Can McCaffrey run away with NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors?

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May 8th, 2020

Christian McCaffrey has the best odds of any running back to win the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. 

He fell just short last season despite terrific numbers with the Carolina Panthers, and the odds are once again stacked against him and his peers in the backfield. 

Competition is stiff, especially with the rise of dynamic quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, the preseason favorites for the award at BetAmerica. 

What will it take for a running back to take home Offensive Player of the Year honors? 

Odds to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year

Patrick Mahomes
Lamar Jackson
Russell Wilson
Christian McCaffrey
Michael Thomas
Drew Brees
Saquon Barkley
Ezekiel Elliott

Standard set by previous running backs 

Running backs have won NFL Offensive Player of the Year award three times since 2012, with Todd Gurley the most recent recipient. 

He was spectacular in 2017 for the Los Angeles Rams, with just over 1,300 yards rushing and 64 catches for 788 yards. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,093) and touchdowns (19). 

There is a common theme for all three running backs that have won the award since 2012: They all led the league in yards from scrimmage. They were not only dominant rushers, but also first rate receivers.

DeMarco Murray led the league with 2,261 yards from scrimmage when he won in 2014, and Adrian Peterson had 2,314 yards from scrimmage in 2012. In both of those cases, the large majority of their yardage came from the run. Peterson fell just shy of 2,100 yards rushing, while Murray had an astonishing 392 carries. 

Their receiving numbers weren’t nearly as good as what Gurley did in 2017 and McCaffrey did last season. 

Offensive philosophies have shifted over the years. The day of the bell cow back running back are evolving. A more evenly spread ,but continuous, threat as both a rusher and a ball catcher should give running backs like McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley the opportunities to be in the "running" for the award. 

Let's take a closer look at the top three running backs in contention.

Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)

Christian McCaffrey had the third most votes for Offensive Player of the Year in 2019. If the latest standard for running backs to win the award was reset by Todd Gurley in 2017, then McCaffrey set the bar even higher. He was electric nearly every time he touched the ball last season.  

McCaffrey set new career highs for carries (287), rushing yards (1,387), rushing touchdowns (15), catches (116), and receiving yards (1,005). He led the league with 403 total touches, 2,392 yards from scrimmage, and 19 total touchdowns. 

To win this award this season, McCaffrey faces two big challenges: He’ll have to post another career year likely with league leading numbers in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns, and he’ll likely have to best a pair of terrific quarterbacks, a position prone to more accolades. 

Saquon Barkley (New York Giants)

Injuries held Saquon Barkley to playing in just 13 games for the New York Giants last season. Bottom line, his numbers were down across the board as a result, and he didn’t factor into the Offensive Player of the Year conversation. 

That could change in 2020, as he looks to return to, or exceed, the levels of production from his rookie season. He has the second-best odds of any running backs for the award at +1600 at BetAmerica.

In his first season with the Giants in 2018, Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards – an average of five yards per attempt – and had 11 touchdowns on the ground. He also racked up 721 receiving yards and four touchdown catches, and led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,028. 

The potential is there for Barkley to become the most productive running back in the league this season. 

Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)

Twice in four years, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has led the NFL in rushing yards and has, according to Pro Football Reference, been in the top 10 for yards from scrimmage in three of his four seasons in the league. However, his odds to win the award are longer than those of Barkley and McCaffrey – currently +2200 at BetAmerica

The Cowboys have shown a desire to feed Elliott the ball in the ground game, and he’s been an effective contributor in the pass game out of the backfield during his pro career, as well. But his overall numbers in the pass game would need to improve considerably to garner more consideration for this award.

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