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.

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

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In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

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Ben Simmons disappointed in the playoffs this season

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Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.

Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

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The Lakers looked lost in the Valley

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.

After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.

LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.


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