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Koh Knows: Christian McCaffrey a fantasy buy low?

Listen, I know you don't want it to be true but as a friend, sometimes we have to tell hard truths. And the truth of the matter is, Christian McCaffrey hasn't been very good in fantasy.

"But he seems like such a nice guy!"
"But what about those videos of him roasting linebackers on the practice field?"
"But I was told he was a transcendent talent tho!"

The hype this summer got so crazy that even I bought in despite raising major red flags early in the offseason, tagging Run CMC as a potential fantasy bust back in May.

Widely regarded as a top-30ish player McCaffrey over the course of the season, in non-PPR leagues, has given you three frustrating weeks of less than five points and three good-ish weeks scoring between nine and 12 points.

And all the metrics are flat-out bad. He's averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. He ranks dead last in yards after contact per rush (among running backs with at least 40 carries). He's gotten literally ZERO carries from inside the five.

Considering the price you paid draft day to garner the services of McCaffery and the fact he hasn't given you that signature breakout game, a little fear, a little doubt might be creeping in.

So what should we expect from McCaffery moving forward? Sell before the bottom falls out? Or maybe buy before he figures it all out and explodes?


My eyes are bleeding from watching and breaking down literally every McCaffery touch this season. And my takeaways? The offensive line play has not been great, but on the few plays where a big play presents itself, CMC has simply whiffed.

The individual numbers as stated above looked pretty awful, but the offensive line has been problematic as well. Having Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil miss parts or all of six games has been huge blow. As a result the line hasn't generated holes or yards for their backs this season. While McCaffery is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, Jonathan Stewart is doing much better, grinding out just three yards per clip.

Per Next Gen Stats the Panthers are the third-worst in the NFL in terms of generating yards for their running backs, ceding -0.3 yards (yes negative) before a defender gets within one yard of the ball carrier. Line integrity has been an issue with defenders consistently piercing into the backfield on run plays.

Last year the Panthers were smack dab middle-of-the-pack in terms of offensive line yards generated, pushing forward 0.42 yards before a defender closed in on the ball carrier. That 0.7 yard difference doesn't sound like much, but it's massive. Think about it like yards per carry. The gap between 3.3 ypc and 4.0 ypc feels like an ocean of difference.

That being said, McCaffrey, for whatever reason, looks to be running very conservatively. He's seemingly determined not to have negative runs. It's resulted in some bad reads and at times, lots of yards left on the field.

The patient runner we saw at Stanford is largely gone this season. The runner that waited for blocks to set up and then used that out-of-nowhere burst to explode up and out of the tiniest of cracks ... where is that guy? Yes, many of those plays in college went for zero or negative yards but the volume of touches he got kept the defense on edge and eventually, McCaffery would exploit the tiniest of mistakes for huge, game-altering gains.

As a rookie, he seems anxious and it's resulted in him literally running into defenders.


I've stated numerous times on camera and in print that I absolutely love McCaffrey as a prospect. Despite not showing it yet, I do believe he can run between the tackles and he obviously has limitless potential as a back out of the backfield.

That being said my major concern with him from a fantasy perspective was usage in Carolina. Would Cam Newton really run less? Would the offense really change that much to feature an unproven rookie?

Well, like most things, it's been a mixed bag.

Cam is most definitely not running less and if anything he's running a bit more. Per Next Gen Stats, Cam ran on 9.2 percent of his total snaps in 2016, in 2017 that number has risen to 10.9 percent.

Meanwhile, around the goal line, despite all the offseason narratives, Cam is running at a much higher clip around the goal line. He had six carries inside the five yard line in 15 games last year. Newton has already toted the rock five times inside the five in just seven games in 2017.

Jonathan Stewart leads the team with six carries from within the five yard line, so if you're expecting rushing touchdown upside from McCaffrey moving forward ... well ... I guess getting literally anything is greater than zero.


The Panthers kept to their word in terms of getting McCaffrey involved in the offense because the biggest change in the Carolina attack has come in the pass game where Newton has gone from a quarterback that sat back and launched it deep to now being, dare I say, a dink-and-dunk signal caller.

Air yards are how far the football travels from the line of scrimmage. So basically if Cam throws a pass 10 yards downfield, it counts as 10 air yards. Simple.

Well in 2017, Cam's completed air yards are down from 8.6 to 6.3. That is a massive dropoff. We're talking about being one of the most aggressive quarterbacks downfield to now being in the Alex Smith/Trevor Siemian range (both average 6.4 air yards per completion) where throws are basically of the quick-hitting variety and generally pretty safe.

Considering McCaffrey has an outrageous 44 receptions through seven games, it's safe to say CMC is single-handedly driving down Cam's air yards numbers. (McCaffery has the fourth-most catches in the NFL ... not among running backs, the fourth-most among ALL players. Only Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and Jarvis Landry have more.)

Has it worked? The answer to that is complicated. The Panthers are averaging just 18.7 points per game. The Ravens, who we all universally agree are a mess offensively, are averaging 18.6 points per game.

That being said, it's been up and down to say the least. The Panthers were averaging 27.6 points per game from Weeks 4-6 before laying an egg against the Bears, scoring just three points.


This is going to surprise you, but I'm recommending you either keep McCaffery or attempt to trade for him. I know, I know, I know. It seems strange given all the numbers I've laid out.

But in fantasy football volume is king and CMC is getting volume. Is it in the traditional sense? No, obviously not. But he's getting the rock around 14 times per game. In today's running back landscape, you'll take that all day long.

I'm not recommending you sell the farm to get him, but make a reasonable but low offer and see what it'll take to get him on your roster.

Because here's the thing. Honestly, it can't get worse for McCaffery. As a ball carrier, it really can't. His vision has been suspect and his elusiveness has been non-existent. But these are things that don't add up given his extensive college tape.

It's entirely possible, McCaffrey doesn't figure it out this year, hell, he may never figure it out. But what I'm seeing is a young man slowly adapting and slowly getting more comfortable. If and when it clicks, watch out. And I want to be there when it does.


 » In my futile attempt to stay relevant, for whatever reason, I am really digging on Ski Mask the Slump God. He's not anywhere near mainstream but this kid is just oozing swag and talent. I think he's an emerging hip-hop artist and one we'll be hearing from much more in the very near future.

 » Marshawn Lynch is the realest dude in the damn universe. He took BART (the Bay-area subway system) home from the Raiders-Chiefs game and proceeded to have a hella good time with fellow passengers. Yes, he got kicked out of the game, whatever, stop taking this stuff so seriously. He got booted from a football game. Chill.

 » James Jones wore a damn *suit hoodie* on NFL Players Only. Amazing. Although, let me tell ya, I give myself partial credit for this. First time I met Jones was a few weeks back in the NFL Network locker room after my taping of NFL Fantasy Live and before his taping of Players Only. Told him it was great to meet him, that I was a fan but that I was disappointed that he wasn't wearing a hoodie. I told him he needed a suit hoodie in the worst way as a total joke. The dude ran with it and actually got said suit hoodie and he proceeded, obviously, to have the greatest show in the history of shows.

James D. Koh is an anchor and host for NFL Network. He is also a host of the NFL Fantasy Live Podcast and a guest columnist for the NFL fantasy football editorial staff. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh to tell him how much of an idiot he is for writing this column.

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