Christian McCaffrey - Regression is Coming
Will Christian McCaffrey (CMC) finish as the RB1 again this upcoming season? Will he come close to repeating one of the best RB seasons of all time? TNFF crew member Josh 'Smokey-Hell' Nelson will look into his crystal ball to predict what CMC will accomplish in 2020.
As a kid growing up, when you witnessed someone do something spectacular, something you didn’t imagine was possible, what was the first thing that came to mind? “I bet you can’t do that again!”
What we witnessed Christian McCaffrey do in fantasy football in 2019, has only been bested once before, back in 2006, by one of the all-time greatest fantasy RBs to ever play football - Ladanian Tomlinson. What Tomlinson pulled off that year was nearly miraculous; scoring multiple rushing, catching, and even passing TDs. I have yet to see CMC pull off a passing TD! We in the fantasy community never thought someone would come close to what Tomlinson did way back in 2006. The question is, can CMC do it again?
Let's compare CMC's 2019 performance against some of the best single-season RB performances.
Digging into the numbers of these seasons is like walking through a wing of the Louvre in Paris; I find myself silently catching my breath at every new exhibit - or in this case the RB and their accomplishment! Those historic seasons and what they did for fantasy football owners are nothing less than phenomenal. Imagine, if Faulk actually played in all 16 games!
The table below shows how these RBs performed the following year.
At first glance, there’s a definite drop-off in production from their previous seasons. However, four out of the seven RBs missed between 3-15 games due to various injuries. Foster only missed three games with a hamstring injury, making his following season's statistics still relevant. Leaving out Holmes, D. Johnson and Alexander’s seasons would give us an even smaller sample size, but more accurate.
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The following chart shows the averages for the top seven seasons, the averages for the post-outlier seasons (with injury follow-up season stats left in), and the variance between them.
Games played and other categories can be skewed by those injury-plagued seasons. The drop-off in points per game is what intrigues me, however, I wanted to remove the injury seasons and see how the averages changed.
Here is the same table with the Holmes, D. Johnson, and Alexander injured seasons left out entirely.
The big standout to me is the loss of rushing yards. The fact that their touches barely drop off screams a regression in efficiency, which is something that worried me about CMC when this article first occurred to me. Let’s apply the average post-outlier variance to CMC's 2019 season so we can extrapolate what next season might look like.
CMC's hypothetical 2020 numbers aren't terrible. To put it in perspective, these 2020 projections would have still placed him as a RB1 in 2019, but dropped him from #1 overall to #3. That would still have had him ahead of A. Jones (the RB2) by over 42 fantasy points.
Those numbers are within the range of likely outcomes for 2020. The combination of new hires in head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, plus the free-agent signings of QB Teddy Bridgewater and WR Robby Anderson, may add up to a more efficient, pass-heavy offense. Brady’s LSU Tigers last season ran 54.33% passing plays, which ranked 23rd of all college football teams. Bridgewater is accurate and with Carolina’s depleted defense, he is likely to see an increase in his average passing attempts by necessity. CMC is still projected to get nearly the same reception total with his efficiency falling ever so slightly. These projections did not include TDs as they are a more unpredictable stat.
After diving into the numbers and looking into Smokey’s crystal ball, I believe it to be unlikely CMC repeats his (nearly) unprecedented 2019 season. However, I do believe it to be more likely than not that he repeats as the RB1 and the first back-to-back RB1 since Priest Holmes in 2002-03.
Honest to hell truth - if I was selecting from the 1.01 in a season-long draft, I would pick RB Saquon Barkley. We haven’t seen a RB finish as the RB#1 in back to back years in nearly 20 years. Sadly for CMC, my money is on that trend continuing in 2020.