Making the Case for 1.01: Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffery

With the NFL Draft fast approaching, dynasty owners will soon have a much clearer picture regarding this rookie class and how NFL teams value the incoming rookies. However, until those picks are announced and landing spots are determined, I think dynasty owners are faced with a question that there is no consensus answer to, and that is who will end up the top rookie on dynasty draft boards? I won’t fault you if you think Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Corey Davis, or Mike Williams is that player, but I’ll make the case that Christian McCaffrey should be your early favorite.

Before we start with the positives, let’s focus on the red flag brought up most by McCaffrey critics, his size. At 5’11 and 202 pounds, he lacks the prototypical size the other top backs in this class offer. I will even acknowledge that he would benefit to add a few pounds and play closer to 210. However, let’s be clear that McCaffrey’s size is not an outlier, as there have been many successful running backs with that height-weight combination.  Names that come to mind include Brian Westbrook, Jamaal Charles, and Tiki Barber.

Critics argue that his size will prevent him from being a workhorse and run inside. However, during his two years as a starter at Stanford he averaged 23.6 carries/game while also serving as a weapon in both the passing and return game. In fact, among the 4 top running backs in this class, McCaffrey carries the highest College Dominator rating at 50.7%, per Player Profiler. For those unfamiliar with this statistic, the College Dominator rating represents a player’s “market share” or his percentage of his team’s offensive production. Not only has he already shown that he can handle workhorse type workloads, but he has proven that he can be highly productive even when defenses scheme to take him away.

Per Graham Barfield, who does excellent work analyzing running backs for Fantasy Guru, McCaffrey averaged 6.2 yards per attempt over his career all while facing 8 or more defenders in the box more than any other back in this class (a whopping 64% of the time). In addition, Barfield’s analysis shows that McCaffrey’s yards created per attempt on inside carries is higher than both Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. It is safe to say that McCaffrey’s smaller stature compared to Fournette, Cook, and Mixon will not prevent him from being able to be the most fantasy productive running back in this class.

In terms of running ability, on tape you see a back that is able to navigate in traffic and run between the tackles. Stanford is known for running out of heavy formations, and with additional defenders in the box, McCaffrey is already accustomed to dealing with traffic near the line of scrimmage. He’s excellent at making reads once he reaches the line and has the vision to identify holes and blocking progression. When stuck in the weeds, he has the shiftiness and lateral quickness to jump-cut into a hole and accelerate. He can make tacklers miss by forcing them into poor angles, but I’ll admit he’s not a tackle breaker or punishing runner on the level of some others in this class. However, unlike some of those other backs, McCaffrey has experience running out of multiple formations as a single back, behind a fullback, and offset in the Shotgun.

Stanford Christian McCaffery

Michael Macor – The Chronicle

In my eyes, McCaffrey has the highest floor of any offensive player in the draft, due to how effective a weapon he will be in the passing game. He’s a natural pass catcher that is able to run routes both out of the backfield and in the slot. Schemed properly he will be a nightmare for linebackers to contain in space, and his tape backs that up, as you see him consistently create separation effortlessly. I often state that I wouldn’t be shocked if he has multiple games in a season where he catches 6-8 balls, and that kind of PPR upside should not be overlooked by prospective dynasty owners. He likely won’t be a league leader in rushing touchdowns, as he could potentially be paired with a bigger back that vultures goal line looks, but the consistency you’re going to see from his receiving production will more than offset that.

There are a number of other factors to consider that make McCaffrey even more attractive as the 1.01. I’m not breaking news when I write that McCaffrey is the son of legendary Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, but this is a critical takeaway, in that McCaffrey has already been exposed to the requirements of the NFL game and the passion and dedication it takes to succeed at the highest level. Many players fail to live up to expectations because they don’t realize the 24/7/365 commitment it takes, and McCaffrey is ahead of the game in this regard.

Another factor to consider is that McCaffrey played in a pro-style offense at Stanford, so he is already familiar with many of the offensive concepts utilized by NFL teams. As I mentioned earlier he is already comfortable running as a single back, behind a fullback, and offset in the Shotgun. Even though McCaffrey has the game of a prototypical spread system running back, I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose Stanford so that he could play in an offense that closely mimics an NFL offense. In fact, his younger brother made a very similar decision, committing to play quarterback for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines (another team that runs a pro-style offense). McCaffrey will not have a steep learning curve when it comes to NFL concepts and digesting the playbook.

At the beginning of this article, I said I can’t fault you if you think Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Corey Davis, or Mike Williams should be the 1.01 in rookie drafts. In my opinion, they each have more glaring red flags than Christian McCaffrey. Fournette is much more scheme dependent in my eyes and lacks the receiving upside, which could lead to him being very TD dependent in fantasy. Dalvin Cook had a poor Combine showing, has had multiple shoulder surgeries, has ball security issues, and teams reportedly have off the field concerns regarding the entourage he keeps. Joe Mixon has the domestic violence issue (or issues?) hanging over his head and no history of serving as a true workhorse. Corey Davis lacks the elite athleticism to safely project him as a future fantasy WR1. Mike Williams has difficulty creating consistent separation and also suffered a severe neck injury during his time at Clemson. My colleagues will try to convince you otherwise, but these red flags outweigh any concerns you should have over Christian McCaffrey. This is why I think he is the safest choice for the 1.01 selection in rookie drafts until we know landing spots.

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