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The New Reality No.101: Christian McCaffrey Historical View and Outlook

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football

This week's New Reality examines Christian McCaffrey and an update to the touchdown regression candidates for the rest of the season:

Christian McCaffrey

Each week of watching the Panthers, I examine McCaffrey closely. It is early in his NFL career, but I expected a more dynamic player in space when it comes to eluding defenders and gaining additional yards beyond the typical endpoint of a reception. McCaffrey has been minimally effective as a runner, making most of his value dependent on the passing game. My film notes align with McCaffrey's grade by footballoutsiders.com as the fourth-lowest graded back with at least 14 carries in the NFL.

McCaffrey's divergent production as a rusher and receiver is not new to the NFL running back position, so I looked for some historically similar seasons and players. McCaffrey is averaging 2.9 yards-per-rush, so I filtered minimally productive runners with strong receiving numbers. Theo Riddick and Danny Woodhead were two recent examples to come up with 80+ receptions in a season, less than 125 carries, and less than 3.5 yards-per-rush - all thresholds for Christian McCaffrey this season. I have liked both Riddick's and Woodhead's tape more than McCaffrey in the 'dynamic space player' mold to-date. Another player to consider is Jacquizz Rodgers.

My biggest concern with McCaffrey during (and after) the NFL Draft process was his profile for a potential Round 1 running back. Looking at sub-210-pound backs, the successful first rounders have been strong athletes for their size, especially in terms of straight-line speed. In fact, the only two first-round backs in this subset to surpass 100 career VBD are Chris Johnson and Reggie Bush, both who run circles around McCaffrey as a measured athlete. Of all the sub-210-pound first-round backs, the only prospect with a lower Athleticism Score in my model than McCaffrey is Trung Candidate. Most of the list had a fantasy starter season, but turning into an NFL starter or long-standing fantasy impact eluded all but Johnson and Bush.

Giovani Bernard is a name I keep coming back to for McCaffrey. I liked Bernard's rookie season tape more than McCaffrey's and Bernard saw roughly 50% more volume as a runner as a rookie than McCaffrey. Jeremy Hill was drafted in Bernard's second season and this year saw Joe Mixon added to the depth chart, both of traditional lead running back build. In short, Bernard was never viewed as a true lead back by Cincinnati.

Since the merger, Larry Centers has the most longevity as the 'more receiver than runner' backfield option, logging 10 straight seasons of 50+ receptions while having minimal impact as a rusher in the running back-fullback hybrid role. 

All of this research started to gauge if my thoughts on McCaffrey were fair. Should I give him more time to show as an elusive playmaker and better runner? Expecting this slanted production to last beyond another season is historically rare. Given McCaffrey's prospect profile matching the sentiment, he is one of the bigger sell recommendations by this offseason at the latest. Some examples of strong exit points for McCaffrey in the dynasty marketplace include:

Positive Touchdown Regression Watchlist

Quarterbacks

Joe Flacco's touchdown rate of 4.3% (touchdown rate per completion) is the lowest of any season in his career. A healthy Jeremy Maclin will aid a more productive second half of the season.

After seasons of 8% and 9% respectively, Marcus Mariota sits at 4.7% through nine weeks. He is one of the best bets for a touchdown regression (along with Eric Decker and Delanie Walker) in the NFL to close the season.

Running Backs

Isaiah Crowell: After seasons ranging from 2.2% to 5.4% over the last three years, Crowell sits at a 1% touchdown rate in 2017. The Browns struggle to get goal line cracks and, despite Crowell running well, the production has been tempered, especially near the end zone.

C.J. Anderson: After three straight seasons above a 3% touchdown rate, Anderson has crashed down to earth in a three-back committee and a 0.9% touchdown rate.

Jonathan Stewart is halfway through a season with the lowest touchdown rate of his career at 0.8%. 2010 marked his previous low-water mark at 1.1% and, despite Cam Newton being a touchdown collector at the goal line, Stewart still had 15 combined touchdowns between 2015 and 2016.

Jay Ajayi: The team change from Miami to Philadelphia already helped Ajayi get off the touchdown start line this season with a Week 9 score, but his 0.7% touchdown rate overall is still firmly on the regression list for the rest of the season. In 2016, Ajayi at a 3.1% rate with eight scores as a point of comparison.

Wide Receivers

Julio Jones has a career touchdown rate close to 8%, while his 2017 season sits at 2.3%.

Michael Thomas is one of the bigger regression candidates with a 4% rate this season and 9% for his career. His weekly volume of targets is high as the No.1 option for Drew Brees, yet touchdowns have eluded him thus far.

Demaryius Thomas is 7% below his career average with a 2.3% touchdown rate in 2017.

Randall Cobb: With a 9% career mark, Cobb sits at 3% in 2017.

Tyler Lockett has yet to find the end zone after a 7% career rate.

Eric Decker has been a touchdown maven over his career with a 13% career rate. At 3.8% in 2017, Decker is a prime regression candidate.

Jamison Crowder, while not a prolific touchdown scorer in his career (6.5%), has yet to score in 2017 as arguably the most dependable Washington pass-catcher outside of Chris Thompson for Kirk Cousins.

Tight Ends

Ed Dickson is the fill-in starter for Carolina and has yet to find the end zone in 2017. His career rate of 7.3% is close to average for the position.

Delanie Walker has yet to score this season after a 7.4% career rate.