As impressive as Christian McCaffrey’s 2018 was, we likely still haven’t seen his ceiling. How high is it? And does the Panthers running back have the potential to push for the greatest fantasy season ever?
McCaffrey was the top-scoring RB in PPR leagues last year with 383 points. That’s the eighth-most points scored by a non-quarterback since the year 2000. Even better for fantasy players, he peaked when it mattered most, going on a tear in Weeks 8 to 16 that equaled a pace for 469 points, less than a touchdown shy of LaDainian Tomlinson (473 points in Weeks 1-16) for the greatest fantasy season since the turn of the century.
So we already know that McCaffrey has the potential to be one of the all-time great fantasy players. Over a half-season sample, he performed at a level only seen by a handful of players in history. Now come reports that he’s taking it to the next level.
“I’m way stronger than I was last year,” McCaffrey told ESPN’s David Newton. “The faster I can get, the better as well. You can always get bigger, faster, stronger.”
His speed coach Brian Kula went on to say that McCaffrey has “certainly improved his speed.”
Bigger, faster, and stronger doesn’t necessarily equate to more fantasy points, but here’s why I think McCaffrey could vault himself into the GOAT conversation as soon as this year.
A Tomlinson for the 21st Century
Blair Andrews has found that RBs who break out at a young age tend to go on to have more successful careers than those who break out at an older age.
Let’s compare that to the man considered to be the gold standard of fantasy backs. At 21.8 years of age, Ladanian Tomlinson was more than a full year older than McCaffrey when he was taken fifth overall in 2001. Tomlinson mitigated his slightly older age by breaking out immediately with 279 points as a rookie, but in their second years, the bottom-line output was almost identical.
In his third season, Tomlinson was 24 years old and scored 444 fantasy points. Heading into his third season, McCaffrey will be 23 and has the potential to score at a similar level.
The Road Map to 450 Fantasy Points
Cooking up an all-time fantasy season for McCaffrey doesn’t take much imagination — we already witnessed the formula first hand in the second half of 2018.
He needs two things to carry that pace into 2019: more targets and more TDs.
Improving on the RB-record 123 targets and 106 receptions for McCaffrey may be tough, but there are targets available in Carolina. Devin Funchess signing with the Colts frees up 79 targets, while Greg Olsen’s status is up in the air. He was offered TV opportunities in the offseason but has yet to either officially retire or commit to coming back. If he and his 38 targets from last year are gone too, that’s 24.8 percent of Cam Newton’s targets out the door.
D.J. Moore is a breakout candidate and sure to soak up some of those looks, but otherwise, the Panthers have made no significant additions to the offense. The WR depth chart behind Moore consists of Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, and Curtis Samuel.
They did add some depth behind McCaffrey, but only in the form of fifth-round RB Jordan Scarlett. There is vacated opportunity, and it looks like the Panthers plan to fill it in-house. I think that McCaffrey once again breaks the RB receptions record this year while pushing for 120 receptions.
As for TDs, a lot of it comes down to luck. That said, the Panthers made a clear effort to get McCaffrey more involved in the second half of the season. He went from six total opportunities inside the 10-yard line in Weeks 1-7 to 29 opportunities in Weeks 8-16, a massive 383 percent increase in scoring opportunities.
He was on a 21-TD pace through the last half of the season. That’s probably not sustainable, but 17-18 TDs is within his range of outcomes.
What does our “fantasy” fantasy season look like, assuming about the same amount of carries, plus an increase in targets and red zone opportunities along the lines of (but still short of) last year’s second half?
- 220 carries x 5.0 YPC = 1,100 yards (110 PPR)
- 125 receptions x 8.1 YPR = 1,013 yards (226.3 PPR)
- 18 TDs (108 PPR)
Tally it up for 444.3 fantasy points in PPR leagues, exactly what Tomlinson scored in his third year. And that’s on just 335 touches, which is nothing — it would rank just 243rd on the list of the most RB touches in a season.
If the Panthers decide to feed him closer to even 375 times, McCaffrey has a shot at putting up the greatest fantasy season of all time in 2019.
Is CMC the 1.01?
To be fair, a lot of the same arguments could be made for Saquon Barkley, who also has the potential touches and talent to put up a historic season.
I wouldn’t blame you for taking the consensus approach on Barkley, and I don’t think you can go wrong with a top-two pick … unless you’re taking Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot has never cracked the 22-points-per-game mark in any of his three seasons and has yet to demonstrate the elite scoring potential we’ve already seen from McCaffrey and Barkley, who posted 25.4 and 24.1 PPG respectively last year.
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- assuming you don’t count Curtis Samuel as an RB (back)