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2018 ADP Throwdown - Christian McCaffrey vs. Jerick McKinnon

Fantasy football draft season is upon us and RotoBaller is here to help! In this series, two RotoBaller experts will discuss the merits of two players with similar value and average draft position (ADP). Remember that situations will change for all players over the course of the summer and it may impact where they are selected in drafts.

This article comes from staff writers Wai Sallas and Dominick Petrillo, who compare two running backs in PPR formats with ADPs that now sit squarely in the lower part of the second round.

Wai takes the side of popular preseason sleeper and SPARQ king Jerick McKinnon, while Dominick argues in favor of second-year running back and fellow Combine buster Christian McCaffrey.

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Opening Statements: Who Do You Draft?

The Case for Christian Mccaffrey - Dominick Petrillo

With the eighth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers surprised almost everyone by taking running back Christian Mccaffrey out of Stanford. Those eye-popping numbers from the NFL Combine certainly helped his cause. While he had a good rookie season, it was not up to the level that was expected as he was sharing time with Jonathan Stewart and of course Cam Newton. The rushing numbers were not there, as McCaffrey only had 435 rushing yards on 117 carries out of the backfield with two rushing touchdowns. Where he really shined was in the passing game in which he led all running backs in targets with 113 and in receptions with 80 for an additional 651 yards and five touchdowns. These numbers put him in RB1 status in PPR leagues and this is where he should make hay again in 2018.

With Johnathan Stewart taking his game to the New York Giants, the Panthers have brought in C.J. Anderson to fill the void left. Saying this McCaffrey only started in 10 games last season and being the full-time starter, this season will allow him to improve on not just his receiving numbers which are already elite but also on his rushing numbers which are far from so. The coach talk coming out of Carolina right now is ridiculous with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator both saying they want McCaffrey to get 25 to 30 touches per game this season. Allowing for the coach speak inflation, he should still garner 20 to 22 touches a game making it feasible McCaffrey gets to 200 carries with his additional 80 to 100 receptions which would still bring him to only 19 touches a game. With these added carries and receptions, there is a good case to show he will also get into double-digit touchdowns in 2018. While not the red zone back as this will be split between Anderson and Newton, the speed of McCaffrey will lead to big plays much like the plays seen from Darren Sproles and LeVeon Bell in the receiving game in recent years. Currently draft pick 2.10, he should bring back positive value as the Panthers offense with the return of Greg Olsen and the addition of rookie D.J. Moore will be much better and with the defense getting worse in the offseason, they will need to be for the Panthers to have any chance in the NFC South.

The Case for Jerick McKinnon - Wai Sallas

To fully assess Jerick McKinnon’s abilities this year in fantasy football, one must look beyond the physical tools he displays on the football field.

To start, McKinnon’s nickname is Jet. That name entails that he must be super fast. If he was just normal fast then his nickname would be speedy, or zoom, or plain Jerick, but to have Jet bestowed upon him means he must have extraordinary speed. That is super uncommon and thus should be revered as such. Secondly, a jet can hurt you in various ways. It has missiles and guns that can harm from distance, but one could also lose its bearing in a jet wash as well and we've seen how that can turn out (RIP Goose). Which means McKinnon can beat you in a variety of ways, either through the air, or on the ground (Not sure if there's another way in football, but if there were, we are pretty sure, he could beat you that way too). In summary, to have a nickname like Jet means you are better than good, you are more than human. If I can have something more than human on my fantasy football team, then I must have him.

In 2017, McKinnon was stuck in a timeshare with Latavius Murray, and only played on 47 percent of the team’s snaps. Despite such a limited share, McKinnon finished 16th in PPR leagues. Now he’s going to a team with a coach who makes kings out of running backs. Under Kyle Shanahan’s leadership, the RB1 for his team has finished in the top 10 the last three years. Last season, Carlos Hyde finished eighth, playing the third-highest percentage of snaps from qualifying running backs. For everyone’s talk about Shanahan bringing his Atlanta model to San Francisco, and how that could affect McKinnon’s overall touch-rate, Devonta Freeman still had the majority of snaps and touches with the Falcons, and that didn’t affect where he finished those years in fantasy points. You know what that means? McKinnon is going to be fed—a lot, and it’s going to be beautiful.

McKinnon is maintaining third-round value, which is near disrespectful for a running back who is coming into a prime situation with his prime years still ahead.


Rebuttals: Why Take One Over the Other?

McKinnon has never shown he can be a lead back - Dominick Petrillo

Yes, Jerick McKinnon had a decent season with Minnesota in 2017. In 16 games he had 150 rushes for 570 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Much like Christian McCaffrey, he did not start all 16 games as McKinnon did not start until the season-ending injury to Dalvin Cook allowed him to move into a timeshare with Latavius Murray. Does McKinnon have the ability to be a pass catching back? Yes, we saw it last season when he caught 51 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns on 68 targets. This led him to get a large contract from the 49ers to replace departed Carlos Hyde in a running back friendly offense. In the last three seasons of a Kyle Shanahan offense, the lead running back has finished first, eighth and seventh in fantasy points. Shanahan loves to use the running back in the passing game and this is where McKinnon could shine. But, he also might not. While he took over the role last season due to injury, he still could not overtake Murray to make the role his alone. Don’t forget McKinnon is also the same back who in previous years with injuries and suspensions to Adrian Peterson could not beat out Matt Asiata even though he is supposed to be some sort of athletic freak who tested off the charts in spark score. 

The fact of the matter is, we have never seen it from McKinnon and now he is going to a new team. While Christian McCaffrey and Jerick McKinnon are in many ways the same player, if I had the late second-round pick to spend, I would choose the guy coming back to the comfort level of the same team. Christian McCaffrey holds more upside for this season and beyond as he does not have anyone breathing down his neck whereas McKinnon has Joe Williams and Matt Breida. Not to mention a front-loaded contract allowing the 49ers a way out after one season whereas McCaffrey will be with the Panthers for three or more seasons. 

McCaffery’s situation has gotten worse, not better - Wai Sallas

For all the damage McCaffrey did in 2017, can one really expect him to improve on those numbers in 2018? He is limited in the red zone, (last year, Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart accounted for nearly 80 percent of the red zone rushes), CJ Anderson was not brought in to back up McCaffrey but to work alongside him, similar to the role Stewart had last season. The only thing that has changed is Newton will have more to throw to than McCaffery and an open plot of green turn to ground the ball when his receivers are incapable of getting open. In 2018, Newton will get his security blanket back, Greg Olsen. Before getting hurt last season, Olsen was targeted over 120 times a year from 2014-16, Catching over 1,000 yards each season.

While McCaffery will have to fight for the ball like a piece a chicken at the Klumps, McKinnon's path to superstardom is lit up like an aircraft carrier at a predawn landing. While much has been said about the potential of Matt Breida and Joe Williams, they obviously didn't do enough to instill enough confidence in the 49er brass to not go out and get one of the top free-agent running backs. Do you know where newly minted San Francisco god and quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite place is to throw the ball? The majority of his throws are short--within 14 yards. Do you know which players run the most routes in that range?

For McCaffrey, there is no clear path to fantasy football-nirvana. Newton’s nose for the goal-line, combined with CJ Anderson’s arrival and Greg Olsen’s return provides three red zone targets that will supersede McCaffery. McKinnon, on the other hand, was brought in to be the guy in an offense that feeds the guy. The Jet is clear for takeoff.


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