Fantasy FAQ: Analysts react to the Christian McCaffrey trade

ByESPN Fantasy and Betting Analysts ESPN logo
Friday, October 21, 2022

Christian McCaffrey is arguably the most valuable player to be traded midseason in the fantasy football era. While we are used to injuries scrambling our fantasy fortunes, a trade of this magnitude has downstream effects on a multitude of players on both teams. Eric Moody covered the basics this morning in Daily Notes.We asked Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcrft, Liz Loza, Seth Walder and Matt Bowen to weigh in on some questions we know you have about McCaffrey, his value, his new teammates and the ones he leaves behind.

Of course, this trade impacts the real fortunes of the San Francisco 49ers as well, so if you don't have McCaffrey on a roster but still want to get in on the bandwagon, we checked in with our friends from ESPN Daily Wager for the bet they'd make in the wake of the trade.

What does the trade from the Carolina Panthers to the San Francisco 49ers mean to Christian McCaffrey's value?

Karabell: Still a great player, but still a guy who missed 23 of 33 games the past two seasons. Great job, Panthers. Good luck, 49ers. I don't see McCaffrey's value changing much. More receptions, fewer rushing attempts now, but always the worry for fantasy managers that he'll miss games, and it's a legit worry. I'd try to deal him away in fantasy, too, and by the way, don't cut Jeff Wilson Jr. yet.

Cockcroft: Not much changes, other than, hey, there are better and more obvious McCaffrey insurance policies now (Jeff Wilson Jr. today, Elijah Mitchell probably in Week 10)! My main questions are: how involved will he be in the 49ers' Week 7 offense, since I hate losing even a single week of player production, and what are the odds he'll get the 17-plus carries per game he averaged when healthy from 2019-21? I'd shave 1-2 off that, but Kyle Shanahan's offenses generally run a lot, so I see no reason to expect seismic shifts.

Bowen: I see a slight boost here for McCaffrey. We know he has top-tier difference-making traits at the position. Now, pair that with one of the NFL's most heavily schemed offenses, which creates open creases and space. Kyle Shanahan will utilize McCaffrey's dual-threat traits from multiple alignments, which could create more fantasy scoring production.

Walder: It helps. Every running back under the sun averages in the ballpark of 5 yards per carry in the Kyle Shanahan offense, so I have to assume McCaffrey will be no different. I also trust Shanahan to get him the ball and put him in spots for major YAC opportunities. Most important of all: his touchdown expectation increases.

What player would you trade for him right now? What kind of trade offer would you refuse?

Karabell: Realizing I'm more risk-averse then most, he's obviously a top-5 RB but if I could get either Ohio star running backs -- Joe Mixon or Nick Chubb -- or Dalvin Cook, I probably act on it. Security matters. Moving to San Fran doesn't guarantee McCaffrey health.

Walder: I think he's RB1 for me going forward. Am I wary of the health risks? Of course. But I would also be wary of those same risks for, say, Saquon Barkley too and I think McCaffrey's ceiling on this San Francisco offense is higher. So I guess the answer is: I would trade any running back for him, and wouldn't deal him for any running back. It would be scary, but with league-winning potential.

Bowen: I understand that durability concerns with McCaffrey. But he will remain a weekly Top 5 play for me at the position. And, if I drafted McCaffrey, why move him now? The 49ers offense -- and playcalling -- is an upgrade over the Panthers system. Even if we see a slight dip in total volume, the pass-catching opportunities and defined matchups in Shanahan's route tree create a higher fantasy ceiling for McCaffrey.

McCaffrey commands a large share of the running and passing game. What's left for Deebo Samuel, George Kittle or Brandon Aiyuk?

Cockcroft: McCaffrey's presence shouldn't adversely impact any one player's touches dramatically, but it should be pointed out that the 49ers now don't need to stretch Deebo Samuel to the extent of eight rushing attempts in a game, which he had in four of his past 13 regular-season contests. And that's actually significant if you play outside of the PPR realm, because Samuel's rushing usage was particularly advantageous in non-PPR, as he finished WR2 there (and nearly 40 points ahead of the WR3) in 2021 and WR9 so far in 2022. It's something to tuck away, if you can cash him in at his 2021-ending valuation.

Loza: It does feel like Deebo should lose rushing opportunities, though he has averaged only three rush attempts per week (and has recorded just two per game over his last three efforts) since Jeff Wilson Jr. took over in Week 2. My best guess is that he'll be used on more deep looks, which could create a serious comedown for Brandon Aiyuk. And, yes, Kittle's work in the short to intermediate part of the field is likely to take a hit. That's a bummer, as he's coming off a season-high 10-target effort.

Bowen: Given the route structure I envision for McCaffrey out of the backfield, or when flexed to the slot/wide positions, we have to look at Kittle here. McCaffrey can eat into Kittle's target share on the catch and run concepts, which define Shanahan's pass game.

