Welcome to this season-wrapping, special edition of Panther’s Picks & Props, where our friend Cort Smith will put a cherry on top of an all-time season from Christian McCaffrey. Cort is a lead writer at RotoViz and the founder of Bet the Prop, a site specializing in the emergent player prop betting market. His picks for The Riot Report went 67% on the season, while the prop picks at Bet the Prop site eclipsed 60% over a significant sample.

It may have been a tough few seasons for a Panthers franchise that’s become accustomed to playoff berths and Super Bowl expectations, but at least we have Christian McCaffrey. The third-year freakshow somehow exceeded the sizable expectations we all had for him coming into the year, and at just 23-years old, he’s already carved out a place in the Mount Rushmore of not just fantasy football, but NFL history.

In this piece, we’ll lend a little historical context to McCaffrey’s meteoric rise to the top and we’ll also tell you why his relatively modest TD production means that the best may be yet to come.

First, a quick recap of a banner year in Panthers picks & props for us:

  • After finishing off the year with another winning McCaffrey prop bet, our Panthers player props ended up a highly profitable 18-9 (67%) in this space. Even if you didn’t tail our picks, hopefully, you learned something our process behind how we’ve been able to consistently beat these incredibly soft prop markets for years. If you’re a losing-to-break-even DFS player, props are something you should be very interested in.
  • We identified DJ Moore as an elite prospect and the easy pick over Curtis Samuel in fantasy drafts. Moore was the 22nd WR selected in fantasy drafts and finished as the WR12. Most impressive of all? He’s still about two years away from hitting his peak. Be very excited about this guy.

And of course, we also told you in the summer that McCaffrey was perfectly placed to rival LaDanian Tomlinson for the greatest fantasy season in two decades.

He couldn’t quite top Tomlinson’s best, but his season still ranks among the greatest ever. Keep in mind that all of these numbers are for Weeks 1-16, those still playing fantasy football in Week 17 are either in some very intense leagues – or crazy.

Related:   Panthers Taking Down Jerry Richardson Statue Outside Bank of America Stadium

A Season for the Ages

McCaffrey’s 448.4 points in PPR leagues now rank as the second-best season among all running backs since the turn of the century; Tomlinson’s 2006 still reigns supreme with 473.3 points.

This data comes courtesy of the RotoViz Screener and includes Weeks 1-16 for every season since 2000.

  • McCaffrey’s 133 targets are the most ever for an RB, topping his own record from last year with 123. Tomlinson’s mark of 122 in 2003 ranks third.
  • CMC’s 109 receptions are also the most ever for a running back, again beating his own record of 106 last year.
  • He had 933 receiving yards, the third-most at the position since the turn of the century. Austin Ekeler set the new standard this year with 950 receiving yards. Charlie Garner’s 941 yards in 2002 now ranks second through 16 games.
  • McCaffrey commanded 24% of his team’s targets for the second-straight season, both marks just behind Tomlinson’s 25% in 2003.

Here is a fully sortable table of the top-20 RB seasons over the last 20 years.

PLAYERSEASTargetsRecRec YdsRec TDsTGT ShareRush AttRush YdsRush TDsPoints
LaDainian Tomlinson2006785449430.18332174928473.3
Christian McCaffrey201913310993340.24278136114448.4
Priest Holmes2002817067230.19313161521442.7
Priest Holmes200387726840.17300137025427.4
Marshall Faulk20001057478970.19221113116408
David Johnson20161167784140.19288123316406.4
LaDainian Tomlinson20031229270840.25282140211398.05
Marshall Faulk2001987870790.19240121411392.1
Todd Gurley2017876478860.18279130513387.3
Christian McCaffrey201812310684560.2421510807383
Jamaal Charles20131047069370.21259128712382
LaDainian Tomlinson2002937647110.2356163814376.9
Todd Gurley2018815958040.16256125117374.1
Edgerrin James2000795851540.18361158113371.6
Steven Jackson20061088878220.232013729369.4
Chris Johnson2009654748320.15322187212368.5
Shaun Alexander200529157810.07350180726365.5
Arian Foster2010826459420.15296143614363
Saquon Barkley20181138768840.21244119810361.6
Ahman Green2003584935850.13335166513359.3
Related:   Joe Brady Reveals Plans For McCaffrey, Samuel & Rest of Panthers Weapons in 2020

McCaffrey’s Season: Best Ever?

McCaffrey’s ranking on that list is all the more impressive considering his relatively modest touchdown totals. In fact, touch-for-touch, McCaffrey’s season was better than LT’s.

Consider that Tomlinson scored a ridiculous 31 total times in his 2006 record campaign. McCaffrey scored “just” 18 TDs this year. That means that despite scoring 0.8 TDs per game less than Tomlinson, McCaffrey fell only 1.56 fantasy points per game short.

Some may argue that scoring touchdowns is a skill, but they’re wrong. Touchdowns are a fluky statistic — they’re not sticky year-over-year and are prone to significant amounts of noisy variance. Consider that in the season following his epic 2006, Tomlinson’s TD production fell by 61% despite playing all 16 games. His point totals, overly dependent on scoring, fell by 19% as a result.

  • TDs accounted for 39% of Tomlinson’s points that year
  • TDs accounted for only 25% of McCaffrey’s points this year

The bottom line is that Tomlinson was fortunate to post his record point total. McCaffrey actually beat him in total yards (2,294 to 2,243) and yards per touch (5.93 to 5.81), and his success was based less on fluky scores.

McCaffrey did it all on a worse team with far inferior QB play than LT’s early-2000 Chargers teams.

In all, McCaffrey ranked as an RB1 (top 12) in 13 of 15 games.

A few more standout notes from McCaffrey’s 2019:

  • He is the first running back to ever post back-to-back 100-catch seasons
  • He joins Anquan Bolden and Brandon Marshall as the only players at any position to have 100 receptions in two of their first three seasons.
  • He needs 67 receiving yards in Week 17 to become the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Related:   Leaders, Not Followers: David Tepper and Panthers Ahead Of The Curve By Cutting Ties With CPI Security

A Three Year Reign

Posting a single spectacular season is one thing, but over his first three years, McCaffrey’s production has been as good as any player’s.

He now has more points through his first three seasons than all but two players at any position since 2000.

Number one on that list? Cam Newton, who scored a record 1,074 fantasy points through his first three seasons, just beating out Tomlinson (1,054.3) and McCaffrey (1,051.6).

McCaffrey’s 5,251 yards from scrimmage are the third-most through any player’s first three years, behind only Tomlinson and Chris Johnson and better than the likes of Adrian Peterson, Ezekiel Elliott, Odell Beckham, and Alvin Kamara.

Conclusion

McCaffrey will be the consensus number one overall pick in 2020 fantasy football drafts. In auction leagues, he’ll likely cost you more than 50% of your player budget.

I’m always wary of chasing outlier seasons like the one he just posted, but I think this is a different case. The fact that McCaffrey’s numbers were fueled by pure volume and not just a ton of touchdowns gives me some confidence that an encore performance is possible.

The fact that he’s the most targeted running back in the history of the NFL makes him less prone to negative regression.

It also means that if he can ever get something resembling the TD luck Tomlinson benefitted from in 2006, the greatest fantasy season of all time is still well within reach for the ascending superstar, who at just 23 years old, is still working towards his peak.

Cort S
Cort Smith is the founder of Bet the Prop and a lead writer at RotoViz. A traveler, musician, and recovering journalist, his writing and analysis has also been featured at The Action Network and numberFire.