The Carolina Panthers have won four straight games after a bleak 0-2 start. And that is thanks largely to the efforts of running back Christian McCaffrey, who may very well be the current leader in NFL MVP race thus far. 

2019 numbers and pace

McCaffrey is currently the NFL’s rushing leader with 618 yards and has also added 305 yards receiving on 35 catches. His 923 total yards leads all players in the NFL by a wide margin. The next closest is 796 yards from Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook.

McCaffrey is currently on pace for 1,648 rushing yards and 813 receiving yards, for a total of 2,461 yards from scrimmage. That would be the second-highest total in a single season in NFL history. Chris Johnson had 2,509 total yards in 2009, which was the season he rushed for 2,006 yards.

The third-year RB has four games of at least 175 total yards, with two games of over 200 total yards over the first six games of the season.

During Carolina’s Week 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McCaffrey and teammate Curtis Samuel became just the third pair of teammates to each record a rushing and receiving touchdown in a game since 1980, and the first pair since 2013, when Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles each did so for the New Orleans Saints.

McCaffrey’s case for the award

Running backs do not get a lot of love when it comes to the MVP award. Since 2000, only four running backs (Adrian Peterson in 2012, LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, Shaun Alexander in 2005 and Marshall Faulk in 2000) have won the award. Every other winner has been a quarterback.

But as we stand here through six weeks, McCaffrey is set to buck the trend and finally see a position other than quarterback take home the award.

Patrick Mahomes, the presumptive MVP favorite entering the season, has had a rough stretch of games before exiting Thursday night’s game against Denver with a leg injury. If Mahomes’ injury is not serious, he can still get back to the top of the MVP race. He leads the league in passing yards with 2,104 yards and also has 14 passing touchdowns.

Right now, if there’s a quarterback that could challenge McCaffrey (and Mahomes, for that matter), it’s Russell Wilson. The way he continues to carry the Seahawks, despite a seemingly mediocre supporting cast over the last few seasons, is nothing short of amazing.

Sure, McCaffrey has had two down games, both against the Buccaneers. The Panthers found a way to win in Week 6 despite low numbers from McCaffrey, but lost in Week 2 as the offense struggled as a whole. Part of that has to do with the difference in quarterback play in the two games, but it’s also clear that the offense takes on an entirely new dynamic when McCaffrey is around.

With all due respect to Reggie Bonnafon and Jordan Scarlett, there is quite simply a massive drop in talent after McCaffrey in Carolina’s running back room. There are certainly other groups you can say that about as well, namely the quarterback room in Kansas City, which bodes well for Mahomes. But McCaffrey outmatches, by a wide margin, both Bonnafon and Scarlett.

If any running back is going to win the MVP award, it’s likely going to be McCaffrey – the focal point of the Carolina offense each week. It’s hard to imagine that the Panthers would be 4-2 with a backup quarterback if McCaffrey was not around. Teams would easily be able to gameplan against D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel without having to worry about the running and pass-catching abilities of McCaffrey.

With all of that said, the MVP has seemingly become an honor awarded to the quarterback with the best stats on the best team. Cam Newton was the beneficiary of this trend during the Panthers’ magical 15-1 season in 2015. And this is the reason that many believe the favorites for MVP in 2019 include Mahomes, Wilson, Tom Brady, and Deshaun Watson. For McCaffrey to buck this trend, the Panthers will need to keep winning, and he will need to keep producing at a near-historic pace.