Fantasy Football, Fantasy Sports

Ekeler or McCaffrey: Who Should You Draft as Your RB1 in 2023 Fantasy Football?

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When the San Francisco 49ers traded for Christian McCaffrey midseason in 2022, it appeared they were getting one of the most explosive and dynamic running backs in the NFL. However, concerns emerged over McCaffrey’s workload share after the return of Elijah Mitchell from injury.

Also see: which RB should you target in the second round?

Here is a table comparing key stats and projections for Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey for the 2023 NFL season:

StatAustin EkelerChristian McCaffrey
TeamLos Angeles ChargersSan Francisco 49ers
Projected Touches250270
Projected Rushing Yards10001200
Projected Rushing TDs812
Projected Receptions80110
Projected Receiving Yards650900
Projected Total Yards16502100
Projected Total TDs1215
Injury RiskLowModerate
Offensive Line RankTop 10Top 5

The projections give McCaffrey the edge in nearly every major statistical category. His projected receiving numbers are particularly eye-popping. While Ekeler should finish as a solid RB1, McCaffrey’s projected volume and elite pass catching role give him greater upside to finish as the overall RB1 if he stays healthy. The 49ers’ elite offensive line also boosts McCaffrey’s outlook.

Here is a table comparing the actual stats for Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey in the 2022 NFL season:

StatAustin EkelerChristian McCaffrey
TeamLos Angeles ChargersCarolina Panthers / San Francisco 49ers
Rushing Attempts204244
Rushing Yards9151139
Yards Per Carry4.54.7
Rushing TDs138
Receiving Yards722741
Total Touchdowns1813
Total Yards from Scrimmage16371880
Games Played1717

The stats show McCaffrey edging out Ekeler in rushing yards and total yards last season. McCaffrey also had the slight edge in receiving yards. In total touchdowns, Ekeler finished with 5 more thanks to having almost twice as many rushing scores.

The comparison shows why McCaffrey remains the preferred fantasy option heading into 2023.

McCaffrey’s Move to 49ers Offers Immense Upside But Concerns Remain Over Workload Share

In 6 games together, including playoffs, McCaffrey saw only 68% of early down carries compared to Mitchell’s 32% share. While McCaffrey paced the 49ers with 159 carries for 746 yards in just 11 games, his 4.7 YPC average was pedestrian by his standards. Fantasy managers are left to wonder if this is indicative of a future committee approach that caps McCaffrey’s upside relative to other RB1 candidates.

Still, McCaffrey thrived as a receiver in San Francisco’s offense, catching 52 balls in just 8 games. Extrapolated over 17 games, McCaffrey was on pace for 114 receptions, a total that would rival the NFL record for catches by a running back. Even if he cedes carries, McCaffrey’s involvement in the passing game offers a crucial floor and gives him one of the highest ceilings at the position.

Concerns Over Ekeler’s Goal Line Usage Makes McCaffrey Safer Pick

Meanwhile, Austin Ekeler has been a model of consistency for the Chargers offense. He finished as a top 5 PPR back each of the past two seasons. However, despite scoring 16 touchdowns in 2021, Ekeler found the end zone just 13 times last year. With only 5 rushing touchdowns on the season, Ekeler was kept out of the end zone on nearly half of the Chargers’ 17 goal-to-go opportunities.

At 5’10” and 200 pounds, Ekeler has never profiles as a bruising, high-volume rusher. He makes his mark through his contributions in the passing game, catching 107 balls last season. However, the Chargers want to get 2021 fourth round pick Joshua Kelley more involved around the goal line in 2023. If Ekeler’s touchdowns don’t rebound, it will be difficult for him to finish as a top 3 RB again.

McCaffrey’s Elite Pass Catching And High Octane Offense Give Him The Edge

When it comes down Ekeler versus McCaffrey for RB1, McCaffrey gets the nod. Both Ekeler and McCaffrey offer immense value as receivers, with each projected for 80+ catches. However, McCaffrey has averaged 113 receptions per season when healthy, a number Ekeler won’t match.

While Elijah Mitchell may cap McCaffrey’s carries to around 200 on the season, that is still enough volume in the dynamic 49ers offense to make CMC a threat for 1,500+ scrimmage yards. Between Mitchell’s injury history and McCaffrey’s 3 down skill set as a runner and elite receiver, 15+ touchdowns also feels within reach for a healthy McCaffrey.

So long as you’re comfortable mitigating some injury risk, McCaffrey represents ABOUT the safest bet at the position to finish as the RB1 in 2023. Ekeler is a high floor RB1 option, but concerns over his touchdown upside and a declining target share make him the slightly riskier pick over McCaffrey. Grab CMC in the top 3 for unlimited fantasy upside.

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