As we enter Week 15, teams are coming to grips with who they are, while others hunker down for a playoff push. As congested as this year’s playoff seeding will bare out, so too is this season’s race for NFC Offensive Player of The Year.
With unexpected injuries throughout the season, the winner may come down to who played the most games, their team’s success, and head-to-head matchups. With most of the praise traditionally going to quarterbacks, let’s look at two contenders vying for the NFC OPOY that are at the skill positions:
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Some say the running back position is dead, but Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey holds a case for this year’s award. He ranks 5th in carries (246), 2nd in rushing yards (1,220), 3rd in yards per game (93.8) and is tied for 2nd in rushing touchdowns (12). As a receiver out of the backfield, McCaffrey is on pace for 119 targets (124 in 2018), 99 catches (107 in 2018), 852 rec yards (867 in 2018), all on 421 touches. Did I forget to mention he’s on pace for 1,501 on the ground as well?
McCaffrey is looking at 2,352 yards from scrimmage, and let us not forget there is no Cam Newton, nor comparable backups like DeAngelo Williams and/or Jonathan Stewart to ration off carries. With the Panthers barely clawing for a playoff seat, McCaffrey’s production may level out as he accounts for 44% of the Panthers total offense (1,946 out of 4,440 yards).
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
There was a time in the NFL when the wide receiver could crash the NFC OPOY voting party with eye popping stats. Unfortunately their successes would be canceled out by a Quarterback who was directly linked to their stats. In the case of Michael Thomas, there will not be a quarterback taking votes away in his own team. Whether it is Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Brees, Thomas has pulled up the numbers this season. Through 13 games, Thomas has 121 catches on 147 targets, giving Thomas a Catch% of 82.3%, highest among receivers. To put it in perspective, only three of the Top 20 players with the highest Catch% are receivers,the rest are running backs and tight ends – the next closest receiver to Thomas is Adam Humphries (Tennessee Titans) with 100 less targets.
Thomas has eight games with 100+ yards, and the other four having totals of: 89 (2x), 54, and 95. Thomas is on pace for 149 catches, 1,752 yards, and 181 targets. Did I mention Thomas is giving this performance with two quarterbacks? Just to bolster Thomas’s case, he accounts for 40% of the team’s receiving yards, with Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook and Tedd Ginn Jr. combining for 1,347 yards which is 77 yards less than Thomas at 1,424 yards.
Both Michael Thomas and Christian McCaffrey are worthy of the NFC Offensive Player of The Year Award. For McCaffrey, each loss pushes him further away from winning the OPOY as the Panthers continue to stumble down the stretch. For Thomas, the Saints are still in the hunt for the NFC West division crown, as well as a number one seed in the playoffs. His production will not falter with Drew Brees still able to push the ball down the field.
Photo Credit: Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports