The San Francisco 49ers have traded for Christian McCaffrey. In return, the Carolina Panthers will receive a 2023 second-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick, a 2023 fourth-round pick, and a 2024 fifth-round pick. After moving on from head coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers are clearly ready to tear down the franchise to the studs and build for the future.
At 3-3 and tied for first in the NFC West in the NFL standings, the 49ers are looking for the final push to take them over the top and establish themselves as clear division leaders, especially after having lost their starting quarterback for the year.
With such an expensive price tag — both in draft capital and salary cap allocation — the 49ers are taking a big risk to upgrade a position they’ve been getting some pretty good production from.
How Will Christian McCaffrey Fit in the 49ers Offense?
Despite Kyle Shanahan’s reputation as an offensive play-caller, particularly in the run game, the 49ers have struggled in recent seasons on the ground. Since 2018, they rank just 15th in rushing EPA per play and 13th in rushing success rate. They haven’t been hopeless, but injuries and misfitting pieces have throttled the team’s rushing production.
Shanahan has a knack for using backs outside of their traditional roles. Running backs haven’t traditionally garnered massive target shares in San Francisco, but Shanahan has never possessed a back with McCaffrey’s skill set. His presence on the field will undoubtedly help the play-action game, which is crucial for Jimmy Garoppolo’s success attacking the middle of the field.
Carolina ran a mix of both zone and gap in the run game, and McCaffrey’s vision is good in both schemes, so that won’t be an issue. And while his immediate impact is huge for helping Garoppolo and the 49ers’ passing attack and run game, McCaffrey’s future impact could be the real kicker.
Trey Lance is an athletic quarterback and a damned good runner. Having an athletic presence like Lance in shotgun paired with the electricity McCaffrey provides will give defenses fits, as long as Shanahan doesn’t shy away from using Lance as a runner after his freak ankle injury.
— Dalton Miller, PFN Lead NFL Analyst
How Could the McCaffrey Trade Impact Fantasy Football?
For as fun as this trade appears to be in real-world terms, it is somewhat of a downer for fantasy football purposes. The overall net value of the trade is a negative because we go from having productive situations in San Francisco and Carolina to a productive situation in San Francisco and a lot of uncertainty in Carolina.
McCaffrey himself also sees a slight dip in value simply because he now has extremely competent backups in Jeff Wilson Jr. and Elijah Mitchell. Previously, McCaffrey’s backups of D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard were not likely to take any significant number of touches from him.
In San Francisco, that situation is different. We could still see around 10 touches per game from either Wilson or Mitchell, including potential goal-line work heading their way. Unfortunately, it’s tough to see either carry much independent value after this trade. They will be very touchdown-dependent, but that really only factors in for 14-team leagues or deeper. However, we may yet see one more week of Wilson being fantasy relevant, with McCaffrey unlikely to play a major role in Week 7.
Meanwhile, back in Carolina, the situation is confusing. D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard have a combined 20 touches through the first six weeks. Foreman has had a slight advantage, but their roles after McCaffrey’s departure is uncertain.
From what we’ve seen in their careers, Foreman would likely have the most value as a potential early-down and goal-line back. Meanwhile, Hubbard could have PPR value getting the passing-game work.
— Ben Rolfe, PFN Director of Fantasy
Who Else Will the Panthers Trade?
The Panthers’ early-week trade of wide receiver Robbie Anderson didn’t necessarily signal that a firesale was coming in Carolina. Anderson got into a sideline argument with his position coach in Week 6 and was then sent to the locker room mid-game by interim head coach Steve Wilks. The Panthers would have released Anderson had the Cardinals not offered sixth- and seventh-round picks in future drafts to acquire the disgruntled wideout.
Carolina’s decision to trade McCaffrey is a different story. The Panthers received an ample return for the oft-injured RB, so while they may not start simply giving away assets, the CMC deal does indicate Carolina is willing to move other players before the Nov. 1 trade deadline.
Wide receiver DJ Moore is the most attractive piece on the Panthers’ roster, but he won’t come cheap. Moore is still only 25 years old and has posted three consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns despite working with sub-optimal QB play.
Carolina just extended him this offseason, and an acquiring team would get Moore on a relatively cheap contract through the 2025 season. It’s difficult to imagine the Panthers trading Moore for anything less than a first-round pick, and it might take more than that.
Edge rusher Brian Burns would also likely command at least a top-32 draft selection. He’s even younger than Moore (24) and has posted 18 sacks over the past two seasons. Youthful pass rushers like Burns don’t become available very often, so Carolina should be able to name its price. Burns is under contract through 2023, so his new team would have to be ready for a $25+ million per year extension.
The Panthers have plenty of other players that they could conceivably trade — it’s just a question of how far significantly they want to strip their roster. Recent first-round picks Jaycee Horn and Derrick Brown are still on their rookie contracts, and Carolina might want to hang onto them.
Carolina could be more amenable to trading veterans like right tackle Taylor Moton, linebacker Shaq Thompson, cornerback Donte Jackson, or safety Xavier Woods.
— Dallas Robinson, PFN NFL Analyst
Was the McCaffrey Trade Good for the Panthers and 49ers?
I expect McCaffrey to be productive for the 49ers, but I expect that from most backs in the Shanahan system with that offensive line. McCaffrey is not completely replaceable in the same sense that most backs are, but the improvement he is over the production that the offense can get out of running backs does not strike me as a good deal.
The 49ers are essentially out of impact draft picks in next year’s draft, having lost this year’s first-round pick in the trade-up for Lance. Their first pick in the 2023 draft is in the fifth round, even when accounting for compensatory picks.
This all-in approach worked for another California team, the Los Angeles Rams, but it’s hard to think of the Rams and 49ers being in the same place when they made these moves — San Francisco is not just an RB away. The 49ers have traditionally manufactured offense with short touches for YAC, a model that fits McCaffrey well.
But they already have two receivers who specialize in that, and draining touches from those two could turn the offense into a less efficient unit overall. McCaffrey’s injury history, workload, and position make this trade a bit of a loss for the 49ers. It’s understandable, as they clearly think they’ve been unable to hit on a running back in the draft after selecting Tyrion Davis-Price and Trey Sermon in the middle rounds.
San Francisco also hasn’t been getting much done on the ground this year and rank 25th in EPA per rushing attempt, but that’s primarily a run-blocking problem (something those draft picks could help fix next year).
We’ll see McCaffrey produce in a big way in 2023 because all running backs see a big boost with a running quarterback at the helm. But the 49ers could have added a lot of dynamic players with those picks whose total contribution would mean more than McCaffrey’s.
On the other side of it, the Panthers made out well and now hold five picks in the top 100 and three in the top 60. If they accidentally stumble into some wins and lose the first overall spot, this provides them with excellent ammunition to get back to the top and still have a complete draft.
This serves two purposes. First, it’s a great immediate return for value when comparing the benefit of those draft picks to an elite but oft-injured RB on their second contract. Second, it makes the franchise more attractive for an incoming head coach, who will be able to mold the franchise in their vision with their players on cheap rookie deals.
They won’t likely get as much production this year out of Foreman and Hubbard as they would have gotten out of McCaffrey — or out of an RB picked in Round 2 — but they should be able to get close enough to make all the other picks in the deal push them over the top. Carolina could come out of next year’s draft with the top quarterback, a top-three running back, a top-five receiver, and starting quality players at center and safety.
The added bonus of being a more attractive coaching destination might mean that the Panthers get more out of drawing the right coach in than from the picks themselves.
The Panthers made out well in the deal, while the 49ers probably did not.
— Arif Hasan, PFN Lead NFL Writer
Who Might the Panthers Draft to Replace Christian McCaffrey?
Vegas currently projects the Panthers with the third overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. As fond of Bijan Robinson as you may be, there are bigger fish to fry in the first round for Carolina at pick 3, namely quarterback.
As Robinson is likely to go in the latter portion of Round 1, the target shifts to Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama. Gibbs possesses elite contact balance, terrific vision, and breakaway speed. There’s an effortless nature about Gibbs’ game, as he looks like he’s always looking for the next guy to make miss.
An elite contributor in the passing game, think of Alvin Kamara when you look for a player comparison for Gibbs. He’d be worth the 34th overall pick if he’s there for Carolina. The rest of the way down is a varietal who’s who of RB prototypes and physical specimens.
Names to watch for Carolina to select in each round are as follows:
Zach Charbonnet, UCLA; Kenny McIntosh, Georgia; Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh
Tavion Thomas, Utah; Tank Bigsby, Auburn; Blake Corum, Michigan
Chase Brown, Illinois; Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky; Roschon Johnson, Texas
Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota; Khalan Laborn, Marshall; Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
— Cam Mellor, CFN Lead College Football Analyst