Christian McCaffrey stiff-arms Josh Allen of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(Grant Halverson/Getty)

My fantasy strategy has remained consistent for nearly two decades (with varying levels of success).

It boils down to this: Lock down a top tier running back at the top of the draft.

This was true twenty years ago when Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James routinely got 300+ touches a year, it was true when Shaun Alexander and Ladainian Tomlinson battled for the rushing touchdown record, and it's true today in the world of backfield by committee and running back contracts not being worth the paper they're printed on.

That might sound counterintuitive at first. Running backs as stars are being devalued in the NFL, so shouldn't we, as fantasy GMs, follow suit? The reality of fantasy means we need to zag because of the near extinction of workhorses makes the last remaining few of their species an even hotter commodity. Any top player list you can find tends to bear this out. Here's why: As the league has become pass happy, the drop off between top QBs and WRs has shrunk, while the gap for RBs has expanded.


In the '70s, 3,000 yards passing symbolized excellence. In the '80s and '90s, 4,000 represented a benchmark for the elite. In the 2000s and beyond, 5,000 has been eclipsed with relative ease, and last year the top 10 passers in the league all crossed 4K, which doesn't even include league MVP Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen, who all brought considerable value as dual-threats. Even Drew Brees, who only played 11 games, nearly cracked 3,000. You can throw a dead duck and hit a passable starting fantasy QB in the eighth round these days. By extension, WRs, who rack up all those yards, are easier to find too.

Back to why we're here: Christian McCaffrey. First things first, he checks the biggest box of everything I laid out above. As a running back, the guy is the unquestioned centerpiece of the Carolina offense. He led the team in attempts, receptions, total yards, and touchdowns, and it wasn't particularly close.

What else makes him so attractive? He hasn't missed a game in his career, he played with an injury-plagued Cam Newton and Kyle Allen (Who? Exactly.) at quarterback the last three years, and he's entering his age-24 season, AKA his prime. This barely scratches the surface on his unassailable position at number one off the board.

Christian McCaffrey Christian McCaffrey flexes on his haters. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Opportunity

On equal footing with actual production, opportunity is one of the most important aspects of a player's draftability. Opportunity illustrates a team's willingness and gameplan to use a player, the chances a player will have to rip off big runs and touchdowns, and, at its most base level, the amount of time a player is on the field. RUN CMC excels in this category. Going back to 2012, there have only been three seasons when a player's snap share—his percentage of time on the field—has been over 90%, and McCaffrey had two of them.

Being on the field is one thing, but being featured is another. In case you're worried, as a running back, McCaffrey led the league in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and total TDs. He was second in red zone touches, third in rushing yards, and fourth in carries. In short, the man is a human-tank hybrid with the heart of the Energizer Bunny.

Dual Threat

I've already beat you over the head with this, but allow me to expound just a bit more. It is categorically impossible to overstate how good of a receiver McCaffrey is and how valuable that makes him.

To begin with, he's one of only three players in the history of the league to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Pretty impressive. Well, how about this? If you Thanos snapped and erased his receiving stats from last season, he'd still be the sixth best fantasy running back, just ahead of Nick Chubb. You add those numbers back, and he's nearly 80 points ahead of his nearest competition.

If you're in a PPR league, and you pass on this man at the top of the round, you should be booed until you float off the planet. He put up 471 points in full PPR leagues last year! That's not a misprint or a typo or a stroke you're having. He was a full 157 points better than number two, Aaron Jones. (157 points is how much the 28th best running back, Latavius Murray, put up total.) To visualize this, if it were a foot race over a 100 yard football field, McCaffrey would be crossing the goal line with second place a full 25 yards behind him. This added dimension of his game might as well put him in a literal other dimension where he's a god among men, and he rules with swift but fair justice.

Contract

Finally, this past April, Christian McCaffrey became the richest running back ever, making a cool 16 million for the next four seasons. Contracts for rushers tend to age more like bread than fine wine, especially if you look at some of the current top earners. Zeke Elliot's massive deal is blocking Dak Prescott from getting his extension, while Le'veon Bell and David Johnson's 13 million a year plus deals look more and more like albatrosses (unless you're Bill O'Brien apparently). The difference is CMC is the youngest of the bunch, and his AAV, along with comments from coach Matt Rhule, demonstrate how he should be regarded in the league. He's more than a running back, he's an offensive weapon. He'll be making more than all other running backs, and the same as most of the game's best WRs. Giving him that type of money is great insight into how and how much the Panthers plan to use one of the most athletically gifted players of all time. Hint: as a combo ball carrier/pass catcher and A LOT.

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