2017 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Believe the hype -- Christian McCaffrey is worth a third-round pick

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Predictably, it took just a handful of touches by Christian McCaffrey to get the attention of every single Fantasy lovin' human.

Is it possible we underrated the Panthers rookie all along?

It's difficult to explain how good McCaffrey looked against the Titans. Using words might not quite do it justice. He wasthatfast.

Aw, to heck with it, just watch these. 

That's pretty good.

When McCaffrey was drafted, the hope was he would help transform the Panthers offense from a run-centric unit that leaned too heavily on Cam Newton to make plays down the field into a horizontal, ball-control, dink-and-dunk offense that took pressure off their franchise quarterback. But the Panthers kept insisting they weren't going to lower Jonathan Stewart's workload.

They're either going to end up looking like a bunch of idiots for giving Stewart anything close to a big workload, or a bunch of lying liars. And if you like McCaffrey, you better hope they're fibbing.  

With the ball in his hands, McCaffrey is exciting. Dangerous. Maybe not exactly the toughest to take down, but certainly someone who could be tough to wrap up en route to the taking down.

And he's going to line up EVERYWHERE. You don't see the video of him lining up wide, which he did against Tennessee (it was an overthrown pass). Clearly, the Panthers will play the mismatch card with him.

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Christian McCaffrey CAR • RB • 22
2017 preseason stats
ATT10
YDS66
TD1
TAR4
REC2
REC YDS39
REC TD0

It begs these questions: Was our initial projection of 1,000 total yards and five touchdowns too low?  Was SportsLine's projection of 1,300 total yards and eight scores more on point?

And is McCaffrey worth taking before Round 4 in a Fantasy draft?

Short answers to all three: Yes, no, yes. 

Maybe the best part about McCaffrey landing in Carolina is reuniting with former position coach Lance Taylor. The two worked together at Stanford, and Taylor gave the Panthers a leg up on knowing McCaffrey's strengths.

Sure enough, in the first two preseason games we've seen Carolina use McCaffrey in ways similar to how he was used at Stanford.

Will the Panthers keep taking cues from McCaffrey's last two college seasons and let him average 23.6 carries and 3.3 catches per game?

Unlikely. Stewart averaged 16.8 rushes per game last year and 18.6 the year before, and that includes him sharing with Newton. Carolina probably won't put even that many carries on McCaffrey's plate.

But a dozen? Considering Stewart's presence, and figuring in some special-teams return work for McCaffrey, doesn't that seem like a fair number to settle on? And it doesn't include catches, which should be in that three-per-game range for sure.

Add it up, and it doesn't take much to make McCaffrey a 15-touch-per game running back.

And after seeing him continue to make speedy plays like the kind we saw this week, would it shock anyone if he averaged, say, 4.5 yards per run and 6.8 yards per grab? If so, that would actually be more than 1.5 yards per play below his collegiate averages. We're playing it pretty safe here.

Plug in those numbers over 16 games and McCaffrey isn't a 1,000-total-yard back. He's a 1,200-total-yard back.

And anyone who watched him run it Saturday is bound to think that's too low. Especially with a soft early-season schedule to get him going.

Questions about his touchdown potential remain valid. It's not like Newton's going to give up his goal-line carries, and Stewart will still get a few deep in the red zone. McCaffrey's going to have to break a bunch of longer runs in order to find the end zone.

Like he did today. Like he did in college. So maybe five touchdowns seems too low a total, too.

If we're pegging McCaffrey to 1,200 total yards and six scores, then he's right in the same range as fellow rookies Dalvin Cook -- profiled here -- and Joe Mixon -- he's here -- (both of whom seem like safer picks to get more touches). If we give him seven, then he's theoretically better than both in non-PPR leagues. If we're giving him over 50 catches, then he's the top rookie running back in PPR this season, ahead of Fournette.

(Editor's note: The guys discussed all four of the rookie running backs Wednesday's episode of the Fantasy Football Today podcast. Download and subscribe here.)

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Christian McCaffrey CAR • RB • 22
2017 projections
ATT192
YDS864
TD5
REC52
REC YDS353
REC TD2

Call it preseason hype; call it rookie hype; call it whatever you want. Seeing the guy speed past NFL defenders multiple times in Saturday's game via an offense that seems to be tailored to him is exactly the kind of thing we crave in Fantasy Football. The Cardinals do it, the Steelers do it, the Cowboys do it, and we're in love with their running backs, right?

We should be in love with the upside McCaffrey offers too. That's why he should be your third-round pick.  

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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