Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Is Christian McCaffrey the Clear Top Pick?

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was on another planet in 2019. In half-PPR (point per reception) formats, he scored 39.3 more fantasy points than any back since LaDainian Tomlinson all the way back in 2006.

On the season, McCaffrey finished with 116.9 more points than any other runner and averaged 6.3 more points per game than the next closest non-quarterback. In fact, the per-game scoring difference between him and the RB2 was the same as the difference between the RB2 and the RB18. In full PPR leagues, it was larger than the difference between the RB2 and the RB23.

Let that marinate for a second. It's absolutely bananas.

Given everything I just mentioned, does that make McCaffrey the unequivocal top pick in 2020 fantasy drafts? In order to answer that question, I Slacked (Slack chatted? Chat Slacked? Slatted?) with fellow numberFire editor Austan Kas.

Here's what we had to say.

Elisha Twerski:
Coming off a season in which he posted 116.9 more points than the next closest running back in half-PPR formats, is McCaffrey the clear top pick in fantasy drafts? Or do you have some doubts?

Austan Kas: I'm taking CMC 1.01 all day, and while it's always good to weigh options, I think you're probably trying too hard if you take anyone else.

It's really fun to look at how insane his numbers were last year. The floor/ceiling combination is out of this world. He had one game with fewer than 13.6 half-PPR points, and he had 10 games with at least 23.0 half-PPR points, including five with at least 28.0. Even in standard leagues, he posted just one single-digit week all season.

Of course, his 2019 numbers don't count in 2020. But there's very little reason to expect anything other than consistently elite production from him this season, and the Panthers' offense might get him more scoring chances this year with improved quarterback play. Our model puts CMC in his own stratosphere once again for this coming campaign.

The only concern I have has to do with him breaking down after so much volume these last two seasons, but that worry won't stop me from taking him first overall.

Where do you stand? Is he the easy 1.01 for you, too?

Elisha Twerski: You touched on it briefly, but the volume concern is a big one for me.

Of the last 14 backs to finish as the RB1 in half-PPR, not a single one came within 15 of their previous season's point total. In fact, on average, those backs scored 102.3 points fewer the following season -- and that's excluding David Johnson, who missed all but one game due to a wrist injury.

That's a sample size of 14 of the league's best backs faltering -- at least to some extent -- following incredible fantasy seasons.

However, there's another sample of backs I'd like to talk about here, and that's the 400-touch club.

Since 1995, there have been 26 instances (excluding CMC) of a back totaling at least 400 touches. On average, the following season saw those backs garner 115.6 fewer touches, nearly a half-yard less per tote, 721 fewer total yards, and 6.7 fewer scores. Those are big drops among a pretty significant sample. That sample doesn't even account for the fact that two players -- Ricky Williams (2004) and Le'Veon Bell (2018) -- sat out entire seasons following their 400-touch campaigns.

On a similar note, McCaffrey's Body Mass Index (BMI) is another cause for concern. Player Profiler states that high BMI running backs are generally more productive and durable. That's why it's worth noting that McCaffrey (12th percentile among active players) has the second-lowest BMI of any back that's recorded 400 touches since 1988 -- that's spanning 33 occurrences.

Staying on the field for 16 games could be a very real issue.

If I had the first overall selection in a snake draft, would I have the testicular fortitude to pass on McCaffrey? I'm not sure. Though I would certainly prefer the second pick so that I wouldn't have to make that decision.

Are there any backs that you can see challenging McCaffrey for the top spot?

Austan Kas: If CMC, say, got injured preseason and was no longer in play for the 1.01, the two guys I'd be deciding between would be Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara. Both Barkley and Kamara struggled with injuries for a lot of last season, and they are in line for bounce-back campaigns in 2020.

The New York Giants' offensive line ranked 25th last year, per Football Outsiders, but the addition of fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas should help. Even with some nagging injuries and a rookie under center, Barkley averaged 16.8 half-PPR points per game in 2019 in what most people would say was a down year for him. His usage should be through the roof most every week, and the Giants' offense could take a step forward in 2020 if Daniel Jones improves.

Last year may have been something of a floor season from Kamara. He got hurt and reportedly played through a few injuries, and touchdown luck wasn't on his side as he scored just six total tuddies after totaling 13 and 18 his first two campaigns. He also had to deal with the absence of Drew Brees for five games. And despite all that, Kamara was the half-PPR RB12 for the season and the RB10 by points per game. With some better luck -- both injury-wise and in the scoring department -- Kamara can get back to the elite production we're used to from him.

Who are you looking at other than CMC? I'll go out on a limb and say it's probably those two. Anything you'd like to add about them, or is there another player on your radar at 1.01?

Elisha Twerski: I've actually got Barkley on my 1.01 radar for 2020. Yes, I'm that high on him.

In 2018, he became just the sixth player in league history to record at least 2,000 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns on 360 touches or less. He did that as a rookie.

In what was a down season for him last year, he still posted a 16-game pace of 1,768 total yards and 9.9 scores. In his final three games, he churned out 539 scrimmage yards and 5 scores. Bonkers.

The fact that the Giants should be a more competent team certainly won't hurt. After winning just nine combined games in his first two seasons, Super Bowl odds has the G-Men at 53.5% implied odds of going above six wins.

If I ended up with 1.01 in a draft, I'd strongly consider Barkley for that pick -- especially if it's not a full PPR format.

As for Kamara, I like him to bounce back, as well, but I wouldn't go as far as to say he will be the RB1. Even in his unreal first two seasons, he finished as the RB3 and RB4, respectively. The non-bell cow workload limits his ceiling -- though just by a smidge.

Any other backs you want to touch on? Or do you feel like we covered all the backs in that tier?

Austan Kas: Ezekiel Elliott is probably worth at least a mention. For me, he's a tick below Barkley and Kamara, though. Is he or anyone else in that tier for you?

Elisha Twerski: Elliott's one of the safer top options, but I think his ceiling for 2020 is closer to the RB3-RB5 range.

If not for the holdout, Dalvin Cook would be worth touching on. Though, given his injury past, I'd be too afraid to take him ahead of any of those other backs.

I think we covered this topic thoroughly enough. Thanks again for taking the time to break down the important questions in fantasy!

Austan Kas: Always enjoy it!