Neither Christian McCaffrey nor Dalvin Cook tip the scale much beyond 200 pounds. Both fall short of 6 feet in a violent game they share with agile giants trying to crush the will out of them 20-some times every week.
And yet these two versatile NFL stars have legitimate MVP dreams that stand taller than any other non-quarterback in a league in which only Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has interrupted the annual quarterback coronation the past 12 years.
Cook, the Vikings’ heartbeat offensively, is on pace for an all-world and franchise-record 2,374 yards from scrimmage. And yet even that doesn’t match the out-of-this-world effort we’ve seen from the 205-pound McCaffrey through five games.
When Cam Newton was playing, Carolina was 0-2 and trending toward getting Ron Rivera fired for about the 23rd time since he joined the head coaching ranks along with Leslie Frazier back in the Class of 2011. With Newton sidelined and neophyte QB Kyle Allen avoiding mistakes, the Panthers have won three in a row and once again given Rivera new life, not to mention a franchise-record 74th coaching victory.
Two words: Christian McCaffrey.
In Sunday’s 34-27 win over Jacksonville, offensive coordinator Norv Turner called McCaffrey’s number 25 times. McCaffrey turned that into 237 yards from scrimmage — tying his own franchise record — and touched off a string of accomplishments that placed his name in the same sentences with the likes of the great Thurman Thomas and the greater Jim Brown.
McCaffrey and Thomas (1991) are now the only NFL players with at least 500 yards rushing and 250 receiving through five games.
And, according to NFL research, McCaffrey’s 866 yards (587 rushing, 279 receiving) are the second-most since 1950, behind only Brown’s 988 in 1963.
With an average of 173.2 yards from scrimmage per game, McCaffrey is on pace for 2,771. The season record is 2,509 by Chris Johnson in 2008.
“If I was writing, I would see if he’s from Earth,” defensive lineman Gerald McCoy told reporters, via the Panthers’ website.
“I’d have to check to see if he’s from Asgard or something. I don’t know where that dude’s from. If the season ended right now, he’s the MVP.”
Or, as Panthers rookie edge rusher Brian Burns put it: “He’s probably like Thor’s long-lost brother or something like that. The man’s not human.”
Peterson was the MVP in 2012 when he rushed for 2,097 yards while carrying Christian Ponder and the Vikings to the playoffs. The throwback running back added only 217 yards receiving that year to finish with a franchise-record 2,314 yards from scrimmage.
That’s an average of 144.6 yards from scrimmage per game. Seven years later, Cook is averaging 148.4 yards per game as a modern back in every sense of the definition.
Cook’s average of 108.4 rushing yards per game is a pace that would give him 1,734. His receiving pace would give him 640 more.
McCaffrey leads the NFL with 136 touches from scrimmage (27.2 per game). Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is next with 115 (23.0) followed by Cook at 113 (22.7). Having played one fewer game, Jets running back Le’Veon Bell’s 98 touches averages out to 24.5 per game.
Are these touches sustainable?
McCaffrey’s career high is 326. He’s on pace for 435, a number exceeded by only 12 players in NFL history.
Cook’s high in two injury-marred full seasons is 173. He’s on pace for 362.
The Vikings and Panthers will try not to overuse their sparkplugs.
The Vikings even used a third-round pick on Alexander Mattison, a starter-quality player with a 5.6-yard average and 22.2% of the team’s 153 carries.
But if McCaffrey and Cook stay healthy, there will be times when these two teams will have to put aside “how many” in favor of “wow many.”
“I want us to do whatever we have to do to win,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said when asked about Cook’s touches. “I don’t really care how many carries he gets or how many times we throw the ball. It’s all about trying to do the best that we can do to win.
“When he has the ball in his hand, he’s very dangerous. There’s so many ‘wow’ plays when he has the ball in his hands that he can do so much damage.”