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.
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|Stat||Austin Ekeler||Christian McCaffrey|
|Team||Los Angeles Chargers||San Francisco 49ers|
|Projected Rushing Yards||1000||1200|
|Projected Rushing TDs||8||12|
|Projected Receiving Yards||650||900|
|Projected Total Yards||1650||2100|
|Projected Total TDs||12||15|
|Offensive Line Rank||Top 10||Top 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:
|Stat||Austin Ekeler||Christian McCaffrey|
|Team||Los Angeles Chargers||Carolina Panthers / San Francisco 49ers|
|Yards Per Carry||4.5||4.7|
|Total Yards from Scrimmage||1637||1880|
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.