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Christian McCaffrey

Can workhorse keep it going?

Fantasy coaches love workhorse running backs, and get nervous at any talk about limiting that workload. So a recent quote from Kyle Shanahan regarding Christian McCaffrey is one that gets your attention. We want him healthy, but we also want him busy.

In a story at The Athletic, Shanahan says "We have to protect Christian from himself. He doesn’t like to ever come out no matter what the situation is and I do think that’s something we could protect him with more. You’d like to take some of that off of him and give it to other guys also.”

McCaffrey was the Offensive Player of the Year last year, and the fantasy MVP. He'll go as the No. 1 overall pick in most drafts this year, too. He had 339 touches last season (not counting the playoffs). How worried should people be about him having a reduced workload this year, either by choice or because he breaks down?

I pulled the numbers for all running backs with at least 300 total touches (runs-receptions) in the last 10 years. In 2023, McCaffrey was one of six such backs. (The others: Mixon, Henry, Pollard, Etienne and Rachaad White.). From 2013 to 2022, there were 61 such backs.

The numbers a year later for those guys were fairly encouraging. Nearly half of them (29) came back and finished in the top 15 at the position in PPR leagues a year later. Twenty-four were RB1s (top 12 at their position).

Two of the biggest successes -- coming back and finishing as the No. 1 fantasy back a year later -- were McCaffrey himself, who did it in 2019 and then again last season.

Table shows those 300-touch backs from the last 10 years, with their numbers (and PPR finish) one year later. Guys who finished in the top 12 at the position are in bold.

2013Matt Forte, Chi.133974594121038-102-808-103
2013Marshawn Lynch, Sea.125736316141306-37-367-174
2013Eddie Lacy, G.B.117835257111139-42-427-136
2013Jamaal Charles, K.C.128770693191033-40-291-147
2013LeSean McCoy, Phil.160752539111319-28-155-512
2013Chris Johnson, Ten.10774234510663-24-151-239
2013Ryan Mathews, S.D.1255261897330-9-69-370
2013Knowshon Moreno, Den.10386054813148-1-8-1103
2013Adrian Peterson, Min.1266291711175-2-180127
2014Matt Forte, Chi.103810280810898-44-389-78
2014DeMarco Murray, Dall.18455741613702-44-322-715
2014LeSean McCoy, Phil.1319281555895-32-292-517
2014LeVeon Bell, Pitt.13618385411556-24-136-349
2014Marshawn Lynch, Sea.13063736717417-13-80-361
2015Devonta Freeman, Atl.105673578141079-54-462-136
2015Latavius Murray, Oak.1066412326788-33-264-1213
2015Doug Martin, T.B.1402332717421-14-134-355
2015Adrian Peterson, Min.1485302221172-3-80122
2016Todd Gurley, LAR8854332761305-64-788-191
2016LeVeon Bell, Pitt.12687561691291-85-655-112
2016Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.16313236316983-26-269-912
2016Frank Gore, Ind.1025382778961-29-245-420
2016DeMarco Murray, Ten.12875337712659-39-266-721
2016LeGarrette Blount, N.E.116173818766-8-50-345
2016David Johnson, Ari.1239808792023-6-670110
2017Todd Gurley, LAR130564788191251-59-580-213
2017Melvin Gordon, LAC11055847612885-50-490-148
2017Kareem Hunt, K.C.13275345511824-26-378-1412
2017LeSean McCoy, Buff.1138594488514-34-238-339
2017Leonard Fournette, Jac.10403630210439-22-185-641
2017LeVeon Bell, Pitt.12918565511Didn't play
2018Christian McCaffrey, Car.1098107867131387-116-1005-191
2018Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.14347756791357-54-420-143
2018Saquon Barkley, NYG130791721151003-52-438-811
2018Todd Gurley, LAR12515958021857-31-207-1414
2018David Johnson, Ari.9405044610345-36-370-636
2019Dalvin Cook, Min.113553519131557-44-361-172
2019Derrick Henry, Ten.154018206182027-19-114-173
2019Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.13575442014979-52-338-89
2019Nick Chubb, Cle.14943627881067-16-150-1211
2019Chris Carson, Sea.1230372669681-37-287-920
2019Leonard Fournette, Jac.1152765223367-36-233-635
2019Joe Mixon, Cin.1137352878428-21-138-448
2019Christian McCaffrey, Car.1387116100519225-17-149-654
2019LeVeon Bell, NYJ789664614328-16-138-263
2020Josh Jacobs, L.V.10653323812872-54-348-912
2020Dalvin Cook, Min.155744361171159-34-224-616
2020David Montgomery, Chi.10705443810849-42-301-719
2020Derrick Henry, Ten.20271911417937-18-154-1022
2021Joe Mixon, Cin.12054231416814-60-441-911
2021Najee Harris, Pitt.120074467101034-41-229-1014
2021Antonio Gibson, Was.10374229410546-46-353-528
2021Jonathan Taylor, Ind.18114036020861-28-143-433
2022Christian McCaffrey, 2TM113985741131459-67-564-211
2022Derrick Henry, Ten.153833398131167-28-214-129
2022Saquon Barkley, NYG13125733810962-41-280-1013
2022Najee Harris, Pitt.103441229101035-29-170-823
2022Austin Ekeler, LAC91510772218628-51-436-624
2022Josh Jacobs, L.V.16535340012805-37-296-627
2022Dalvin Cook, Min.11733929510214-15-78070
2022Nick Chubb, Cle.15252723913170-4-21089
2023Christian McCaffrey, S.F.14596756421??
2023Derrick Henry, Ten.11672821412??
2023Joe Mixon, Cin.10345237612??
2023Rachaad White, T.B.990645499??
2023Tony Pollard, Dall.1005553116??
2023Travis Etienne, Jac.10085847612??

If we move the touch threshold higher (to where McCaffrey, including playoffs, finished), the percentages were similar, though with a smaller sample set. There have been eight backs with 375 touches in a season over the past decade. Four of them came back and finished in the top 15 at the position a year later, two in the top 30. One of the exceptions was 2017 LeVeon Bell, who didn't play at all, sitting out the year in a messy contract dispute.

I'm drafting McCaffrey No. 1 overall. I can see the 49ers trying to limit his workload, but I doubt they'll do it enough to make any other back more likely to finish as the top player at the position. Injuries are a concern, but no more for him than anyone else I could take there.

--Andy Richardson

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