The Carolina Panthers' offense struggled with McCaffrey. What opportunity is there for fantasy value on this roster now?

Karabell: D'Onta Foreman is really good. He showed this last year. Big and tough and on his way to being an RB2 option. McCaffrey wasn't efficient as a rusher, only as a receiver. Foreman can thrive regardless of the mess around him if given volume.

Cockcroft: Pardon my answering a question with a question, but, does the Panthers' side of this matter that much? They might already have won their last game of 2022, with the two that remain against the Falcons may be their best bets to win more. In the past 10 years, the leading rusher on two-wins-or-fewer teams has averaged barely 1,000 total yards and fewer than five touchdowns, with those numbers heavily skewed by much more talented backs (Jamaal Charles, 2012 Chiefs; Joe Mixon, 2019 Bengals; James Robinson, 2020 Jaguars). Opportunity absolutely matters -- there are 32 NFL teams and you can't generate points without touches -- and I'll take D'Onta Foreman's raw skills despite his injury risk over Chuba Hubbard, but either is probably looking at a maddening, matchups-driven flex play valuation.

Walder: I'm in on Foreman now. In 2021 Hubbard recorded 122 rush yards below expectation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. If Foreman is just an average runner, which I think he can be, he'll be the superior option to lead that backfield. I'm betting that talent wins out.

Bowen: I'm with everyone else here on Foreman. He's a downhill runner, with good contact balance, and enough short-area burst to lead the Panthers' backfield. Think heavy run game volume here for a Carolina offense that will have to establish and control tempo to compete on Sundays.

Loza: Foreman is the better back and while Hubbard is only a second-year talent, the current coaching staff doesn't have any allegiance to him. I'm interested to see how this tandem folds into the receiving game. In the stead of Derrick Henry, Foreman never topped 7 routes or 3 targets last season. Meanwhile, Hubbard has struggled as a pass-catcher since his time in Stillwater.

More to the point, however, the Panthers are in not-even-midseason rebuild mode. That doesn't bode well for positive game script moving forward. This is far from a cathedral ceiling situation. Running back is always maddening and Foreman might offer some matchup-based/desperation flex appeal, but I'm not chasing either of these guys.

Who do you want to see traded next, purely for fantasy value

Loza: Come on Carolina. Keep pounding... and do D.J. Moore next!

Karabell: Any Jets receiver because if they won't let Zach Wilson throw, none can thrive.

Bowen:Cam Akers. He still has the physical profile of a No.1 running back in this league. Put him in the right system, and Akers will produce consistent fantasy numbers

Cockcroft: I've got a critical share of Akersin a keeper league in which I'm in the midst of a rebuild, so the selfish part of me wants his situation settled ASAP so I can glean something to make a decision about him in advance of the offseason.

Walder: Kendrick Bourne. He was so good last year! I'm not sure why his role has been so limited in New England, but I'd love to see him on a team that gives him more playing time and sends targets his way, because I think he can be a productive player.

The 49ers odds to win the Super Bowl moved from +1800 to +1400; to win the NFC from +700 to +600; and to win the NFC East division from +105 to -110. How are you playing them?

Kezirian: For me, Kyle Shanahan gets deference. He will make it work. This team has been a little hit-or-miss this season but some struggles came with Trey Lance and also with George Kittle injured. I feel like the ceiling is still pretty high and ultimately they will have a good chance to make a deep playoff run, especially because the usual NFC contenders have some issues. Tampa Bay and Green Bay's struggles speak for themselves, while the Eagles have certainly entered the discussion. I would play San Francisco to win the division.

Marks: I like the 49ers to win the division at -110. This move was a big splash for a team who, when healthy, is ready to make a run at a Super Bowl title. McCaffrey joins a crowded backfield, but his skill set allows Shanahan to utilize him in a variety of ways, especially in the passing game. He has experience playing in an outside zone-heavy scheme and adding him to the mix with Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk make the 49ers offense very dangerous for opposing defenses.

I can envision a 49ers/Eagles NFC Championship Game in the City of Brotherly Love, but I still have the Eagles advancing to the Super Bowl.

Dolan: The 49ers to win the division (-110) is still the bet for me. I'm out on the Cardinals or the Seahawks making a push. The Rams were the only real competition but they are missing the explosiveness ofOdell Beckham Jr., don't have an elite running back and haven't been able to block for Matthew Stafford. The 49ers overall have a better defense on paper and just improved their offense.

Karabell: I don't agree the 49ers solidified their chances of winning the division, because the Rams remain formidable and should eventually improve. It still seems rather optimistic to assume McCaffrey is healthy enough for 20 touches in December/January. I'm almost more intrigued by the Rams' odds now.

Walder: From a real-life football perspective, I have a hard time imagining that McCaffrey moves the needle that much, especially considering his injury history. While I'm bullish on McCaffrey from a fantasy perspective, I'd fade this Super Bowl movement off of the 49ers' acquisition.

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