RB Index, Week 10: Why Christian McCaffrey is MVP front-runner

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"The 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player is ... Christian McCaffrey."

This is the announcement we SHOULD hear at NFL Honors on the eve of Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Whether we will or won't is still up for debate. Right now, the Carolina Panthers running back is a sure-fire candidate, alongside the likes of quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. But I'm here to tell you why McCaffrey MUST be considered a front-runner for the league's most prestigious award.

In his first two pro seasons, McCaffrey benefited from playing with Cam Newton in the Panthers' offense. This season, though, McCaffrey has been running over defenses weekly with a backup quarterback (Kyle Allen) who does not pose nearly the same threat to defenses as a healthy Newton. Don't get me wrong: Allen has played well, while other skill position players have stepped up -- and they'll need to continue to do so with Newton going on IR on Tuesday. But McCaffrey has been the player putting up gaudy numbers weekly.

McCaffrey is having one of the best seasons by a running back in NFL history and leads the league in touches per game (25.9), rushing yards per game (110.1), scrimmage yards per game (155.5), rushing TDs (10) and scrimmage TDs (13) heading into Week 10. Right now, McCaffrey is on pace for 2,488 scrimmage yards, which would be the second-most in a season in NFL history, behind Chris Johnson's 2,509 in 2009. He's also in line for 26 scrimmage TDs. Notably, three of the four previous players to score as many scrimmage TDs in a season won MVP, including LaDainian Tomlinson (31 in 2006), Shaun Alexander (28 in 2005) and Marshall Faulk (26 in 2000). (Priest Holmes missed out on the MVP award when he had 26 scrimmage TDs in 2003.)

To really put McCaffrey's production in perspective, let's juxtapose it with that of the last two running backs to win the award: Adrian Peterson in 2012 and Tomlinson in 2006. When comparing their numbers per game, the 23-year-old is either on pace with or ahead of them.

McCaffrey in '19: 25.9 touches, 155.5 scrimmage yards, 1.6 scrimmage TDs.
Peterson in '12: 24.3 touches, 144.6 scrimmage yards, 0.8 scrimmage TDs.
Tomlinson in '06: 25.3 touches, 145.2 scrimmage yards, 1.9 scrimmage TDs.

In Peterson's MVP season, he had 2,097 rushing yards -- 9 yards short of breaking the all-time record -- a year after suffering a major knee injury. Tomlinson set the league record for touchdowns with 31 (28 rushing) in his MVP season. It feels as if McCaffrey must put up some tremendous numbers or do something extraordinary to edge out other QB candidates this season.

Even then, he might not win. Just look at Chris Johnson's 2009 campaign as proof. CJ2K had 2,006 rushing yards and more than 2,500 scrimmage yards that season -- and still didn't win. Peyton Manning was named MVP for the fourth time in his career -- despite not stacking up to other QBs that season from a numbers standpoint -- after leading the Indianapolis Colts to a 14-2 record. Johnson's Tennessee Titans finished 8-8 in 2009, which likely played a role in the voting (though I don't think that should be a factor).

Based on past seasons, it feels as if the Panthers must go on a run for the running back to truly be considered for MVP. They are currently 5-3 and just outside the NFC playoff picture heading into Week 10. They have a tough slate ahead, but if they end up making the postseason when all is said and done, it will be because of McCaffrey.

When considering all of these factors, though, if voters aren't going to consider THIS running back the current front-runner for MVP, they should just change the award to MVQB.

Now, let's get to the weekly rankings ...

Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2019 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 10.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Check out the FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

RANK

1

Christian McCaffrey

2019 stats: 8 games | 165 att | 881 rush yds | 5.3 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 42 rec | 363 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

Two MVP candidates take the field Sunday in Carolina's meeting with the Green Bay Packers. You know how I feel about what McCaffrey's done already this season, and a big outing at Lambeau could be the boost he needs to convince others he's MVP-worthy.

RANK

2

Dalvin Cook

2019 stats: 9 games | 177 att | 894 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 33 rec | 338 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Sunday night's Vikings-Cowboys tilt features two of the best running backs in the league. The Cowboys' run defense is one of the unit's weaker areas; Cook must take advantage to help the Vikings get the play-action game going. I expect Kevin Stefanski to run Cook early and often in a game with a ton of playoff implications. Yes, I know it's only Week 10, but this game feels HUGE for both parties.

RANK

3

Ezekiel Elliott

2019 stats: 8 games | 158 att | 741 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 24 rec | 176 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Elliott is coming off a monster performance on Monday night (23 carries for 139 yards), and he'll need to do it again vs. Mike Zimmer's unit. The Vikings boast the league's ninth-best run defense, but if anyone can make a good unit look average, it's Zeke.

RANK

4

Leonard Fournette

2019 stats: 9 games | 174 att | 831 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 1 rush TD | 40 rec | 295 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

The entire Jacksonville offense struggled across the pond, not just Fournette. The third-year running back totaled just 40 yards on 11 carries, but he is is still the AFC's leading rusher heading into Week 10.

