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Fantasy Football: Can Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley Bounce Back? 2022 NFL RB Projections.

We did our first fantasy football episode on our latest NFL Podcast, and we focused on the RB position. We started the episode highlighting our top projected fantasy RB's in .5pt PPR redraft formats, and then we discussed five RB's looking to bounce back from injury and a poor 2021. We have a lot of side conversations regarding the RB position, and we thought we'd take the opportunity to discuss the position further. As you can see in the graphic, we have our current top five .5pt PPR rankings for redraft.

What inspired our last podcast episode

In the last NFL podcast episode, we discussed 2022 .5PPR projections and rankings from a fantasy redraft standpoint. A recent article written by ESPN columnist Bill Barnwell inspired us to examine five RB's that achieved a high level of success at some point in the last two or three seasons but faced injury setbacks last season.

Can CMC or Saquoun get back to playing at an elite level?

Two of the five backs (CMC and Barkley) have succumbed to injuries the last few seasons, and there are a lot of questions surrounding whether or not they can return to their elite status. Many view CMC as the lesser risk vs. Saquoun Barkley, who many have given up on the idea of him returning to his rookie form where he rushed for 1300 yds and had 700 more as a receiver.

We can all agree that they will deliver if both players can stay on the field. But that's a big if. I listed CMC and Saquon Barkley's injury history below for reference.

Christian McCaffrey, Age 26 Start of 2022 NFL Season

CMC Injury History SInce 2016

Oct 8, 2016

  • Non-NFL Inguinal Hip Pull McCaffrey missed one game (vs. Notre Dame).

Sep 20, 2020

  • NFL Pedal Ankle (high) Sprain Grade 3

  • During Week 2's loss to the Buccaneers, McCaffrey suffered a right high-ankle sprain and missed six games.

Nov 8, 2020

  • NFL Shoulder A/C Joint Sprain McCaffrey injured his shoulder on the last drive of Week 9's loss to the Chiefs. He missed four games.

Dec 9, 2020

  • NFL Thigh Glute Strain McCaffrey's thigh tightened up ahead of Week 14 game. He missed four games due to that injury.

Sep 23, 2021

  • NFL Thigh Hamstring Strain Grade 2 McCaffrey suffered a strained hamstring in Week 3's Panthers win over the Texans. He missed five games.

Nov 28, 2021

  • NFL Pedal Ankle Sprain Grade 2 McCaffrey rolled his left ankle in Week 12's loss to the Dolphins. He was placed on injured reserve Monday and has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Saquon Barkley, Age 26 At Start Of 2022 NFL Season

Saquon Injury History Since 2016

Nov 26, 2016

  • Non-NFL Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1, Barkley injured his right ankle in the 3rd quarter vs. Michigan State but was able to play the following week.

Sep 26, 2015

  • Non-NFL Pedal Ankle Sprain Grade 2 Barkley missed two games as a freshman with an ankle injury.

Aug 13, 2018

  • NFL Thigh Hamstring Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1 Barkley was hurt in camp while running a pass route. He missed eight days but was ready for Week 1.

Sep 22, 2019

  • NFL Pedal Ankle Sprain Grade 2 He suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sep 20, 2020

  • NFL Knee ACL Tear Grade 3 Barkley suffered a torn ACL during the Week 2 contest at Chicago. His season was over after just two games.

Sep 20, 2020

  • NFL Knee MCL Sprain Grade 2 Barkley suffered an MCL strain during the Week 2 contest at Chicago.

Oct 10, 2021

  • NFL Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1 Barkley suffered a low-ankle injury in Week 5 contest against the Dallas Cowboys.

Our Current 2022 Projections for Barkley and CMC

Based on current projections, both backs should receive high usage in 2022 based on their current backfield situations.

New Head Coach Brian Daboll has big plans for Saquon Barkley.

Barkley will be in a new offense under new head coach Brian Daboll the former Buffalo OC. Daboll has already mentioned that Barkley will be used as a receiver more often and not just from out of the backfield. Barkley, like CMC, can line up wide or in the slot, creating matchup issues for a defense.

Why do I consider Saquon Barkley a top-five NFL RB if he can stay healthy?

