The devaluation of running backs in the NFL has been well documented.
How much of a role they play in offenses today has been a hot topic, with players even holding out over the issue (see Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon).
Then there’s Christian McCaffrey, who leads the NFL in total touchdowns (13), rushing touchdowns (10), rushing yards per game (110.1), scrimmage yards per game (155.5) and touches per game (25.9).
McCaffrey also has 150-plus scrimmage yards and at least one touchdown in six of the first eight games of the season. He is only the second player in NFL history to do so (Jim Brown, 1963).
But is it enough to make a legitimate run at Most Valuable Player?
The halfway point of the season seems like the perfect opportunity to compare McCaffrey’s season to the four running backs who have won the MVP award since 2000 — and one standout who did not.
Does McCaffrey have a chance? Let’s take a look.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers — 2019
Projected final statistics: 414 touches, 2,488 scrimmage yards and 26 total TDs*
Percent of team’s total scrimmage yards to date: 45.8
Will need to beat out: McCaffrey will likely be fighting multiple quarterbacks for the honor. Other MVP candidates include Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Jackson.
(Projections based on duplicating his production from the first eight games.)
Adrian Peterson, Vikings — 2012
Final statistics: 388 touches, 2314 scrimmage yards, 13 TDS
Percent of team’s total yards: 43
Beat out: Peyton Manning.
Why he won: Peterson won after having reconstructive surgery on his left knee the previous December. He helped the Vikings come back from a 3-13 season to 10-6 and a playoff berth the following year.
In the last game of the season, Peterson fell nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season record, finishing with 2,097 rushing yards. Despite not being a high-scoring presence, Peterson’s workload earned him the award.
Relation to McCaffrey’s projection: McCaffrey is outpacing him slightly when it comes to yardage, and far and away with scoring. If he keeps up his current production, the 23-year old could have a far better season.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers — 2006
Final statistics: 404 touches, 2323 scrimmage yards, 31 TDs
Percent of team’s total scrimmage yards: 39.8
Beat out: Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
Why he won: Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander’s record for single-season touchdowns. He also broke Paul Hornung’s single-season scoring record (a record he still holds) — finishing with 186 points, in addition to winning the rushing title. On top of that? He threw two touchdown passes.
Relation to McCaffrey’s projection: This is a fairly similar comparison to what McCaffrey has done this year. The biggest issue is that Tomlinson’s season was record-breaking. The Panthers’ back may need to do something historic to get serious consideration.
Shaun Alexander, Seahawks — 2005
Final statistics: 385 touches, 1,958 scrimmage yards, 28 TDs
Percent of team’s total scrimmage yards: 33.1
Beat out: Peyton Manning
Why he won: While Tomlinson may have broken his record a year later, Alexander set the mark for the most touchdowns in a single season at the time. He also led the league in rushing and helped the Seahawks to a 13-3 record, the best in the NFC.
Alexander had 11 games where he rushed for at least 100 yards, which helped him end Manning’s two-year streak of winning MVP after he tied with Steve McNair in 2003.
Relation to McCaffrey: Alexander earned the award for a lot less than what less than what McCaffrey will likely do. However, the Seahawks were front and center that year, which likely played a role in his selection. And again, Alexander was a record-breaker. McCaffrey may have a hard time doing the same.
Marshall Faulk, Rams — 2000
Final statistics: 334 touches, 2,189 scrimmage yards, 26 TDs
Percent of team’s total scrimmage yards: 31
Beat out: Donovan McNabb and Eddie George.
Why he won: Despite playing only 14 games and undergoing arthroscopic surgery mid-season, Faulk easily won the award. He set the record for touchdowns in a single-season at the time.
Faulk’s MVP season marked his second-straight remarkable year after teammate Kurt Warner won the award the year prior and again in 2001. But Faulk played a significant role in “The Greatest Show on Turf,” including setting a record with three four-TD games, which he still holds alongside Tomlinson.
Relation to McCaffrey: Faulk is the hardest to compare the 23-year old to. Not only was he apart of one of the best offenses of all-time, but Faulk had put together multiple seasons of impressive play. The level of production on so few touches will not be matched by McCaffrey.
Chris Johnson, Titans — 2009
Final statistics: 408 touches, 2,509 scrimmage yards, 16 TDs
Percent of team’s total scrimmage yards: 44.6
Lost to: Peyton Manning
What happened: This one goes down in history as one of the most questionable decisions for MVP. Despite breaking the single-season scrimmage yards record, Johnson did not receive a single vote for MVP. Not one. And 2,006 of his total yards were on the ground.
Manning was not undeserving of the award. The Colts started the season 14-0 and he threw 33 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and 4,500 passing yards.
However, for Johnson not to receive one vote is still shocking. He also had three touchdown runs of 80-plus yards.
What this means for McCaffrey: Johnson’s loss is the biggest red flag for McCaffrey believers out there, even though he is on pace for 2,488 scrimmage yards, which would only be second to Johnson all-time.
But Johnson was on an 8-8 team that didn’t make the playoffs. The Panthers’ final record will undoubtedly play a large role, even if he continues at his record pace. A highly impressive and historic season by one of the many strong quarterbacks in the conversation could also end his campaign.