While Christian McCaffrey's mid-season trade to the 49ers scared many fantasy managers, in the end it couldn't have worked out better for them. The fear that his usage would decline in a stacked offense with too many mouths to feed ultimately proved to be unfounded. As it turns out, great players get fed.
Following the trade, McCaffrey averaged 19.2 touches per game — just a slight decrease from his 19.7 touches per game with the Panthers earlier that season. The real difference? The 49ers actually score touchdowns. McCaffrey hit paydirt 10 times in 11 games played with San Francisco.
The real questions are about what happens going forward. Will McCaffrey continue to be the focal point of the 49ers offense? If so, can he stay healthy all season long? That second question holds enough worry in the back of my brain to give me a wandering eye for a different (younger, shinier) running back to draft at 1.01 in fantasy leagues this year.
There is a new weapon entering the NFL that should be highly considered at the 1.01 spot. That weapon is Falcons rookie RB Bijan Robinson, selected with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. There are a handful of other veteran players that you could argue are worthy of the 1.01 spot in 2023 fantasy football drafts: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, Cooper Kupp... even Travis Kelce, if you want to get really wild. Each of these guys are valid picks at the top of the first round, but I'm putting my chips on Robinson.
What Bijan brings to the table
Despite having plenty of other holes on their roster, the Falcons flipped off conventional wisdom and took a running back in the top ten. Was this a smart move for Atlanta as a football organization? Probably not. Is this fantastic for Robinson's fantasy football outlook? Absolutely.
Bijan Robinson is a do-it-all RB with the prototypical build to be a "workhorse" in the NFL. In 2022 at Texas, he averaged a chill 6.1 yards per carry and 16.5 yards per reception, while scoring 20 scrimmage TDs in 12 games; no biggie.
Perhaps the best part about this marriage is opportunity. The Falcons led the league with 559 rushing attempts in 2022. Even if this number declines to 500 rush attempts this year (10 teams had 500+ carries in 2022), Robinson should still easily see anywhere from 250-300+ carries in his rookie year.
On top of that, Falcons' running backs combined for 89 rush attempts inside the red zone (most in NFL) and 21 rush attempts inside the five-yard line (seventh-most) last season. This proves that even though the Falcons do not have an electric, high-scoring offense, there will still be plenty of chances to score for the stud rookie.
It's also worth noting that the Falcons received the highest PFF run blocking grade in the NFL by far last year at 83.7 - no other team had a rating higher than 78. Fantasy football managers couldn't ask for a better situation for Robinson.
Last year, as a fifth-round rookie, Tyler Allgeier averaged 5.5 yards per carry, 107.8 rush yards and 17 fantasy points per game over Desmond Ridder's four starts. I love me some Allgeier, and I think he is a very talented player... but he isn't Bijan Robinson. The Falcons did not spend the eighth overall pick on a running back just to worry about generating touches for Allgeier, regardless of how well he performed in 2022.
Robinson is also an extremely talented pass-catcher and can line up in the slot when another running back is on the field. While it isn't realistic to expect Bijan to get even 80% of the snaps at running back, but he won't need to do that in order to produce. His versatility means he'll be the focal point of the Falcons' offense immediately.
Bijan Robinson's upside in fantasy football
I know you're probably thinking, "Michelle, put down the mimosa... Christian McCaffrey is way safer than a rookie running back at the 1.01 in fantasy football drafts." First, I can still type with a mimosa in one hand. Second, your argument may be true, but Bijan is the best running back prospect to enter the NFL since Saquon Barkley in 2018. In fact, I would argue Bijan is a much better runner.
While we're here, think back to 2018. Many took the "safe" route and selected veterans like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson over Barkley in their fantasy drafts. Saquon ended up leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage and finished as the overall RB1 in fantasy. Scared money don't make money.
Do you want to be the person that does that and misses out this year?