Entering the 2020 draft season, no player in recent fantasy football history has been more of a slam-dunk as the number one overall pick in redraft and the consensus first non-quarterback option in dynasty than Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. His 2019 season was a hallmark year for the position, finishing with 2,392 yards from scrimmage and an astounding 403 total touches. There is putting a team on your back, and then there is whatever on Earth Christian McCaffrey did for the woeful Panthers in 2019.
A 400-touch season isn’t easy to come by. Since 2000, there are only 19 instances of a 400-touch season from 15 different running backs. Right from the start, the 2019 Christian McCaffrey performance along with Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray in 2014, as well as 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers Le’Veon Bell are the only ones since 2010 to accomplish the feat. All seasons aren’t made equally: of the 19, only 10 had 70 or more targets, McCaffrey’s was the only one with less than 300 rushes. The physical pounding which comes with 1,056 snaps holds true regardless of having fewer carries, so diving in and seeing who was able of this list to follow up their monster years successfully needs investigating.
It sounds as though I am trying to say “Christian McCaffrey is a bust; I don’t want to be in the position to buy into him.” You’re not wholly wrong. Looking at the chart below from our friends over at profootballreference.com we can see all 15 players whose teams would shutter to the idea of running back by committee.
Of the group, we can immediately highlight one player as successful. LaDainian Tomlinson of the formerly-San Diego Chargers had repeat 400 touch performances and 390 touches or more in each of his first six seasons. The yardage was there along with the work, as Tomlinson totaled 2,000 or more yards in three of these seasons. Tomlinson is the only clear success. The only other back to back performance - Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins - saw a near 500 total yardage drop from one to the next.
Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts was able to produce two separate 400 touch seasons in the timeframe - and three times overall. However, an ACL tear after his 2000 career season hampered him for three years until he was once again able to produce another 2,000 total yard season. Eddie George hit 400 touches and was never able to hit 4 yards per touch again in the four remaining seasons of his career.
Deuce McAllister of the New Orleans Saints saw his only full 16 games starter workload with his 1,641 rushing yards in the 2003 season, followed by early exits in 2005 and 2007. Green Bay Packers back Ahman Green was never able to produce a 1,500 total yards season after 2003, with only two more seasons of even more than 100 total touches; he was only 26 in his career season in 2003. Jamal Lewis ran rampant for the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, amassing a 2,066 rushing yard season. Unfortunately, his next two seasons saw nearly the same total yardage combined to his 2003 campaign. As a player that never saw more than 60 targets in a season Lewis was very run dependent, and after his age 24 season, he would have been a hot dynasty commodity who didn’t pay off.
A pair of New York running backs next in the New York Jets’ Curtis Martin, who’s 2004 400 touch campaign in his age 31 season, a career year as well. Martin plays one more season and hangs them up, he did all his damage in the 90s and early 2000s. Martin is going to go down as unusable data for what we want to get across here. Tiki Barber followed suit, finishing his career with the New York Giants by putting together three 2,000 total yards plus seasons from 2004-2006 to end his career. While an excellent finish to his career, it doesn’t offer much perspective on future production.
Our next three backs all start to show dual-threat ability more akin to modern backs during the mid- to late-2000s. Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson, and Chris Johnson all saw 345 or more carries while garnering 60 or more targets to boot. Jackson had his career season in 2006, posting bests in both rushing (1,528) and receiving yards (806). The following two seasons were injury-plagued, with Jackson only playing in 12 contests for both seasons. However, compared to most of the cases present, Jackson’s drop off was still useful for fantasy purposes. The caveat is still we know all the players listed so far are top of the list in terms of value, but that value can only hold up in dynasty if there is a repeatable level of return, and to this point, that hasn’t been the case.
Larry Johnson is a sad case: of a possible 80 games to be played over the next four years, he only appeared in 37, for four different teams. Chris Johnson never rose to the heights of his 2009 season, but produced 1,000 yards plus rushing and double-digit touchdowns in four of his six total seasons in Tennessee.
DeMarco Murray was going into the last season of his contract with the Cowboys in 2014. With sights set on the future, they ran Murray into the ground with a whopping 392 carries for 1,845 yards. He lasted only three more seasons and was out of football by age 29. Le’Veon Bell with the Pittsburgh Steelers has his very infamous spat with management in 2017, wanting a long-term contract to off-put the immense strain put on his body. He didn’t receive a deal and then sat out the 2018 season.
To recap, these are the successful careers after the 400 touch seasons:
•Short term success (immediate two seasons after 400 touches) 3/15
•Jackson, Johnson, and Tomlinson are the only players, a whole 20 percent, who were able to produce numbers worthy of an RB1 or high RB2 production two years after their season of note.
•Long term success (seasons extending beyond two seasons) 4/15
•Take the three listed above and add in James, who was only the second player besides Tomlinson to have 400 touch seasons which weren’t back to back.
A 27 percent chance is what history tells us is the shot McCaffrey has to reproduce near the quality he had in 2019 for the foreseeable future. What he does have on his side is his age, as his 400 carry season occurred at age 23. This makes him the second youngest of the group. With a sub 300 carry workload, he is avoiding more of the back-breaking work that running backs deal within the trenches. In redraft you smash the button for the first pick, and in dynasty, the number two spot behind Mahomes is the play. Turning him into multiple pieces is what history is saying here is the best move in the long term.
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