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Christian McCaffrey & Mike Davis Fantasy Outlook: Is there room for both?

Does Davis have a role in fantasy when Christian McCaffrey returns?
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 13: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers scores a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first quarter of their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season had all fantasy football managers on edge as a number of athletes went down with injuries. Many of them, including elite running back Saquon Barkley, were lost for the season as a result. Despite the injury not being as severe as Barkley’s, the consensus first overall pick in fantasy drafts, Christian McCaffrey, was also a part of Week 2’s lengthy injury report. McCaffrey was placed on short-term IR with a high ankle sprain. In his place, Mike Davis has done a terrific job, and fantasy managers that were able to snag him off the waiver wire have been more than pleased.

McCaffrey is expected to return in Week 8, however. Even though he’s been outstanding, and the Carolina Panthers are on a three-game winning streak during McCaffrey’s absence, is there room for Davis in this backfield once McCaffrey returns? Or should fantasy football managers be looking to sell as soon as possible?

Mike Davis has been a high-end RB1 in fantasy during Christian McCaffrey’s absence

As expected, there was speculation as to what we could expect from Mike Davis in fantasy once Christian McCaffrey went on IR. It’s safe to say, however, that none of us expected what we’ve seen from him so far.

On the season, Davis is fantasy’s RB9 in half-PPR formats. During the Panthers’ three-game winning streak with Davis as the starter, he is the RB3, behind only Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook. The volume for Davis has been nearly identical to that of McCaffrey when he’s been healthy. Davis has seen 21+ touches in each of the three games he has been the starter. More importantly to a number of fantasy managers, he’s been heavily involved in the passing game.

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Last week, Davis saw 10 targets from QB Teddy Bridgewater, turning them into nine receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. His overall receiving numbers on the season include 30 receptions on 33 targets for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers are second behind only Kamara among running backs.

He’s also been truly effective as a runner, averaging 4.9 yards per carry since Week 3. Last week, against the Atlanta Falcons’ defense, Davis looked like a man amongst boys running over a number of defenders. While McCaffrey is the clear-cut starter when he returns, Davis has made a strong case for a continuous role in Carolina’s offense.

Christian McCaffrey is still an elite fantasy option once he returns

There may be some concerns for Christian McCaffrey following his return from injury, but he’s still the elite talent that made him the first overall pick in fantasy drafts and should be treated as such. Prior to his injury in Week 1, McCaffrey scored two touchdowns off of 26 touches. He also scored two touchdowns in Week 2 before injuring his ankle with less than two minutes to go in the game.

The volume has clearly always been there, and we knew that even with a coaching change that would not diminish. When McCaffrey returns, he will still be the easiest plug and play option for fantasy managers as an elite RB1 and the focal point around head coach Matt Rhule’s offense. With that said, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if we see a slight dip in McCaffrey’s touches.

Before McCaffrey’s fantasy football managers begin to freak out, understand that a drop in touches for McCaffrey would still result in a higher volume than what other running backs around the league typically receive. In 2019, McCaffrey saw 403 touches, an average of over 25 per game. In his two games this season, he had 48 total. So, if by chance Rhule decides to cut McCaffrey’s touches down to around 20 on average per game, it’s not the end of the world.

There’s no reason at all to believe that McCaffrey will not produce at an elite level with what would still be a high volume of touches and remain a high-end RB1 in fantasy football.

Mike Davis has earned an increased role in the Panthers offense

Many fantasy football analysts believe that Davis will head back to the bench once Christian McCaffrey returns, but I disagree. My feeling is that Davis has done enough during McCaffrey’s absence to warrant himself a continuous role in the offense. Therefore, I’m cautiously optimistic that Davis will still have some fantasy appeal when McCaffrey returns.

In no way am I expecting to see a split backfield of any sort, but I don’t think 8-10 touches for Davis on average is out of the realm of possibility. I had a vested interest in last week’s game against the Falcons for fantasy so I paid more attention to the game than I normally would. As I said earlier, Mike Davis dominated in a number of ways, and his fantasy production shows it. Although I know Atlanta isn’t exactly known for their defense, you could easily see that Rhule was more than pleased with Davis’ efforts.

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Another reason I believe that Davis has earned his role is that the Panthers are winning. It was perceived before the season started that Carolina could be in the running for the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, and after two games that remained a possibility. The Panthers have pulled a 180, however, and now on a three-game winning streak, have aspirations for a playoff berth, possibly even a division title as PFN’s George Templeton made mention of on this week’s Against the Spread podcast.

While Davis does not deserve sole credit for the quick turnaround of the Panthers, he certainly deserves some of it. Simply resorting him back to the bench doesn’t seem like the right take.

Fantasy managers with Christian McCaffrey must acquire Mike Davis

Analyzing Davis’ fantasy value at the moment could be difficult. For this week, and at least next week, he can continue to be viewed at the RB1 level that he’s been performing at. This remains the case even though Carolina’s opponents the next two weeks – the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, respectively – are tougher against running backs than their recent opponents.

After that, assuming McCaffrey does return in Week 8, is a mystery. What is known is that Davis becomes one of the more necessary handcuffs to own in case something else happens to McCaffrey or if he is held out longer than expected.

If you have McCaffrey in your fantasy league, acquiring Davis is a must at this point. If you weren’t able to acquire him off the waiver wire or beforehand, you may soon have the best chance at another shot with his fantasy value about to drastically drop.

We know what McCaffrey is when he is healthy, and now we know what Davis is when he is not. Should anything else happen to McCaffrey or if he has a setback, Davis instantly becomes a league winner. I’m also of the mindset that Davis may have some standalone value as an RB3/Flex if he is given the 8-10 touch opportunities I believe he’s earned. I’d be willing to trade a low-end WR3 for Davis even with the uncertainty of what his role is going forward.

To recap, I do foresee a small dip in Christian McCaffrey’s touches when he returns but nothing that fantasy football managers should be concerned about. I think Matt Rhule may just not want to overdo it with his lead star, and that Davis has earned his confidence when called upon. To this point, Mike Davis has had a tough time finding his place in the NFL. Now in his sixth season, he may have just found it.

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Be sure to follow us on Twitter: @PFN365 to stay up to date with all things around the NFL and the 2020 fantasy football season. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis while also visiting our fantasy football section for more coverage and up-to-date rankings.

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