Christian McCaffrey struggled as a runner overall last year, but all signs point toward a move into the top tier of fantasy running backs this year.
The Carolina Panthers had the NFL’s fourth-ranked rushing attack last year (131.4 yards per game), but quarterback Cam Newton elevated that. So with an upgrade alongside Christian McCaffrey in mind, Carolina let Jonathan Stewart depart in free agency and replaced him with C.J. Anderson.
McCaffrey was as advertised as a pass catcher last year, with a team-leading 80 receptions (on a team-high 113 targets) for 651 yards and five touchdowns. But he struggled as a runner during his rookie season, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry as Stewart somehow had 81 more carries despite averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry.
McCaffrey showed improvement late last season though. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the last eight games, while maintaining heavy involvement as a pass catcher (31 receptions for 273 yards; 5.9 targets per game).
The second-year man out of Stanford showed up to offseason work looking noticeably bigger. Head coach Ron Rivera continued his conducting of the hype train in comments to David Newton of ESPN.com, saying he wouldn’t be surprised if McCaffrey reached 200 carries this year.
Stewart had 198 carries in 2017, to McCaffrey’s 117. So a reversal of those roles, even with Anderson in place as a theoretical upgrade over Stewart, is possible or pretty likely.
It would be nice to see McCaffrey get a lot more red zone carries (15 last year), but Newton’s presence dampens that idea. Some of the 31 red zone carries (including 16 inside the 5-yard line) Stewart is leaving behind will go to Anderson, but McCaffrey is in line for some of that scoring area work too.
McCaffrey is already on the RB1 borderline in PPR leagues, as RB12 in Fantasy Football Calculator 12-team mock drafts right now. But news of more work as a runner, and the second half of last year as a positive trend, point to a chance for McCaffrey to outperform his current standard league ADP (RB15, pick 2.10).