The twists and turns of the Christian McCaffrey injury saga over the past three years continue to frustrate fantasy football managers. As the San Francisco 49ers‘ RB deals with a knee issue entering Week 13 of the 2022 NFL season, what are the latest updates regarding the injury, and should fantasy managers be making alternative plans?
Update: Christian McCaffrey did not participate in practice Wednesday but did appear to be taking part in the team’s walkthrough.
What is the Latest on Christian McCaffrey’s Knee Injury?
Coming out of the game Sunday, there appeared to be little in the way of concern about McCaffrey’s knee. While the star RB left the game, he returned and helped the 49ers see out their win over the New Orleans Saints. After the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan called it knee irritation, but the focus was more on Elijah Mitchell’s knee injury than McCaffrey’s during the media session.
On Monday, Shanahan once again referred to the issue as knee irritation for McCaffrey and said the RB will be managed day-to-day. There does not seem to be a huge amount of concern coming out of the 49ers, but that does not mean this injury can be completely dismissed by fantasy managers.
So far in 2022, McCaffrey has played in all 11 games across his two teams. However, in the past two years, he has played just 10 out of a possible 33 games, and at times it has been nagging injuries that have caused him to miss extended time. Therefore, we will need to keep an eye on this during the week and into their matchup with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
However, if we see McCaffrey either held out of practice or limited on Wednesday, that should not spark panic. Earlier in the year, we saw the Carolina Panthers “manage” McCaffrey through some injury concerns by having him sit out practice before playing in the games. That could easily be the case with the 49ers over the coming weeks as they compete for the NFC West title with the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Impact of McCaffrey’s Knee Injury
The problem is that any load management the 49ers take over the coming weeks could have a major impact on McCaffrey’s fantasy ceiling. After carrying the ball 32 times and being targeted 15 times across Weeks 8 and 10, McCaffrey has seen his workload drop in the past two games.
While he has continued to play more than 60% of the offensive snaps, McCaffrey has just 18 carries and 13 targets in those two games. That is a reduction of around 50% in his workload over that period. His low carry load in Week 11 was largely due to the blowout nature of the game against the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the 49ers used Jordan Mason to run the final four minutes off the clock in Week 12 against the Saints.
However, it is still worth noting that when the 49ers took the field with 6:18 remaining and a 13-0 lead, it was McCaffrey they turned to first, despite the knee issues. Once the offense got two first downs and virtually put the game out of reach, they put Mason in the game to run out the clock. That indicates the knee injury was not considered serious enough for McCaffrey to be held out and is likely positive going forward.
The sight of Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, or even Tevin Coleman playing significant snaps in the fourth quarter could be a common one going forward. If the 49ers have the game in a comfortable position, they are unlikely to risk McCaffrey. Therefore, we almost certainly will not see McCaffrey padding his stats in games that are comfortable. However, we should still see him playing late into games when they are close.
That is the somewhat positive element for fantasy managers here. The 49ers’ schedule over the coming weeks sees them play some tough games. In Week 13, they have the 8-3 Miami Dolphins, followed by the NFC South chasing Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and then a huge divisional clash against an exciting Seattle Seahawks team.
With Elijah Mitchell now out for the season, the question becomes whether the 49ers will be willing to handle crucial touches in tight games over to their other backs. If we see Coleman return to the roster or elevated from the practice squad, then he would most likely be the main candidate for that, but we will need to see.
If McCaffrey is on the field, fantasy managers really have little choice but to start him. He should still be fine in PPR formats, as he has still averaged 6.5 targets and 5.5 receptions per game in the past two weeks.
That gives him a nice floor in those two scoring formats. The bigger concern will be in non-PPR formats, where any potential limitation in his touches, especially in short-yardage or goal-line situations, could have a major impact.
McCaffrey also remains a solid Underdog Fantasy Best Ball option simply because we know that he can break big plays. However, there could be scope for speculative late-round selections on the likes of Mason, Coleman, or Davis-Price, with the hope that they see some late-game and goal-line work that could result in a solid fantasy output.
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