 2018 is a solid expectation for 2021. But that would be a drop of 70-75 fantasy points compared to 2019.