Christian McCaffrey traded to the 49ers

Christian McCaffrey traded to the 49ers

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Christian McCaffrey traded to the 49ers


The San Francisco 49ers just got a lot better, and the Carolina Panthers are a lot worse, which is saying something for a 1-5 team on a three-game losing streak. The Panthers are already in tear-down mode, having traded Robbie Anderson to the Cardinals on Monday. This deal sends McCaffrey to San Francisco in return for the Panthers second-, third-, and fourth-round picks in 2023, plus a 2024 fifth-rounder. It did not include a first-round pick as initially desired, but loads the Panthers draft next season with multiple picks  when they welcome another coach who will be starting from scratch.

The Panthers

The Panthers will acquire another free-agent running back for depth, but the team turns to D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard as the starters. Foreman will be the primary back and he helped to replace Derrick Henry in Tennessee last season when he was injured in Week 8. Foreman went on to gain 100-yards in three games and scored three times in the second half of that season.

Chuba Hubbard filled in for McCaffrey last season but recorded just one game of note – 101 yards in 24 carries in Week 5. Hubbard was far less effective as a replacement than what Foreman has done in the past. He’ll take the smaller portion of touches for the Panthers’ backfield.

The 49ers

The addition of McCaffrey to the San Francisco backfield erases the depth chart and rewrites all of their roles. HC Kyle Shanahan’s offense was a productive backfield during his five previous seasons with the team but has featured a different primary back in every season. They have mixed and matched a constantly changing set of running backs, and Elijah Mitchell was the top back in 2021. The oft-injured Mitchell already landed on injured reserve this year. Jeff Wilson was the replacement and he’s turned in around 100 total yards in most of those games.

While the 49ers have employed a committee approach during Shanahan’s years, they are not shy about riding a single back when it makes sense. Wilson already had three games with at least 18 touches this year. Mitchell played in 11 games in 2021 and handled over 19 touches in all but two games. McCaffrey comes over with an injury history himself but has been far healthier this year than in 2020 and 2021 when he missed 23 of 33 games.

Fantasy Impact

This is a significant upgrade for the 49ers’ backfield with a depth chart that becomes reshuffled. The 49ers have already shown a desire to give 20+ touches to their primary back, and none have been the quality of McCaffrey. He’ll slide in as the leading rusher and should see the same 18 carries or more. What remains to be seen is how his role as a receiver is handled. McCaffrey is arguably the best receiving running back in the NFL and recorded over 100 catches in 2018 and 2019 in his last healthy seasons.

The 49ers only ranked No. 19 in  completions to running backs (82) last year. The busiest receiver from the backfield was Kyle Juszczyk with 30 receptions. McCaffrey’s dual role makes him the most dangerous and there’s no doubt that the 49ers’ offense will bend toward using him more as a target.

His inclusion is great for both the team and him since he lands on a contender that has a far better offensive line than what he left in Carolina. But it is not a plus for the other running backs or receivers. McCaffrey may take a few weeks to get up to speed with his new team, but the roles of Jeff Wilson and the rest of the backs likely take a dive below any fantasy relevancy. Elijah Mitchell’s eventual return is now mostly meaningless.

But it is not just the running backs. Deebo Samuel already has 23 rushes for 136 yards – which may continue since he’s been only used for a handful of carries in recent games, but the backfield pass targets are sure to increase with McCaffrey on board and they have to come from somewhere. George Kittle’s role has to be dinged by the short-catch specialist. It won’t happen this week and will evolve over time, but the offense would not acquire McCaffrey without intending to continue his high production. And it could be even higher here with better blocking and enough weapons around him that McCaffrey cannot be the sole focus of the opposing defense.


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