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Doc's Opinion: The Case for Christian McCaffrey Winning 2023 NFL MVP

Good afternoon and welcome to my first opinion piece with Battle Born Preps. I have labored over this topic for the past few months and decided that since the NFL will announce their ‘Honors’ this evening I wanted to put this out there just so that everyone has access to understanding exactly what Christian McCaffrey was able to accomplish this season, his first full season with the San Francisco 49ers and offensive genius/head coach Kyle Shanahan.

In this article I’ll highlight three main points and explain why they are relevant for this topic.

The three points are: 

1. Historical relevance for running backs winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award and their average stats over the last 30 years.

2. I’ll highlight where McCaffrey’s season ranks in terms of averages for this season compared to the seven running backs that have won the award over the last 30 years.

3. I’ll explain why I believe that the journalists tasked with voting on these awards have lost sight of what the meaning of an MVP is.

First, when you look at running backs in the NFL today, they have been devalued so badly that over the course of the last thirty years only six have won the NFL’s most prestigious award outright and one (Barry Sanders) was named Co-MVP along with Brett Favre in 1997. 

The average statistical values for the seven running backs (from 1993-2022) that have earned the right to be named MVP are as follows:

Rushing: 335 carries, 1,814 rushing yards, 5.4 YPC and 18 rushing touchdowns.

Receiving: 44 receptions, 367 receiving yards, 7.8 YPC and 2.7 receiving touchdowns.

Total offense: 379 touches, 2,181 total yards, 5.76 YPC, and 20.7 total touchdowns.

These are important stats because running backs are no longer expected to just run the ball in today’s NFL. In most instances they are expected to be threats in the passing game as well as excellent in pass protection. The ones in today’s game who are considered the best are considered dual threat in almost every situation. Christian McCaffrey sets the tone as a dual threat in the modern NFL, in fact, his season averages over the first seven years are as follows:

Rushing: 185 carries, 883.6 rushing yards, 4.8 YPC and 7.43 rushing touchdowns per season, on average.

Receiving: 72.7 receptions, 617.1 receiving yards, 8.5 YPC and 4.14 receiving touchdowns per season, on average.

Total offense: 257.7 touches, 1,500.7 total yards, 5.8 YPC, and 11.57 total touchdowns per season, on average.

Second, now that I have given you some historical context for running backs named MVP and McCaffrey’s season averages in his career let’s look at where his 2023 season stacks up against his positional averages historically.

This season Christian McCaffrey regular season stat line looked like this:

Rushing: 272 carries, 1,459 rushing yards, 5.4 YPC, and 14 rushing touchdowns.

Receiving: 67 receptions, 564 receiving yards, 8.4 YPC, and 7 receiving touchdowns.

Total offense: 339 touches, 2,023 total yards, 5.96 YPC, 21 total touchdowns.

When you compare McCaffrey’s stats this season against the statistical averages of those who have won the MVP, you’ll find that he had less carries, and more receptions – proving that he is a superb receiver compared to his positional history, while also flashing his dual-threat ability. As the game has evolved so too has McCaffrey and his abilities. If you read deeper, you’ll see that he averaged more yard per carry/catch than those who won the award previously and he also scored more touchdowns (on average) than his predecessors. He led the NFL in rushing wire-to-wire from week one through week seventeen including the team’s bye week. Naysayers will point to the fact that he didn’t produce gaudy rushing numbers like most of those same predecessors did during their MVP season but consider also that McCaffrey was a part of the NFC’s number one seed and sat out the regular season finale, while still producing at the clip he did. His stats for the 2023 when projected over a 17-game schedule are as follows:

Rushing (Projected over a full season): 289 carries, 1,550.2 rushing yards, 14.875 rushing touchdowns.

Receiving (Projected over a full season): 71 receptions, 599.25 receiving yards, 7.4375 receiving touchdowns.

Total offense (Projected over a full season): 360 touches, 2149.45 total yards, 22.3125 total touchdowns.

The numbers I have just laid out for you present the single best argument for CMC’s MVP case. When put up next to his historical peers he is within striking distance of every category that is looked at when a voter is making their case on who should be MVP. His averages per game are: 

Rushing: 17 carries, 91.1875 rushing yards, and just under one rushing touchdown per game.

Receiving: 4.1875 receptions, 35.25 receiving yards per game, and .5 receiving touchdowns per game.

