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Christian McCaffrey, Fantasy Football, Panthers

Fantasy Football: What to expect in Christian McCaffrey’s first game back?

Carolina Panthers superstar running back Christian McCaffrey has been out since Week 2 after suffering a right high-ankle sprain. The Pro Bowl back has been shifted to the Injured Reserve/Designated for Return list. The team must activate him within three weeks for McCaffrey to play again this season.

McCaffrey returned to practice on Oct. 26, but he didn’t play in Week 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, a game the Panthers lost to drop to 3-5 on the season. McCaffrey probably could have played if he wanted to, but it’s evident the Panthers are playing it safe with their new franchise player in the post-Cam Newton era.

For the sake of this piece, let’s assume Christian McCaffrey is able to suit up in Week 9 versus the mighty Kansas City Chiefs. What should his fantasy owners expect from the star in his first game back from a high-ankle sprain? Remember, high-ankle sprains are widely considered one of the toughest injuries to return from, especially for an explosive runner like McCaffrey, who is always twisting and turning his way up the field with the ball in his hands.

In the two games he appeared in this season before getting hurt, McCaffrey carried the ball 41 times for 156 yards and four touchdowns. The do-it-all back also caught seven balls for 67 yards. McCaffrey is one of the most versatile players in the NFL. It’s why so many fantasy owners drafted him with their top picks this year.

Whenever McCaffrey comes back–and it could be in Week 9 versus the Chiefs–he should undoubtedly be in your fantasy lineup. Is he going to be close to 100 percent? Probably not since high-ankle sprains take a while to heal. However, fantasy owners can’t take the risk of sitting McCaffrey when he’s active since he’s such an explosive player who can break out big runs and catches at any moment.

The Panthers, who have gotten great contributions from Mike Davis in the absence of McCaffrey, will likely use both running backs once McCaffrey returns to the lineup. McCaffrey’s fantasy owners shouldn’t expect a vintage performance from CMC in his first game back since he’s not going to be as explosive as he usually is and likely won’t get the regular usage rate he’s accustomed to since the Panthers don’t want to overwork him.

With all of this being said, we can see McCaffrey carrying the ball around 12-15 times in his return to the lineup, maybe for a grand total of 55 yards on the ground. McCaffrey should also be able to catch two passes out of the backfield for 20 yards.

These numbers mostly depend on which team McCaffrey makes his return against. If he plays against the Chiefs, who are giving up less than 150 rushing yards per game, odds are McCaffrey won’t have a big game for his fantasy owners. But again, you can’t risk benching him since crazier things have happened in the NFL and special talents like McCaffrey can always shock the world and go off despite the odds being against them.

Since entering the NFL in 2017, McCaffrey has rushed the ball 664 times for 3,076 yards and 28 touchdowns. The former Stanford standout has also caught 310 balls for 2,590 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s been an elite dual-threat running back since getting drafted by the Panthers and the organization is blessed to have CMC on their team, especially now that Newton is gone.

The Panthers will certainly keep their fans updated on McCaffrey’s status next week as the team prepares for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. To keep up with Kansas City’s high-powered offense, the Panthers will have to overcome their offensive woes and put some points on the board. Having McCaffrey in the lineup would certainly help with that cause, but we don’t know for certain if the Castle Rock, Colorado native will make his grand return to the lineup in Week 9.

The Panthers’ bye week is in Week 13. The team faces an uphill climb to make the playoffs as a Wild Card team; they won’t win the NFC South division since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints are better than them. Carolina needs McCaffrey back in the lineup for the team to make a playoff push. Even if he’s not his usual dominant self upon coming back, McCaffrey can be a great decoy for the Panthers and free up some big plays for Davis, Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel.

Panthers nation is counting down the days until they get to see Christian McCaffrey back on the field again. His fantasy owners are patiently waiting as well. CMC likely won’t light it up in his first game back, but he should still be a starter in every league.