Christian McCaffrey is at a pivotal point in his career regarding his dynasty value entering the 2022 season. After three straight fully healthy seasons, including one of the greatest seasons in fantasy history, McCaffrey has been unable to stay on the field the past two years. Knowing he’s one of the best players in fantasy when available, how should dynasty fantasy football managers value McCaffrey going forward?
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Christian McCaffrey’s dynasty profile for 2022
It’s not exactly common for a consensus elite fantasy running back to be so polarizing in terms of dynasty value. Yet, that’s where we are with McCaffrey.
The single greatest fantasy season of all time came in 2006 when LaDainian Tomlinson averaged 29.6 PPR fantasy points per game. In 2019, McCaffrey averaged 29.3 ppg. As much as we all love Jonathan Taylor, McCaffrey would be the unquestioned overall RB1 in 2022 if we knew he’d play at least 14 games. Therein lies the problem.
After not missing a game over his first three seasons, McCaffrey has played in just 10 of a possible 33 games the past two seasons. The most frustrating part is McCaffrey’s production did not fall off at all. He averaged 30.1 ppg in his three games played in 2020 and 23.6 ppg in 2021 (removing the two games where he got hurt in the first half).
How do dynasty managers effectively value someone as prolific as McCaffrey, who also carries tremendous injury risk?
Fantasy projection for McCaffrey
This is simultaneously incredibly simple and incredibly complicated. When on the field, McCaffrey is an elite RB1. I still think he’s the best running back in fantasy. At the same time, we cannot ignore the multitude of injuries he’s dealt with over the past two seasons.
McCaffrey has missed time with a high ankle sprain, a regular ankle sprain, a thigh injury, and an AC joint sprain. These are not one-off flukey injuries. These are mostly soft tissue injuries with an increased likelihood of recurrence each time.
McCaffrey finished as a top-five running back four times last season. Again, he played just five complete games. In 2019, McCaffrey had a 98.4% snap share, by far the highest rate in the NFL. In two of McCaffrey’s top four performances last season, he had 68% and 58% snap shares. He never had a game with over a 90% snap share.
Fantasy managers are right to be concerned about the Panthers reducing McCaffrey’s snaps in an effort to keep him healthy. However, he’s proven he doesn’t need a massive snap share to remain highly productive. Ultimately, McCaffrey’s weekly projection remains unchanged. The question is whether you as a fantasy manager are willing to tolerate his injury risk.
What is McCaffrey’s future beyond 2022?
McCaffrey is entering his sixth NFL season and is now 26 years old. He’s past the age apex for running backs. There is reason for both optimism and pessimism surrounding McCaffrey’s long-term sustainability.
On the one hand, he’s already amassed 1,138 career touches. That high total is largely a product of his 403-touch 2019 season. Running backs typically start to fall off around 1,800 carries. If we consider McCaffrey’s receptions, which I think we should, that gives him two or three years before his production is expected to wane.
On the other hand, McCaffrey is a true receiving back. Pass-catching backs age better than between-the-tackles grinders and can remain effective into their late 20s and sometimes early 30s. Even if McCaffrey can no longer handle 15+ carries a game as he ages, he could still put up RB1 numbers on the back of his receiving work alone.
McCaffrey is signed through his age-29 season. However, there were rumors of the Panthers exploring the idea of trading him this offseason. I don’t see him going anywhere in 2022, but if the Panthers are a bad team again, McCaffrey could be on the move in 2023. Regardless of where McCaffrey plays, his skill set will fit. Dynasty managers should have no concerns over McCaffrey’s ability to produce long-term. The only concern should be his health.
What can fantasy managers expect from McCaffrey?
Dynasty managers with McCaffrey need to make a decision. The question is simple — do you think McCaffrey can stay on the field?
McCaffrey is such an interesting dynasty valuation because he could be overvalued or undervalued based entirely upon what the managers in a specific league think of him. If you’re a win-now team, you know acquiring McCaffrey from a scared manager could make your team unstoppable. It could also derail your championship run if McCaffrey gets hurt once again.
If you’re a rebuilding team, I typically wouldn’t advise acquiring 26-year-old injury-prone running backs. But what if you can get McCaffrey at a reduced price? It’s not like he will fall off a cliff at age 27. I almost feel like McCaffrey is a better asset for rebuilding teams, because if he does get hurt again, you weren’t competing this season anyway, and you can reassess after the 2022 season.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your risk-tolerance level. McCaffrey will likely average his usual 25 ppg when he’s on the field. For me, I play to win. If McCaffrey burns me, so be it. The upside of even 75% of a season of McCaffrey is too tantalizing. He’s still a top-five dynasty running back value entering the 2022 season.