Fantasy Impact: Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers
By Doug Harrelson
The last few Thursday Night Football games have not necessarily been the most enjoyable to watch. Al Michaels even cracked a joke about the scoring early in the game about the touchdowns being an oddity on the Thursday Night time slot. To the delight of football fans we were given a game worth watching with some quality moments to it. DeAndre Hopkins playing in his first game back after the suspension and snagging 10 passes for 103, Kyler Murray yelling some colorful language at Kliff Kingbury, and even a glorious camera shot of Dalton after the first of two pick six’s before the half and the player scoring it doing a flip in the background of the shot. Despite all of that, this is not what twitter is talking about this morning. Last night at 11:17 PM EST, the NFL had its own version of a “Woj-bomb” with Adam Schefter reporting a fantasy football blockbuster trade leaving everyone stunned. Christian McCaffrey, one of the biggest stars in the history of fantasy football, has been traded to the San Francisco 49ers.
This became a moment where I had to stop and try to process what all this means. We kept hearing the Panthers would be willing to move off of CMC but it never came to anything. It would be hard to envision an offense he wouldn’t be successful in, arguably Carolina being the hardest place for him to find success, but the 49ers offense is famous for making even average RBs into fantasy football studs. The ceiling that had existed on him with the Panthers may not be a thing for him in the bay area. Imagine a personnel group of Deebo, Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, Aiyuk and CMC. That could present so many issues for the defense. The number of different ways they can line up with that group is astonishing with all of them able to line up at multiple positions. Everything from a standard I-formation to trips right with CMC flanking opposite and Deebo in the backfield. Kyle Shanahan has probably not stopped designing plays and concepts since he found out the news. This offense could be scary.
Trying to process this all from a fantasy perspective is where this gets more tricky. Shanahan’s offense traditionally gives us a low end RB1 and on average 2 good pass catchers in a game. Deebo is usually one of them with the other varying week to week causing Kittle, Aiyuk and Juan Jennings to put up swingy game logs. CMC is a low end RB1 with a good pass catcher stapled on top of it. This really makes me nervous about everyone in that offense except CMC and Deebo. Between the two of them they could put up 20+ carries a game and another 15+ targets. There are only a certain number of snaps per game especially when you remember the 49ers love to run the ball and therefore the clock.
We have a lot of exciting things to talk about with the San Francisco offense for sure but we do need to be diligent here and talk about this from all angles. There is now a massive opening for touches in the Carolina backfield. There is no way that either D’Onta Foreman or Chubba Hubbard are gonna put up the numbers that McCaffrey did. They may not even do that combined but as we get into the ugly part of the season with all these bye weeks and injuries pile up, you may be happy to have a guy that gets some amount of volume. There is a chance Foreman will get the early down work with Hubbard taking on the pass catching role. If either back can get up to 65% of the team's RB touches then you would be happy. Either would be usable if they can become the lead guy. I would say advantage Hubbard here as they are likely to play from behind and we like garbage time check downs to RBs against soft coverage. He might be the biggest winner of all of this if it isn’t CMC himself.
There are many losers here for sure. The first and most obvious is Elijah Mitchell. It has been a tough year for those that roster Elijah Mitchell. Injured week 1 and close to making a return just for the team to go out and get one of the top three players at his position and potentially lock him in for a complimentary role. I would not be surprised if he gets more touches then we expect right now. They could use CMC for around 15-20 touches a game with some number of them being in the passing game and then use Mitchell to carry the load some amount of the time to keep both backs healthy. Likely makes Mitchell unstartable but still helpful for the 49ers offense.
The next two that take a bit of a hit here have already been alluded to before, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. Brandon Aiyuk is less obvious but he does get some amount of the plays designed to get him the football in space as a pseudo run game with screen game. We can almost certainly expect McCaffrey to be used in that manner quite often and Deebo is certainly going to get his share. George Kittle is seldom used in that way but in a season where he is already being used more as a blocker than some seasons before, I could expect him to be used even more in that capacity as protections are more likely to have Kittle as an extra blocker rather than McCaffrey. The man also loves to be a lead blocker and I cannot imagine a worse day for a defender than having to try and fight through George Kittle just to then have to try and tackle Christian McCaffrey. That is a tough assignment for even elite defensive players.
This to me strikes as such a major moment in fantasy football that we will all remember where we were and who we were with. This trade speaks so much to the hearts of every person that plays in about 10 too many fantasy leagues. Us degenerates dream up stuff like this in our head but this time we actually got it. We got the superstar talent off the terrible football team and put him in the best scheme in the league for his position. It is a true fantasy football Christmasland that I can barely even believe is real. I cannot wait to see it play out in reality.