As a fan of the Raiders, my original outrage about this year’s NFL Honors surrounded the selection of Arizona’s Kyler Murray over Josh Jacobs. I like Kyler Murray, but my blood runs silver and black, so it was hard for me to accept a good quarterback on a bad team thriving over a great running back thriving on a bad team. Eventually, enough time passed that I was able to accept that both 2019 rookies were great, and awards are ultimately meaningless.
But then I took a closer look at the other award winners, and realized I was focusing on the wrong robbed runner. Because if Josh Jacobs was great, Christian McCaffrey was elite… but he had to watch Michael Thomas take home his award.
Christian McCaffrey: The True Offensive Player of the Year
If we’re being completely honest, the offensive player of the year award typically goes to the best non-quarterback. Nine of the last ten league MVPs have been quarterbacks. Only Adrian Peterson, who came dangerously close to the single-season rushing record while carrying Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs, won the award as a non-quarterback.
For instance, in 2019, it would be hard to argue against Lamar Jackson taking home the offensive player of the year award. Not only did he lead the league in passing touchdowns, but he also set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season, all the while leading the Baltimore Ravens to the best record in football.
But he was already the unanimous league MVP. And if we’re being honest, being the most valuable player, while being an offensive player, should automatically guarantee you the offensive player of the year award.
Make no mistake, Michael Thomas had a great 2019. New Orleans’ number one receiver set the NFL record for receptions in a season (149), and was an obvious First-Team All-Pro. Four people attempted passes for the Saints last year, and combined, Thomas was responsible for nearly 40% of their passing yards.
If you wanted to make an argument for Thomas as the league’s best wide receiver, or at the very least, the receiver of the year, it would be very difficult to dispute. But was he really the best offensive player this year?
Let’s be honest, it’s not like Michael Thomas has the toughest job in the world. Even when Drew Brees was hurt, Teddy Bridgewater was a perfectly capable back-up. Under the tutelage of offensive mastermind, Sean Payton, Thomas and other former Pro Bowlers, Brees, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, and Latavius Murray still thrived in their roles in 2019.
Christian McCaffrey didn’t have that kind of luck. He was the only Pro Bowler on the Carolina Panthers’ offense this year, and head coach Ron Rivera was fired after a 5-7 start. The only other notable stars on the team weren’t great either. Cam Newton was hurt for basically the entire season, and Greg Olsen was 34 and a non-factor.
It’s certainly not Thomas’ fault that his team was good. He’s as big as part of their success as anyone. But individual awards are for individual efforts, and while opposing defenses had their hands full with New Orleans, opposing defensive coordinators only had to stop one man, McCaffrey, and they couldn’t.
The man they call CMC shattered his own record for receptions in a season by a tailback (117), and honestly, if he were just a receiver, he would’ve had a decent season. 117 receptions for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns? Not top 10, but respectable. His numbers aren’t that different from Odell Beckham Jr.’s in 2019.
But he also added a career-high 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. That means that the Stanford star had 2,392 yards from scrimmage, the third most in NFL history, as well as 19 total touchdowns. He did this on a team devoid of offensive talent, in the passing era, in the midst of a lost season.
The only thing opposing defenses had to worry about was stopping McCaffrey, and they still couldn’t prevent him from having one of the best seasons by a tailback in NFL history. It’s impressive that Thomas set the record, but he did it in the most conducive setting, with a record that has been challenged repeatedly in recent years by the likes of Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown, and Julio Jones. There’s nobody else doing what Christian McCaffrey does as well as he does it.