Week 12 Booms and Busts: Christian McCaffrey looks like a league winner

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30121/" data-ylk="slk:Christian McCaffrey">Christian McCaffrey</a> posted fantasy’s Game of the Year in Week 12 (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Christian McCaffrey posted fantasy’s Game of the Year in Week 12 (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Some sports fans are part of the streaming revolution. Some others stick with cable.

Christian McCaffrey fantasy owners? They’re living that satellite life. And they’re riding the crest of an amazing wave.

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The Panthers spun optimistic preseason stories about McCaffrey’s projected usage — hard to take at face value. But the second-year running back is starting to look like a 2018 league-winner. McCaffrey came into Week 12 on a RB9, RB3, RB2, RB14 roll. Apparently, he was just getting warmed up.

Carolina lost to Seattle on Sunday, 30-27, but it was hardly McCaffrey’s fault. He went bananas against the Seahawks, rolling up 237 total yards (125 rushing, 112 receiving) and two scores, easily cruising to the top of Week 12’s running back board.

If you play in PPR formats, his 11 catches were nectar of the gods. McCaffrey’s 49.7 full-PPR score was the highest of the season, and the biggest bonanza since Julio Jones went bonkers a year ago against Tampa Bay (12-253-2, plus a 15-yard run). If you survey the entire decade, McCaffrey just had the ninth-best game of the 2010s (an eyelash better than what Todd Gurley did in Week 16 last year).

Get out your clipboard and let’s take some notes on the tape; it’s a gorgeous one. You’ll see McCaffrey show off his hand-eye coordination, his lateral agility, and his ability to finish runs. You’ll get a clear exhibit of why proactive running-back receiving is such an NFL cheat code these days. You’ll witness McCaffrey run a downfield route and turn a defender into a pretzel. The Panthers star back shows decisiveness and explosiveness to and through the hole. The second-year player shows home-run ability. Heck, the Carolina offensive line opened up some useful holes, too.

So what if McCaffrey is just 205 pounds? The Panthers have found a smart mix of inside-runner McCaffrey and dynamic pass-catcher McCaffrey. He usually lands on double-digit carries, but he’s only gone past 17 once. He’s grabbed 71 of 82 targets; a nifty 87 percent catch rate. He’s scored multiple touchdowns in four of his last five games and 10 overall. His first score Sunday came on a powerful inside run; the second one was a win for the scheme, an untouched catch-and-run around the right flank.

In the pinball world of NFL 2018, no division is as friendly as the NFC South. Everybody here plays good offense and a loose interpretation of defense. The remainder of the Panthers schedule reads like a fantasy cheat code: at Tampa Bay, at Cleveland, New Orleans, Atlanta, at New Orleans. All of those games are going to have juicy over/unders attached.

Get your popcorn ready, and start dreaming of a December to Remember. McCaffrey is in the driver’s seat.

Nick Chubb was on a milk carton for the Hue Jackson games, an unforgivable sin in a regime of unforgivable sins. The team was choosing not to play Chubb and never to throw the ball to Chubb; we’re seeing now, it’s not that Chubb didn’t have diverse skills. With all due respect to Duke Johnson, a player I like, Chubb looks like a monster, a no-doubt three-down back.

As for Baker Mayfield, what is there to say? Cleveland got that pick right. Mayfield has the right nerve for quarterback, the right amount of smarts and cockiness and competitiveness. Giving Jackson the Heisman after Sunday’s win felt appropriate, given what they’ve been through. Granted, you only get to do these things when you win, and when you’re on a wave of 13 touchdowns against two picks. Mayfield draws the sleepwalking Bengals again in Week 16.

And if you told me Cincinnati was a winless team, on this Sunday, I would have believed you. At least Tyler Boyd is still competing his ass off every snap. Joe Mixon earned his check, too, but the Cincinnati defense was in point-shaving mode.

Will you trust <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/28389/" data-ylk="slk:Jameis Winston">Jameis Winston</a> in the fantasy playoffs? (AP)
Will you trust Jameis Winston in the fantasy playoffs? (AP)

Jameis Winston came up with a clean game when he needed one. One sack, no turnovers, no benchings. The splash plays are always going to flow in this offense, it’s just a matter of what you give away. San Francisco didn’t offer much resistance, but the Bucs have plenty of plus matchups coming.

If you want to say Winston has no floor, I’ll accept that. We’ve seen three in-game changes already. But his upside makes for a perfect DFS spec-play, or a seasonal punch if you feel like you need more potential. Just recognize that Winston clicks with some targets and misses with some others. Mike Evans, it doesn’t matter. Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries, you’re invited. Not so fast, DeSean Jackson.

Golden Tate still looks worthless in the Philly offense. How hard is that playbook, anyway? The Eagles were perhaps guilty of their own coaching hubris, thinking their schemes and work-ups could get Tate into the mix quickly and seamlessly. With all due respect to what Amari Cooper has done in Dallas — with the Jason Garrett crew, of all things — when a receiver changes teams midseason, I’m going to reflexively fade just about every time.

Demaryius Thomas? You can drop him, even if you don’t have a corresponding add.

• The Patriots needed a show-me week before rejoining the Circle of Trust, and they got that in a 14-point stroll over the Jets. You clearly see how Rob Gronkowski, even at 75 or 85 percent, changes everything for the entire offense. I love James White more than you love anything, but he’s meant to be the secondary back on this team, the specialist and the handyman. Sony Michel can be a lead singer.

But who thought the Josh Gordon return would be so . . . uneventful? Most of the bets were on bombastically bad or electrifyingly good. I suppose he’s playable. But he hasn’t moved a needle for anyone yet. Gordon has been a Patriot, an Aggie, a Brown, but he’s dangerously close to becoming a JAG.

• Vance Joseph has done an adorable job taking a playoff-capable Broncos team and skippering it to 5-6 (he’s not the only coach lacking in game-theory skills, but he’s one of the worst). But opponents hate to play against Denver. The Broncos went toe-to-toe with the Rams and the Chiefs twice, and even though the Steelers had a boatload of passing yards Sunday, the loss stings — and they’ll feel it, physically, for a few days.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger is generationally great, and JuJu Smith-Schuster might be, too (AB, we already knew). But you don’t want to see your fantasy stars up against Denver in the playoffs; every game with them is a meat grinder. Here are the next four matches: Bengals, Niners, Browns, Raiders. Nasty sledding ahead.

Phillip Lindsay excites me, other than the fact that I have zero shares. Remember, he was undrafted. The running back position more than any embodies the idea that “nobody knows anything” (gaze into the mystic, Gus Edwards is waving). Lindsay reminds me a little of a smaller McCaffrey, a swanky mix of surprising power and decisiveness, and the speed to hit creases and knock some home runs. It’s just a matter of what workload is appropriate.

Success hasn’t spoiled Lindsay, by the way. He still lives with his parents.

• Tight end is absurdly difficult for an NFL rookie. When a kid is thrown into the deep end of the tight end pool, we’re thrilled if they can merely keep the head above water. We’ll ask him to swim in future seasons.

With that in mind, give a nod to the work Chris Herndon is doing.

Herndon might not be breaking the game, exactly, but he’s collected three touchdowns in his last six starts, and he has 153 yards over his last three. He chipped in a 7-57-0 line, on eight targets, in the loss to New England. He has a chance to be a useful player, maybe even an impactful one. And he’s on the TE 1/2 seam for the rest of the year. Anything that will allow you to stop playing Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph.

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