It might take the No. 1 overall pick in your fantasy football draft to select 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. But is that what you’d want to do?
Being awarded the top pick in a fantasy football draft is always a daunting thing.
The veteran fantasy players probably will tell you they prefer having picks later in the first round, particularly in snake drafts, but at least the top-picking owner has the call on any player out there, including the guy many consider to be the consensus No. 1 fantasy football option.
In 2023, that’s shaping up to be one of two options: Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson and San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is a close third, but he’s probably a shade below those first two.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Jefferson has the slight edge in the No. 1 spot with the obvious average draft position (ADP) of 1.01 (first round, first player selected) in a 12-team, points-per-reception (PPR) format.
McCaffrey, meanwhile, is 1.02.
No one would question the selection of Jefferson there at No. 1 overall. But would McCaffrey be a wiser choice? And, if Jefferson is selected first overall, should fantasy football owners use a No. 2 overall pick on McCaffrey or Chase?
Let’s take a look.
There’s a reason why Jefferson likely winds up being first overall in most fantasy drafts. While he won’t get owners rushing points as a dual-threat weapon, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year who has never gone below 1,400 yards receiving in any of his three seasons is going to be both a home-run hit and volume player on a Vikings offense that lacks playmaking depth around him outside of tight end T.J. Hockenson.
In short, Jefferson should (and will) see plenty of targets, and he’s good enough to make the most out of them.
McCaffrey and Chase, meanwhile, don’t necessarily benefit from being on stacked offenses. Cincy’s wide receiver room is elite, and Chase will be splitting targets with fellow wideouts Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Over in San Francisco, McCaffrey will have to split touches with tight end George Kittle, an up-and-coming wide receiver in Brandon Aiyuk and another dual-threat weapon in Deebo Samuel.
So, between Chase and McCaffrey, should the latter be the best option?
Probably. After all, the 49ers are still a run-first offense, and that offense improved by an average of 10 points per game last year after the blockbuster trade for McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers. Even though McCaffrey comes with a bit of an injury history and is playing on a Niners team that seems regularly beset by serious injuries to star players year after year, the risks are certainly worth the No. 2 overall pick over Chase, who had 1,054 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns last season.
McCaffrey, in just 11 games with San Francisco, had 1,210 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns.
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Now, that might not be enough to convince top-drafting fantasy owners to pass on Jefferson and to go with McCaffrey, although the dual-threat rushing totals and added bonus of catch points in PPR leagues easily make the 49ers All-Pro the best running back to target without question.
Perhaps the smart play for the first pick is still Jefferson, though. But it might merely be a slim difference down to McCaffrey, and few would fault owners who elected to take him instead of Minnesota’s top receiver at No. 1 overall.