Fantasy football draft season is heating up as leagues prepare to make their first round selections. This year, there is an intense debate around whether running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase should be their first round pick. Both players have compelling cases to be drafted first, so let’s break down the key factors to consider when making this critical fantasy decision.
2022 stats for Christian McCaffrey vs Ja’Marr Chase:
Projected 2023 stats for Christian McCaffrey and Ja’Marr Chase:
Durability and Injury Outlook
One of the biggest knocks against McCaffrey has been his struggles to stay healthy in recent seasons. After playing all 16 games in his first three years, McCaffrey has missed 23 of the last 33 regular season contests due to various injuries. Hamstring, ankle, and shoulder issues have all sidelined the versatile running back for extended stretches.
However, McCaffrey is now two full seasons removed from his last major injury. He split last year between the Panthers and 49ers, suiting up for 14 total games including the playoffs. McCaffrey seemed to regain some of his old explosiveness late in the season and has had an entire offseason to rest and recover.
But receivers are not immune to bumps and bruises either. Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods provide recent examples of wideouts suffering torn ACLs. McCaffrey may be more of a health risk, but both players will need some luck to make it through 17 NFL games unscathed.
2022 Production and Efficiency
For fantasy purposes, both McCaffrey and Chase were incredibly productive last season when they were on the field. Let’s examine their per-game output:
- McCaffrey: 21.9 fantasy points per game, 18.5 touches per game, 106.6 scrimmage yards per game
- Chase: 15.8 fantasy points per game, 8.6 targets per game, 79.5 receiving yards per game
McCaffrey held a clear fantasy scoring edge with over 6 more points per contest. But Chase was extremely efficient, averaging 9.2 yards per target and 92.6 yards per catch. He also found the end zone 10 times in just 13 games.
By reaching the end zone frequently and piling up yards and receptions at an impressive rate, Chase demonstrated immense upside. He produced like a top-five fantasy receiver when active. McCaffrey regained stud form after the midseason trade, but Chase’s efficiency and big-play ability at wide receiver cannot be ignored.
Offensive Supporting Cast
Both the 49ers and Bengals feature strong offensive personnel around their respective stars. San Francisco deploys versatile weapons like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk to complement McCaffrey. The 49ers also have one of the league’s elite offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan designing the attack.
But Cincinnati might have the NFL’s most stacked passing game. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins form a lethal 1-2 punch at receiver. Tyler Boyd posted a 58-catch, 762-yard season as the WR3. Emerging tight end Irv Smith Jr. adds another dangerous element. And Joe Burrow has already cemented himself as an elite quarterback.
While McCaffrey certainly has talent around him, Chase is surrounded by a deep and explosive aerial attack. The Bengals pass game looks poised to remain one of the NFL’s best units, which boosts Chase’s fantasy value and scoring chances. McCaffrey could still thrive in San Francisco, but Chase’s supporting cast seems slightly better.
Both McCaffrey and Chase have league-winning upside if they stay healthy and perform to expectations. But which player has the higher ceiling?
For McCaffrey, that means recapturing his lofty production from 2018 and 2019. During those seasons, McCaffrey averaged 135.5 total yards per game and scored 32 touchdowns. He also caught over 100 passes both years, providing an enormous edge in PPR leagues. If McCaffrey reached those gaudy statistical heights again, he would deliver epic fantasy value.
However, the argument can be made that Ja’Marr Chase’s ceiling is even higher. In just his rookie year, he broke the NFL record for most receiving yards ever by a first-year player with 1,455 yards. Chase then improved his per-game output in 2022. Entering his third season with an elite quarterback, dominant physical skills, and superb complementary options, Chase could potentially surpass 2,000 yards and score 15-plus touchdowns. That’s first overall fantasy value.
- Bye weeks: McCaffrey and the 49ers don’t play in Week 9. Chase and the Bengals are off in Week 7. This might factor into drafting strategies, as fantasy managers can plan their roster flow and free agent pickups around the bye.
- Weather: Chase playing home games in Cincinnati could see cold, windy conditions later in the fantasy season that might hamper passing stats. McCaffrey and the 49ers will play outdoors, but mostly in the mild climates of California and other western cities.
- Game scripts: If the Bengals grab early leads, they may rely more on their ground game and passing volume could decrease for Chase. The 49ers ideally want to run the ball with McCaffrey if they’re ahead. But his heavy involvement as both a runner and receiver should lead to steadier touches.
- OL play: The Bengals still feature a solid line. The 49ers line ranked as PFF’s 13th best pass blocking unit last year and has continuity heading into 2023. Both supporting casts look strong.
Ja’Marr Chase vs CMC
This is an extremely close call between two bonafide fantasy stars. Ja’Marr Chase’s age, clean injury history, massive efficiency, and the upside to potentially lead fantasy leagues in scoring make him a viable option for the 1.01 pick. You can’t go wrong taking a 23-year-old elite receiver in the first round.
However, the deciding factor has to be Christian McCaffrey’s upside if he stays healthy. His unique every-down usage provides the rarest of advantages at running back. McCaffrey racked up nearly 2,400 scrimmage yards and scored 19 touchdowns in his best season. Even if he reached 85 percent of that output, McCaffrey would deliver first overall value. Between his scoring potential, PPR upside, and the declining value of drafting receivers high, Christian McCaffrey should be the first player off the board in 2023 fantasy drafts.