RANK

5

Josh Jacobs

2

2019 stats: 8 games | 152 att | 740 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 11 rec | 102 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Jacobs had 28 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns in Oakland's 31-24 win over Detroit last week. Through eight games, the rookie is on pace for 1,480 rushing yards; over the last 10 seasons, only Ezekiel Elliott (1,631) and Alfred Morris (1,613) have recorded more in their rookie seasons.

RANK

6

Nick Chubb

2019 stats: 8 games | 154 att | 803 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 25 rec | 161 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

The Chubb we're used to seeing didn't show up against the Broncos, and unfortunately, the Browns weren't able to overcome it. Chubb is still north of 800 rushing yards through eight games, but I'll be interested to see how Chubb's role changes now that Kareem Hunt's suspension is over.

RANK

7

Chris Carson

2

2019 stats: 9 games | 175 att | 764 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 24 rec | 177 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

Carson is one of five running backs who are averaging 100-plus rush yards per game since Week 5. His consistent production over the last month makes the Seahawks' pick-your-poison offense especially difficult to defend.

RANK

8

Mark Ingram

2

2019 stats: 8 games | 114 att | 585 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 14 rec | 125 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Ingram, Lamar Jackson and Co. made the Patriots' defense look average at times with the veteran running back finishing with 115 yards on 15 totes for a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. Ingram could very well repeat that performance Sunday against a Bengals defense that ranks dead last against the run.

RANK

9

Marlon Mack

1

2019 stats: 8 games | 159 att | 679 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 11 rec | 68 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Mack has stepped up in Year 3 to give the Colts a balanced offensive attack. Now with injuries to T.Y. Hilton (calf) and Jacoby Brissett (knee), whose status for Sunday's game is uncertain, Mack must carry the load to keep the Colts high up in the muddled AFC playoff picture.

RANK

10

Aaron Jones

5

2019 stats: 9 games | 122 att | 496 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 35 rec | 354 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

This weekend's bout with the Panthers features the top two players in the NFL in scrimmage touchdowns this season. We know McCaffrey will show up -- he always does -- but Jones is a bit of a wild card. He's had some superb performances this year. He's also had some duds. We'll see if Jones and the Pack can get back on track.

RANK

11

Derrick Henry

1

2019 stats: 9 games | 164 att | 644 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 11 rec | 164 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

Henry's three-TD performance wasn't enough for the Titans to get it done against the Panthers last week. It doesn't get easier with Patrick Mahomes, who returned to practice Wednesday, and the Chiefs coming to town Sunday. Henry will need to channel his last performance against the Chiefs in the 2017 AFC wild-card, when he set a franchise record for scrimmage yards in a playoff game with 191. He could do it against this year's 29th-ranked run defense.

RANK

12

Saquon Barkley

1

2019 stats: 6 games | 88 att | 401 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 28 rec | 228 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Barkley has averaged 106 scrimmage yards per outing in three games since returning from his ankle injury. He has failed to rush for 100 yards in four straight games, which is not very Barkley-like, but could do it against the Jets in Sunday's Battle for New York.

RANK

13

Carlos Hyde

2

2019 stats: 9 games | 149 att | 704 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 6 rec | 22 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

It feels like Hyde has a revenge game every other week. Against his former team Sunday in London, he went off for 160 yards on 19 carries (8.4 yards per tote), highlighted by runs of 48 and 58 yards -- though, Hyde fumbled the ball on the 2-yard line on his longest run of the game. It was his fourth fumble of the year and the second he's lost. Houston put itself in the driver's seat of the division with the win, but Hyde needs to fix his turnover issues.

RANK

14

Todd Gurley

1

2019 stats: 7 games | 92 att | 355 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 15 rec | 81 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Gurley has seen career lows in touches per game (15.3), carries per game (13.1), scrimmage YPG (62.3), rush YPG (50.7) and receiving YPG (11.6) this season. With the Rams sitting third in the NFC West behind San Francisco (8-0) and Seattle (7-2), the star running back could see a bigger haul in the second half of the season.

RANK

15

Adrian Peterson

NR

2019 stats: 8 games | 115 att | 491 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 1 rush TD | 8 rec | 71 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Since Bill Callahan took over as interim head coach in Week 6, Peterson has averaged 95.8 rush yards per game -- after having 27 rush yards per game through Week 5. Peterson, who logged his second 100-yard rushing game of the season last week against the Bills, needs to rush for 509 yards in the final seven games to become the third player to crack 1,000 for the season at age 34 or older. He would join Hall of Famers John Riggins and John Henry Johnson.

Dropped out: Tevin Coleman, 49ers (previously No. 14).

The Ground Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. What is the possibility Dalvin Cook takes No. 1 in next week's ranking? Check out the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

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