Fantasy Football Forecast

Welcome to my first Fantasy Football Forecast, which will be published periodically until the NFL season kicks off Sept. 5 and then weekly after that.

Christian McCaffrey could very well be cursed in the 2024 season and that has nothing to do with the running back being on the “Madden NFL” cover. The 49ers asked quite a bit of McCaffrey in 2023 and he responded by leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,459), offensive touches (339) and yards from scrimmage (2,023). He added 268 rushing yards, 78 touches and 420 total yards in the postseason.

Few running backs have carried such a workload without suffering a hangover the following season from all the wear and tear. McCaffrey can attest to that after going from a league-leading 403 touches in 2019 to 76 in 2020 and 136 in 2021. Injuries limited McCaffrey to a total of 13 games in those two years. He did not miss much as the Panthers won five games in each of those two seasons.

His injuries might have been coincidental, but take a look at the running backs who have led the NFL in offensive touches since 2013 and you will find just two of the 10 were as productive the following year. LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 366 touches in 2013 and followed with 340 in 2014. Ekeziel Elliott went from an NFL-high 381 touches in 2018 to 355 in 2019. The other eight were not as fortunate.

McCaffrey can avoid joining those eight by producing another season in which he averages 20 touches a game. Those who take him as the first overall pick in a fantasy draft will be hoping he does. McCaffrey is the only running back worth being the No. 1 pick. This will be the year in which receivers are in high demand.

Speaking of receivers, there is a debate as to whether the 49ers should invest in Brandon Aiyuk or let him go elsewhere and cast their lot with Deebo Samuel. The concern with Samuel is that he could begin to break down in a year or two after having 138 rushing attempts in the past three years in addition to 193 receptions.

Do the math and Samuel has had fewer touches with 331 in three seasons than McCaffrey did in 2023. Samuel has had his fair share of injuries, missing 14 games since 2020, but he also has many rushing touchdowns (19) as receiving in his career. His versatility has now led to questions about his durability.

McCaffrey and Samuel are both 28 and are similar in size. Samuel’s durability would be not an issue if he was listed on the roster as a running back instead of a receiver. No one seems to be concerned about McCaffrey breaking down anytime soon, especially those fortunate folks with the first pick in a fantasy draft.