Talent, talent is the primary reason and his potential in a new offense. When Saquon Barkley entered the NFL in 2018, we had an Instant Impact rookie grade on him, and he was also the highest-rated RB on our big board since we began recording grades in 2017. Since the 2018 draft, Barkley has set the bar for NFL RB's entering the league; The Giants selected Barkley 2nd overall in the 2018 NFL draft. Since the 2018 season, the RB position has lost a lot of value, with teams passing on backs until the late first or waiting until days two and three. There has only been one back that has come close to the same Instant Impact level grade since 2018 (Jonathon Taylor).

NFL teams have valued RB's less and less each passing year.

Taylor did not possess Barkley's sure-fire route running ability when he entered the league. So because of Taylor's perceived inability as a receiver, teams passed on him. Two RB's drafted ahead of Taylor in the 2020 NFL Draft. The first, Clyde Edwards Helaire (Chiefs) drafted in the late first round because of his hyped up ability as a pass-catcher in and out of the backfield at LSU. And then Deandre Swift (Lions), drafted at pick 35 overall. Imagine a world where the Chiefs had Jonathan Taylor and Patrick Mahomes in the same backfield?

Teams still value RB's who possess three-down versatility and can line up at receiver for matchup purposes.

In the 2022 NFL Draft, we graded Kenneth Walker ahead of Breece Hall, and post combine when Hall ran his 40, we upgraded Hall slightly, but we still had Walker narrowly ahead of Hall. Breece Hall went ahead of Walker due to his proven ability as a receiver on film vs. Kenneth Walker not showing a lot as a receiver in his time in college.

Teams do not want to wait for RB's to develop a three-down skill set.

Another area that did not help Walker is in pass pro. So the perception is that Walker enters the league as the draft's purest runner, but he didn't do enough on tape to show he has the translatable three-down ability NFL teams want. That does not mean Walker cannot develop into a legit three-down player. It just means teams want the quicker, more proven pathway to success. In today's NFL, the shelf life at the RB position is limited; therefore, going after guys who can provide an immediate impact without a lot of development is the safer avenue to go.

Saquon Barkley and CMC still offer the three-down skill set NFL teams love

From a fantasy football perspective, Barkley is the golden goose league-winning player you take a risk on in redraft. In Dynasty formats, Barkley is a sell-now candidate while the hype is out there that he is finally ready to return to form. In real-life football, Barkley is a chess piece in an offense with a new head coach who did a great job as a scheming play-caller with the Bills. The Giants do not have anyone else who will be a threat to take significant carries away from Saquon in 2022. it is also a contract year for Barkley, and for him to secure his second contract either with the G-men, or another franchise, he has to perform.

Christian McCaffrey, like Barkley, is also a chess piece. There is an argument that he could just lineup at receiver more often to avoid contact, but he is too good out of the backfield as a receiver and a runner to pigeonhole into a singular role.

The Panther's offense with and without CMC in 2021 is a night and day difference.

As for CMC, we liked what we had seen a season ago before his first injury in week three vs. the Houston Texans, and even with Sam Darnold under center, the Panther's offense was good enough to help them start the year 3-0. The Panther's offense struggled in the following five games, going 1-4 in the five games without CMC.

Sam Darnold's struggles began in the following five weeks the Panthers were without Christian McCaffrey.

Sam Darnold also struggled in the five games without CMC. In the first three weeks of the season, Darnold averaged a 68% completion rate, 296 yds per game; he had a 3/1 TD/INT ratio. In the five games following the first CMC injury, Darnold's completion rate dropped from 68% to 57%, his yds per game dropped from 296 to 185, and his TD/INT ratio went from 3/1 to 5/7.

Not all of Sam Darnold's issues were due to not having CMC, but it was evident that CMC played a role in Sam Darnold's early success.

Not all of Sam Darnold's issues were due to not having CMC, the OL struggled to protect Darnold, but the protection also performed better with CMC in the lineup through the first four weeks vs. the five weeks without CMC going from 2 sacks allowed per game to 4 per game.

CMC 2022 17 Game Projection

  • 349 total opportunities (rush att + pass targets)

  • 1000 rush yds

  • 105 targets 650 yds receiving, 3 TD receptions

  • 272 .5pt PPR Fantasy Points

Saquon Barkley 17 Game Projection

  • 355 total opportunities (rush att + pass targets)

  • 1050 rush yds

  • 85 targets 550 yds receiving, 3 TD receptions

  • 275 .5pt PPR Fantasy Points


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