A few years ago, fantasy owners adopted the zero running back theory. That meant they faded the position, or devalued it slightly in favor of beginning their drafts with other positions. This is because running backs have long been the lifeblood of fantasy football rosters. But given the injury risk of a back with a heavy workload in addition to the shift toward a pass-happy NFL, the masses attempted to delay their running back selections to Round 3 and beyond in a zero running back theory draft plan.
When people think about who they will draft with their first-round pick, so many would automatically land on a back in Round 1. Since at that time, there was no real first overall fantasy pick. It was a toss-up between Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey. So nine times out of ten, it was a running back going off the board with the top overall pick. This season, throw that zero running back theory into the fire.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has a lock on the top pick in fantasy drafts. "Run CMC" is definitely worth the top pick, and he may be the best skill position player in the league. If we dig a little deeper, there is a case to be made that New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas should be the first pick.
Thomas, just like McCaffrey, has been great for fantasy owners since entering the league. Last season, Thomas cemented his spot as the top fantasy receiver. He posted historic numbers as his 149 receptions were a single-season record. He also led the league in receiving yards last year (1,725).
Thomas was able to put up these numbers even with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees missing six games last season. In early fantasy football drafts, Thomas has an ADP of fourth overall only behind running backs McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Ezekiel Elliott.
Panthers beat reporter Schuyler Callihan makes an interesting observation on what the Panthers offense can be this season and questions whether the same mammoth workload will be given to McCaffrey:
McCaffrey's role in Joe Brady's offense will be interesting to watch throughout the course of the season. He loves to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and will feed McCaffrey on a consistent basis. But will he have as big of a role in the passing game as he did before? That will be something to watch come Week 1.
The Panthers will be installing a new offense this season. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, no one knows when players will get to learn and practice that new offense. Of course, the offense will still run through McCaffery, but there very well could be a learning curve and a strong desire to spread the ball around.
Last season in PPR leagues, McCaffery averaged 29 points per game, while Thomas averaged 23. That's a big difference. The argument for Thomas will be that he is rejoining the same offense that he has seen him catch 470 passes over the last four seasons. Meanwhile, we haven't seen McCaffrey perform in this new offense, plus have to adjust to Teddy Bridgewater uncer center. Thomas is not a running back, but he could finish this year as the top player in fantasy football.
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