Total offense: 21.1875 touches per game, 126.4375 total yards, and 1.3125 total touchdowns per game.

For comparison’s sake, here are the per game averages of the seven running backs who have won MVP over the last 30 years:

Rushing: 20.9375 carries, 113.375 rushing yards, 1.125 rushing touchdowns per game.

Receiving: 2.75 receptions, 22.9375 receiving yards, .17 receiving touchdowns per game.

Total offense: 23.6875 touches, 136.3125 total yards, and 1.295 total touchdowns per game.

In conclusion, McCaffrey received 2.5 less touches per game, and 9.875 total yards less per game but still outscored his peers on a per game basis. If you projected CMC with the additional 2.5 touches per game at his 5.96 yards per carry/catch he would have netted an additional 14.9 total yards per game, which over the course of the season equates to 238.4 additional yards of total offense, thus flying by the positional averages. Also, consider that with the increase in touches per game McCaffrey was probably going to score an additional touchdown once every five to seven games. Some will point to the weapons around McCaffrey as to why he isn’t the MVP, but I’d use the opposite argument and say that because the 49ers offense is so loaded, and they have multiple mouths to feed that it actually hurt his chances of being the MVP of the NFL this past season. This is just my opinion on this accompanied by statistical data.

Third, let me start by saying that I believe we have lost sight of what it means to be the MVP of the NFL. Consider, over the last ten years no running back has finished higher than second (2017, Todd Gurley) for this prestigious award including multiple instances where a running back was left off the ballot altogether including 2013, 2015, 2019, and last year (2022) to be exact. CMC’s value doesn’t come in just purely being a running back but in being, arguably, the most versatile athlete in the entire NFL showing that he can be a between-the-tackles runner who leads the league in rushing wire-to-wire or catching seven touchdowns passes this past season, which only seventeen players in the entire NFL had more than him. When considering his impact as a receiver I’ll leave you with this DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, Brandon Aiyuk, and Ja’Marr Chase had the same amount of receiving touchdowns – and they predominantly play wide receiver. Most of those names I listed above are also All-Pro’s, Pro Bowlers, and even a Heisman Trophy Winner to boot. They would be considered the best of the best. In closing, my message is clear – Christian McCaffrey deserves to be the MVP of the NFL for the 2023 season. Be better voters of this prestigious award, if all we are going to do is give it to Quarterbacks, we need to consider changing the name of the award to ‘Most Valuable Quarterback of the NFL.’ A skill position player shouldn’t be relegated to second place finishes and Offensive Player of the Year Awards as a runner-up trophy. That leads me to my next question what, if any, is the difference between an NFL MVP and an Offensive Player of the Year over the last 10-30 years because value is found in more than just the QB’s.

Super Bowl LVIII Preview and Prediction

J. Ray Dockter: "I’ll leave you with this, my Super Bowl preview will be short… The San Francisco 49ers should have no problem finding motivation in completing their “Quest for Six’ this Sunday as they have dealt with losing to this same franchise four years ago and multiple issues this week alone. Patrick Mahomes is the Best QB in the NFL, if you disagree with me argue with a wall. Hopefully the 49ers have his number this week. My prediction is San Francisco 28, Kansas City 24."

Brady Raggio: "Niners will win because of there multiple offensive weapons and the defense is going to have a good game, unlike the last 2 playoff games... 34-31 Niners"

Lynn Ault: "The Kansas City Chiefs will lose to the San Francisco 49ers 28-27, after staging a furious fourth quarter comeback which will fall just short. The MVP will be Brock Purdy and Taylor Swift will get more screen time than 99% of the players."

Michael Reeves: "When J. Ray said he was doing this article with a prediction I decided I had to give my score input as well. Anyone that knows anything about me knows the 49ers are my favorite team in all of professional sports. As a season ticket holder I have been to most of the games this season and while the team has had its ups and downs this feels like the year for the 49ers. As you all know I try to take bias out of every prediction or thought when it comes to sports because otherwise our clouded opinions are just useless. This game I have bias but when asked what will happen I believe the 49ers lose a close game or they win big as this has been their formula most of the season. My inner fan believes the defense figures out some of its woes as of late and Brock Purdy along with his star powered offense proves they are a better team than the 2019 49ers. I predict a score of 34-21 49ers with Brock Purdy quieting the narrative that he is a game-manager and changing his unofficial title to game-changer."

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