The Carolina Panthers traded star running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for substantial draft capital, in a blockbuster NFL trade late Thursday night.
While McCaffrey has been rumored to be very available on a tanking Panthers team, it’s still a stunner to see a trade actually happen. The Panthers were going to demand a very high price, and it was hard to assume that a team would meet that price in the modern NFL where the running back position is devalued more and more each year.
Well, the all-in 49ers went out and made it happen, and they clearly have Super Bowl hopes as part of a wide-open NFC. And the Panthers got a boatload of draft picks, while also greatly boosting their chances to pick in the top two and land one of C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young at quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft.
So, this has massive real football ramifications. It also has massive fantasy football ramifications.
McCaffrey has been a consensus top-two pick in fantasy drafts over the last few years, and he was the recommended top pick in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues this year. He’s gone on to be the fourth-best PPR running back in fantasy entering Week 7, and that’s while playing on a dumpster-fire Panthers team that’s had brutal quarterback play, few red-zone opportunities, and constant negative game script.
Now, McCaffrey goes to a 49ers team that’s known for having one of the most effective and innovative run schemes in football under head coach Kyle Shanahan. McCaffrey’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield should both work well with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — who loves check-downs and dump-offs — and elevate the production and efficiency for Garoppolo as well (Garoppolo all of a sudden could look like a top-10 quarterback option on some weeks).
Playing on a good football team that knows how to maximize McCaffreys’ abilities, and one that should get him more carries and red-zone opportunities, gives his already-elite fantasy value a sizable boost. This trade could go a long way to being a league-winning move for fantasy managers that have McCaffrey.
The other side of that- what does it mean for the fantasy value of other 49ers skill-position players? If McCaffrey is stealing some touches, is that going to hurt the fantasy value of Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk? Possibly, and it’s especially worth wondering how much it cuts into touches out of the backfield and at the line-of-scrimmage for Samuel- but these players will also get more red-zone opportunities that could negate the fewer touches on certain weeks. On the surface, Samuel should still be viewed as roughly a top-10 fantasy wide receiver, Aiyuk should still be among the top-45 wide receivers, and Kittle should still be a top-five option in the tight-end wasteland (the increased red-zone opportunities could particularly be a good thing for Kittle’s touchdown production).
As for the 49ers’ other running backs, Jeff Wilson Jr. — who replaced the injured Eli Mitchell — is no longer worth rostering (unless you’re in a very deep league and can afford a handcuff stash); this is going to be McCaffrey’s show.
Foreman, 26, has 12 carries for 37 yards and no touchdowns this season, to go with no receptions. He did an admirable job filling in for Derrick Henry at times with the Tennessee Titans over 2020-21, with the 2021 campaign featuring 563 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. But, he offers very little value as a receiver — as the zero receptions this season show — and should essentially be viewed as a two-down back that won’t get many goal-line opportunities in an offense that will also be playing from behind weekly.
Hubbard, 23, was a fourth-round pick by the Panthers in 2021 and offers intrigue in PPR leagues. He had 25 receptions as a rookie, for example. In a Carolina offense that will usually be in comeback mode and may also try to replicate McCaffrey’s pass-catching abilities out of the backfield, there’s upside for Hubbard to get some sneaky PPR production. However, he’s also been inefficient as a ball-carrier, averaging 3.6 yards over 178 career carries (he did have five rushing touchdowns in 2021, though).
What we can say for sure about the Panthers- picking against them should be a weekly consideration in Survivor leagues.