Adam Schefter dropped the fantasy BOMB of the year during the fourth quarter of Thursday Night Football when he announced the 49ers acquired Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers in return for a boatload of draft picks. I could write 1,000 words about John Lynch saying “fuck them picks” and basically forgoing the 2023 NFL Draft to add a running back, but fantasy managers don’t care about that.
Let’s break this trade down from a fantasy perspective.
CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY FANTASY OUTLOOK
Don’t overthink this too much. Christian McCaffrey and Kyle Shanahan is a match made in fantasy football heaven. Not only does this move unshackle McCaffrey from the hell hole that is the Panthers’ offense, but it places him in the most electric rushing offense in the league.
If you know anything about Roto Street and more specifically, The Wolf, we can’t get enough of the Shanahan zone-blocking scheme. His scheme has made fantasy heroes out of guys like Steven Slaton, Arian Foster, Raheem Mostert, Elijah Mitchell, and Jeff Wilson.
“This scheme that we run, the outside zone and inside zone, it’s been working for years,” Mostert said at a postgame press conference. “Even back when Mike Shanahan was the head coach in Denver and even in Washington. The philosophy still transpires into what we run today.”
The Shanahan zone-blocking scheme is predicated on the offensive linemen blocking space rather than a specific defender. Meaning, holes can close rapidly. The runner must read the lane quickly and hit the hole without hesitation. Some running backs are natural in the scheme, while others struggle due to the tendency to dance in the backfield.
Thus, this scheme is perfect for McCaffrey, who makes quick decisions, has elite vision and explosiveness, and can hit the home run once he gets to the second level.
It also helps that McCaffrey is going from Pro Football Focus’ 24th-ranked offensive line to its 13th overall offensive line — who are ranked that high without its bulldozer, Trent Williams, in the lineup for the past few weeks.
There’s been some chatter about the lack of target share for its running backs, but Shanahan will cater to the talent on the field. Mostert, Wilson, or Mitchell aren’t even in the same galaxy as McCaffrey catching the football, so I wouldn’t put the low target share on the coach. The team just gave up their house for CMC and they’re going to fully utilize him to his strengths.
Either way, McCaffrey drips in overall No. 1 fantasy upside for his rest of season outlook.
D’ONTA FOREMAN VS CHUBA HUBBARD
With CMC missing significant time over the last two years, knowing the Panthers’ running back room was an important storyline heading into the 2022 season. D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard have opposite skill sets, which complement each other to a certain extent, meaning both have some standalone value in that backfield.
However, Foreman is the player I’d be looking to add right away out of the two running backs. For what he is as a player, Foreman filled in nicely for Derrick Henry last season for the final nine games of the season. Splitting touches with Dontrell Hilliard, Foreman rushed for 4.3 YPC as the early-down bruiser. Foreman scored over eight half PPR fantasy points in six of nine games and three games of over 12 fantasy points, which was highlighted by a 19-point outburst in Week 17. While he was nearly invisible in the passing game (nine receptions on 11 targets for 123 yards), he performed his best in games where he was asked to be the bell cow — averaging roughly 5 YPC in games where he had over 18 carries.
On the other side, Hubbard still has some standalone value due to his pass-catching and home run-hitting capabilities. The former Oklahoma State standout had some real playing time as a rookie last season when McCaffrey was out of the lineup. He only averaged 3.6 YPC but proved he could handle the load as a runner with four games of 16-plus carries and two games with 24 carries. The Panthers also deployed him out of the backfield, catching 25 of 37 targets for 174 yards and a score. Out of his 10 games started, Hubbard finished double-digit fantasy points in five of those games.
In reality, either running back won’t win you a fantasy title and both offer only RB3 or flex upside in deeper leagues. Both will get ample opportunities, but that offense sucks and it could get worse as the team continues to sell its assets for draft picks. I’d prioritize Foreman slightly here due to his touchdown upside.
RIP 49ERS RUNNING BACKS
The CMC addition is a death sentence for Jeff Wilson and Elijah Mitchell owners, as well as Jordan Mason truthers. Outside of McCaffrey’s debut where he only had three nights with the playbook, there’s no way Shanahan will use any sort of committee after mortgaging the future on the running back. If you want to keep Mitchell in your IR slot, that’s fine, but Wilson and Mason can be dropped.
Looking at the rest of the offense, McCaffrey’s arrival will most certainly do some damage to Deebo Samuel. The ‘wideback’ will take fewer snaps from the backfield and will not see as many quick-hitting YAC opportunities due to McCaffrey’s elite receiving skill-set. However, there’s a chance Samuel’s aDOT will increase, and hopefully, he’ll be utilized downfield more often.
George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk’s outlooks should remain the same and one could argue they could be in line to do more damage with CMC garnering more attention than Wilson or Mitchell. Jimmy Garopolo and the offense as a whole should get a significant bump with McCaffrey as the featured back. Garoppolo can dink and dunk and let his elite playmakers at every position make plays after the catch. He’s now in rock-solid QB2 territory.
Check The Wolf’s Rest of Season Fantasy Rankings to see where CMC and the rest of these players land in the aftermath of this fantasy landscape-altering trade.