While it might seem like a decade ago, we are just one year removed from Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey having the brightest fantasy football outlook of any player in the league. Yet, after two seasons plagued by injuries, McCaffrey’s value is up for debate at his current ADP. Is McCaffrey due for a bounceback in 2022, and is it worth selecting him at his first-round ADP in fantasy football drafts, given his current fantasy outlook?
Christian McCaffrey’s fantasy outlook for 2022
Since 2018, McCaffrey has averaged 25.6 ppg while finishing as an RB2 or better in 90% of his games. In 2021, he scored 24+ points in four of his six outings. But therein lies the issue which has plagued McCaffrey the last two seasons.
Injuries have kept one of the NFL and fantasy football’s brightest stars off the field. McCaffrey missed 23 games over the last two seasons, so managers who held the 1.01 have been left with a sour taste in their mouths watching him sit on their benches. They may have even dropped him outright to open up roster space.
Everything boils down to your confidence in whether or not McCaffrey can play in 14+ games. Entering his age-26 season, McCaffrey is still in his prime years, but analytics would tell you it is the back half. While I don’t expect to see him match his historic 2019 season, McCaffrey has all of the traits of a No. 1 RB. If he stays healthy, McCaffrey will battle Jonathan Taylor for the RB1 of the 2022 season.
How the Panthers’ depth chart impacts Christian McCaffrey’s fantasy projection for the season
Carolina’s depth chart is both a positive and a negative for McCaffrey. Unlike other top RBs like Taylor, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon, and Austin Ekeler, McCaffrey is on a team not expected to compete. The roster has serious questions.
The first one is at quarterback. The Panthers were heavy in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but after striking out, they initially planned on entering the season with Sam Darnold, who they’re stuck with after picking up his fifth-year option. However, they opted to complete a trade with the Cleveland Browns for Baker Mayfield. With Matt Corral having sustained a Lisfranc injury which ended his season while still officially a competition, it appears to be Mayfield’s job.
Oddly enough, Mayfield is the most talented QB McCaffrey has shared a backfield with while in Carolina. Sure, Cam Netwon, at his peak, is in a different stratosphere. But that was not the same player who was with McCaffrey. If Mayfield can put together a solid season and generate a passing attack, it will only make like easier on McCaffrey, who, when healthy, has the highest ceiling of any running back in fantasy football.
Expect to see McCaffrey on the sidelines a bit more in 2022
Given the questions at QB, as Mayfield is no sure thing, McCaffrey will once again be asked to carry the Panthers’ offense. However, it won’t be the same as in 2019, when he saw 98.4% of the offensive snaps. The Panthers are aware of this and, after drafting Chuba Hubbard last season, added D’Onta Foreman during free agency to add further backfield depth. McCaffrey will still lead the team in snaps, but a 70% rate might be more realistic based on current trends.
Carolina has a bona fide No. 1 target in DJ Moore, who is coming off his third straight season of 1,200+ total yards, the longest streak among NFL wide receivers. He also just got a well-deserved payday this offseason. Beyond Moore are some questions. Can Robby Anderson bounce back after finishing as the WR50 despite seeing 110 targets? Can second-year wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. step up after managing just 30 targets in 2021?
Outside of Moore, McCaffrey is the only proven producer on Carolina’s offense. While projections are still being hammered out, McCaffrey could easily see 16-19 opportunities per game, with four to five coming via the air, as McCaffrey is one of the best pass-catching RBs of this generation.
Last season, only seven running backs recorded 300 or more opportunities (carries plus targets). McCaffrey should cruise past this into the 315+ range if he’s healthy. I fully understand the risk of drafting McCaffrey. However, few players, especially in PPR formats, bring as high a ceiling. His ADP is high, but so is the reward — if we see McCaffrey be the player we know he can be when on the field.
McCaffrey’s ADP for 2022
McCaffrey won’t come cheap on draft day. He is the second highest-priced player in fantasy football. Only Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor is coming off the boards higher as the consensus 1.01, placing McCaffrey as the likeliest second pick in fantasy drafts.
Outside of Taylor, there are reasonable questions with every other first-round running back. Age, production, and injury history all come into play, and McCaffrey isn’t the exception. He has to stay healthy; otherwise, he will tank whatever fantasy team he is on for the third year in a row.
However, I feel the risk is worth it as the pure volume McCaffrey will see, especially via targets, should be substantial. I do not expect the same 97% or more snap share; quite frankly, I don’t want it. We want him to be as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
The 1.02 is arguably the easiest draft pick, as I would take whoever falls. In nine out of 10 leagues, that player is McCaffrey. From there, virtually every strategy is viable to create a championship-caliber roster.
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