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Countdown to 2021 fantasy football drafts: Christian McCaffrey No. 1

Christian McCaffrey comes in at No. 1 in our fantasy football rankings countdown to the 2021 NFL season.

Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers looks on during Panthers Training Camp at Wofford College on July 30, 2021 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After three incredibly productive seasons, injuries caught up to Christian McCaffrey last season. The Carolina Panthers running back was limited to just three games because of a high ankle sprain and a cascade of other ailments. But was back in action for training camp this year and ready to go for the regular season. One of the best dual threat running backs to play the game, McCaffrey checks in at No. 1 on our fantasy rankings for 2021.

To commemorate the 2021 NFL season, we’ll be counting down the 75 best fantasy football players in the league. Picking a Top 75 is subjective, especially when you are projecting a whole season of accumulated fantasy points, but that’s part of the fun. We’ll assume what I see as an average league, which is 12 teams, .5 PPR scoring and a roster of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, & 1RB/WR/TE. Kickers and defenses need not apply.

Change is the nature of the NFL beast, so trades and injuries will likely impact this list as we go along, but hey, this isn’t rocket science. We’re here to have a little fun and build up some much needed anticipation for a league cast in the shadow by baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. Sarcasm aside, the NFL is addictive and we’re here to give your daily fix as we close in on the season.

The official fantasy football drafting tiers can be found here.

No. 1, Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers, RB

Toss out his 2020 season and go back to 2019. That year, McCaffrey posted 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 287 carries. He also put up No. 1 receiver numbers with 1,005 yards on 116 receptions, along with four touchdowns. Highly motivated, the Panthers haven’t made it a secret that he’ll be the center of their offense again this year.

Competition for touches

The Panthers drafted an excellent back in the fourth round this year, Chubba Hubbard, but he’s strictly a backup at this point. Where McCaffrey’s production levels could see the most impact from competition is in the passing game. Carolina has a much better group of receivers than they did in 2019. D.J. Moore is still around, but added Robby Anderson last year and drafted Terrance Marshall this year, who’s already played his way into the third receiver role.

Team offensive expectations

This should be a better offense overall, though some of that will depend on how well Sam Darnold plays and if he’s more comfortable throwing downfield. McCaffrey’s presence is going to make it that much better.

What’s his upside?

It’s hard to imagine anything better than what he did in 2019. But it is possible. If any of the receivers miss time with injury, McCaffrey’s ready to step up.

What’s his downside?

Fortunately, he didn’t suffer the kind of injuries that carry long-term consequences last season, so don’t let his health scare you away. His receiving numbers will probably drop off their 2019 peak, but there’s just not much downside here.

Projection

255 carries; 1,200 yards, 9 touchdowns
90 receptions, 800 yards, 2 touchdowns