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Christian McCaffrey to SF: BAD News for Fantasy

cmc sf

Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco is the classic trade that makes real, NFL football sense. The 49ers had Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk in the passing game, with Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson in the run game. Christian McCaffrey is obviously a massive upgrade over Mitchell and Wilson.

But, does this trade positively affect McCaffrey's fantasy value, or the fantasy values of Deebo, Aiyuk, and Kittle? I lean no, and will lay out half a dozen factors pointing towards a fantasy point decrease for McCaffrey, among others.

The State of the SF and CAR Offenses

At first glance, the 49ers have scored nearly twice as many offensive TDs as the Panthers, though the percent of drives ending in a score (TD or FG) is the same. So far, this is positive news for McCaffrey, who has elevated TD upside in SF.

Team Pass TDs Rush TDs Scoring Drive %
SF 7 6 29%
CAR 4 3 29%

While TDs are important in fantasy football, player usage (volume) matters, too. Let's analyze play volume for SF in the four games with Jimmy Garoppolo starting, compared to the six games that Carolina has played in 2022. We see the 49ers are only running four more offensive plays per game right now than Carolina.

Team Pass Attempts Rush Attempts
Total Pass & Run Plays
SF 31 20 51
CAR 29 18 47

If we break down fantasy points per game from skill players (RB/WR/TE) for the 49ers in Jimmy G's four starts compared to the Panthers through six games, we see that the fantasy points scored via rushing are nearly identical (13.7 vs 10.4). The 49ers have a sizable advantage of nearly 15 additional fantasy points per game through the air.

Team Rushing Fpts Receiving Fpts Total Fpts
SF 13.7 54.2 67.9
CAR 10.4 40 50.4

The Talent Surrounding CMC

Christian McCaffrey was playing alongside D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson in Carolina. Now, he'll be playing alongside Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. Put another way, CMC was playing with only one great player (Moore) in CAR; now, he'll share the field with three great players (Deebo, Kittle, Aiyuk) in SF.

McCaffrey was averaging 19.7 PPR points per game in CAR, 39% of their skill position player total. If he were to continue to command 39% of SF's skill player fantasy points, he would have 26.5 PPR points per game (67.9 * 39%).

We can assume the 49ers will actually score more total fantasy points with CMC now in the fold, though we should also expect CMC to score below 39% of the team's total, as the target competition is much tougher in San Francisco.

In four games with Jimmy G, here's how the big three stack up in SF.

Player Target Share PPR/Game
Deebo Samuel 27% 15.9
Brandon Aiyuk 21% 14.4
George Kittle 20% 9.3
Total 68% 39.6

Unless you think every other player will be phased out of this SF offense, CMC will be competing for 32% of the team's targets. More realistically, Deebo, Aiyuk, and Kittle see slightly decreased usage, several other players mix in occasionally, and CMC takes on a larger workload than prior SF RBs were given.

If you were already frustrated with the up-and-down nature of Deebo, Kittle, and Aiyuk's fantasy production, expect increased frustration with McCaffrey now in town.

Tale of Two Seasons for CMC

McCaffrey had between four and five targets in each of Carolina's first three games, and he averaged just 15.3 fantasy points per game during that stretch. The past three games, CMC averaged 9.7 targets and 24 fantasy points per game. His true fantasy upside lies in the receiving game. Even if we add a full TD per game to his first three weeks of 2022 (assuming SF's offense is much better than CAR), he'd still only be at 21.3 fantasy points per game.

McCaffrey has at least seven receptions and 50 receiving yards each of the past three games. In Jimmy G's first three starts of 2022, no SF player reached those thresholds. It wasn't until Week 6, when SF trailed ATL by multiple scores all game, did all three of Deebo, Aiyuk, and Kittle crest seven receptions and 50 receiving yards.

The key word there is trailed, as SF has a truly elite defense, and likely won't trail in too many games. Fantasy points are scored from elite offenses like Buffalo and Kansas City, but a bad defense can trump a good offense for fantasy purposes. The team with the most fantasy points per game from its skill players is actually the Detroit Lions, at 85.9 PPR points per game (BUF is second at 85.6, KC is third at 83.9). The Lions' terrible defense has truly unlocked the fantasy potential of its players.

The Panthers are frequently trailing in games, and that allows CMC to rack up receptions in garbage time, when the offense becomes less run-focused.

Short Area Passing Competition

Jimmy G has recorded 124 passes to SF skill players these past four weeks, and 49 of those (40%) have been within three yards of the line of scrimmage. Optimistically, you could say CMC is getting all of them moving forward, but realistically, the 49ers' offense is already heavily reliant on quick-game throws to neutralize Garoppolo's weaknesses as a quarterback. Deebo (13 short targets), Kittle (13), and Aiyuk (7) combine for 33 (67%) of the 49 short passes over the past four weeks. If we assume CMC gets all the remaining short passes, that would put him at just four receptions per game, well below the total needed to unlock his PPR upside.

NFL (Not Fantasy) Trade Value

The 49ers gave up a 2023 second, third, and fourth-round pick, along with a 2024 fifth-rounder, in this trade. I've seen multiple tweets floating around that value this total compensation at a late 2023 first-round pick. I've included a screenshot from Spotrac that indicates CMC is owed under $700,000 for this season, and can be cut before the 2023 season for $0 in dead cap. Should SF keep him, they'd owe him roughly $12 million per season over the next three years.

mccaffrey spotrac

I need to bring up his contract and the trade compensation because Deebo Samuel and George Kittle would certainly command a higher trade return on the open market than McCaffrey. Brandon Aiyuk would likely command nearly as much as McCaffrey in a trade return. So, while McCaffrey is likely a workhorse RB in SF, I think there's minimal chance that Deebo or Kittle see significant role reductions with CMC in town. Remember, this is real, NFL football — not fantasy.

Touchdown Upside

Touchdowns matter in fantasy, as they're the same value as 60 yards or six receptions (PPR). McCaffrey likely scores more than 0.5 TDs per game in SF like he has in Carolina. Let's assume CMC leads the NFL in TDs per game for the remainder of the season — Jonathan Taylor led the NFL with 20 TDs (1.18 per game) last year for context. This would add 0.68 TDs per game to CMC's current average (1.18 - 0.5), which is an added four fantasy points per game.

Given that CMC had at least 12 fantasy points through the air each of his past three games, and his reception totals should drop drastically in SF, only four fantasy points additionally through TDs does not get me particularly excited.

Closing Thoughts

  • McCaffrey should continue to be a high-end fantasy asset in SF, as the bell cow back in a solid offense.
  • McCaffrey's increased TD upside in SF will most likely be more than offset by decreased pass game usage.
  • Deebo, Aiyuk, and Kittle likely see slight decreases in weekly usage, with CMC carving out a larger role than what prior SF RBs were given.
  • For Deebo, Aiyuk, and Kittle to match or exceed their early season fantasy production, we'll likely need at least one of three options to take place:
    • No other SF skill player can touch the football on Sundays.
    • This offense will need to become truly elite with CMC in the fold.
    • The SF defense needs to turn into a pumpkin.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo is the real fantasy winner of the CMC trade, as the 49ers' offense should improve overall with another weapon arriving in San Francisco. He should flirt with low-end QB1 numbers the rest of season

We hope you enjoyed this Christian McCaffrey to SF fantasy reaction piece. If you strongly disagree with this analysis, make sure to let Josh know on Twitter.