Through four weeks of the 2023 NFL season, Christian McCaffrey leads the league in rushing attempts (80), rushing yards (459), total TDs (7), touches (98) and yards from scrimmage (600). He is responsible for producing 38.7 percent of the 49ers’ offensive yardage during their 4-0 start.
McCaffrey is now on pace for 2,550 scrimmage yards and more than 29 TDs. The first number would break the single-season record set by Chris Johnson (2,509) in 2009. The latter would just fall short of LaDainian Tomlinson’s record TD mark (31) in ’06. That also should mean CMC for NFL MVP is a legitimate campaign.
It’s been 11 years since a running back was awarded AP Most Valuable Player. That was when Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, added 217 receiving yards, and scored 13 TDs in 2012. While Tomlinson did win MVP in ’06 for the Chargers, Johnson failed to do so for the Titans in ’09, losing to Peyton Manning.
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McCaffrey winning MVP would go against the grain, especially in the modern era when elite all-around quarterbacks are all the “most valuable” rage while running backs are fighting decreased open-market value.
When looking at the current MVP odds at BetMGM following Week 4, McCaffrey is indeed buried behind a bevy of quarterbacks:
NFL MVP Odds 2023
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|Josh Allen, QB, Bills +325|
|Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs +500|
|Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins +500|
|Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles +800|
|Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens +1200|
|Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers +1600|
|Brock Purdy, QB, 49ers +1800|
|Christian McCaffrey, RB, 49ers +1800|
|Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars +2000|
McCaffrey having the same exact odds as his San Francisco teammate Purdy should tell you how much MVP is now considered a QB award. Purdy has played well, picking up where he left off as a rookie, and he leads the league with his 115.1 passer rating.
But Tagovailoa (114.4), who was the odds-on co-favorite after Week 1, is right behind Purdy in efficiency. Allen leads with his 74.8 completion percentage. Mahomes hasn’t been as hot as usual, but he’s a default top contender (a la Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers in their primes) as a multiple MVP winner.
Lawrence was a good QB to target for MVP before the season, but despite his play, he’s been let down a little by his receivers. He still could get back into mix by getting hot in a hurry, much like Allen has been the past two weeks vs. the Commanders and Dolphins. Hurts could also quickly get back into the conversation after being runner-up last season. Jackson also has merit for his play and previous MVP.
But that’s a lot of quarterbacks on the board ahead of and right behind McCaffrey They all have reasonable cases even though Allen leads because of recency bias.
The key to a running back winning MVP in the NFL requires both a monster historic all-around season and no QB looking like a clear-cut choice. That’s the environment that exists for McCaffrey now, timed with his best-ever season for a team that can easily end up with the best record in the NFL.
Given his durability history, McCaffrey’s health is of the utmost importance. Jalen Hurts missed just enough time at the end of last season to hand the award to Mahomes over him. When Peterson won, Manning and Rodgers played to a statistical draw as the two All-Pro QBs in 2012. McCaffrey needs to leave little doubt he’s the most valuable player, and 2,500 yards and 30 TDs (a passing-QB like number) would do the trick.
This situation isn’t similar to Johnson in Nashville in ’09. This is McCaffrey in San Francisco, a popular superstar playing for a classic winning franchise with a national following. That’s parallel to Tomlinson’s presence in Southern California and Peterson’s profile in Minnesota.
Marshall Faulk had the second-most scrimmage yards in a season in 1999 with 2,429. He finished second to Rams teammate Kurt Warner for MVP. Faulk did get the award over Warner in 2000 when he had 2,189 scrimmage yards with a league-high 26 TDs.
That +1800 next to McCaffrey is very enticing at this stage of the season. He actually might be helped as a dominant, offense-carrying back in a landscape where a lot of backs are caught in committees and seemingly interchangeable. Should CMC stay on a reasonable prolific pace and also stay healthy, he’s a sneaky good bet to get RBs back on the MVP board.