CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Christian McCaffrey has become the face of the Carolina Panthers with Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly gone, and the fourth-year running back has become the face of fantasy football as the top-rated player in several mock drafts.
McCaffrey can’t argue with the experts who rate him No. 1.
“I’d take myself, yeah," McCaffrey said with a smile during a Thursday Zoom call. “I would always take myself in fantasy."
McCaffrey is the only true superstar on a rebuilding Carolina team that has low expectations nationally under first-year coach Matt Rhule. McCaffrey's fantasy credentials are unquestioned, coming off a 2019 season when he became the third player in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
The Panthers rewarded McCaffrey in April with a four-year, $64 million extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL with a yearly average salary of $16 million.
“He’s the leader of our team, our motor," cornerback Donte Jackson said.
That won’t stop because of a staff change. McCaffrey could become even more valuable under first-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who is building an offense around what he learned as an assistant at New Orleans (2017-18) and last year as LSU’s passing game coordinator.
LSU had the No. 1 offense in college football in winning the national championship, and the 2018 Saints ranked third in the NFL in scoring (31.5 points per game).
“He really builds for the culture that you want to have within the building," Rhule said of McCaffrey. “We want to be a serious football place. We want to be a place that it’s all about the game, and I think that’s who Christian McCaffrey is."
McCaffrey likes what he’s seen so far in camp out of Brady’s offense that will be run by former New Orleans backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun," he said. “We have so many weapons, from the receiving position to the tight end position to a very talented offensive line and obviously Teddy. For us, it’s just about execution."
McCaffrey is also a great fit in Brady’s scheme, which is based on playing fast and not allowing opponents to know where players are going to line up. He can play running back and any of the receiver spots, which enabled him to join Marshall Faulk and (1999) and Roger Craig (1985) in the 1,000-1,000 club.
And he seldom comes off the field. McCaffrey played 93.35% of the snaps last season, by far the most of any running back in the NFL. Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette was second at 88%, and no other back topped 83%.
That’s another reason McCaffrey has so much fantasy value and why he was one of only four NFL players who received a perfect 99 rating in the video game Madden 21.
Christian McCaffrey returns to Madden 99 Club
Barry J. Sanders welcomes former Stanford teammate Christian McCaffrey back to the Madden 99 Club for another season.
But McCaffrey doesn't get too caught up in fantasy rankings -- he's more focused on helping the Panthers get back to winning after consecutive losing seasons.
“Whether people have us at No. 1 or have us at 32, it doesn’t matter to us," McCaffrey said. “We’re a team, and coach Rhule is very proud when he says this: ‘Let’s focus on the details and the process.’
“For us, it’s not about where anybody has us ranked."