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MVP Race: The 49ers are giving the league a run for their money

After five weeks of football, is there a legitimate candidacy for the award from a couple of Niners?

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After another dominant performance by the 49ers on Sunday Night, there’s little room for argument about who the best team in the league is through five games. San Francisco has stacked the deck with an insane collection of talent on this roster. But that doesn’t mean it should detract from the performances of their most productive players.

Brock Purdy

Anyone still arguing about whether Brock Purdy is elite or a top-ten quarterback is behind in the conversation. The focus now is on something bigger - is he a real MVP candidate? Vegas oddsmakers think the four-touchdown outing against a strong Dallas defense was enough to vault the Niners quarterback into top five considerations. Behind only Mahomes (+450) and Tagovailoa (+475), Purdy jumped considerably overnight from a +1600 long shot to tied with Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts at +700 to win the award for most valuable player in the league.

MVP odds change weekly. Allen last week was sitting in the lead at +350. One bad game can shift the landscape of this award and there is still a lot of football to be played. But Purdy’s play (and numbers) have been worthy of chatter amongst media outlets.

Let’s take a look at how Purdy stacks up through five games compared to the last MVP winners, back to the last quarterback Kyle Shanahan helped hoist the award, Matt Ryan, in 2016. (Highest two metrics are shaded in green, lowest two in red).

As we can see, Purdy is playing well in terms of efficiency. He has the highest Completion percentage and QBR amongst this group. His yards per attempt and QB rating are only second to Matt Ryan who got off to a fantastic start in his MVP season. The only thing holding Purdy back from taking the national spotlight right now is his touchdown and yards numbers. But he isn’t far off from what past winners have accomplished.

Christian McCaffrey

The last running back to win MVP was when Adrian Peterson ran for over 2,000 yards over a decade ago. In 2012, Peterson scored 12 times on the ground and added another score through the air, although his receiving numbers in total were fairly pedestrian. His 2,314 yards from scrimmage that season was tied for the ninth-best mark in NFL history.

McCaffrey actually broke that scrimmage mark in 2019 with Carolina where he ran for 1,387 yards and caught 116 balls for 1,005 receiving yards. This was famously only the third time in league history that a player had over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.

CMC inexplicably finished third in AP Offensive Player of the Year Voting, as that award went to Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 receptions. This was also the season that Lamar Jackson was unanimously crowned the MVP.

So if rushing for 1,000 and receiving for 1,000 isn’t enough for MVP, let alone OPOY, what can McCaffrey do this year to break the streak of quarterbacks hoisting the trophy? It’s improbable, but if McCaffrey can find the end zone enough, voters may see his value to the 49ers offensive ecosystem and throw him a bone.

He scored 19 times (15 rushing 4 receiving) during that special Panthers season, so can he break 20? He already has nearly half the rushing touchdowns (7) in only five contests. CMC sits at +1500 (up from +2500) to win the award, behind the aforementioned quarterbacks. At +175, he has the shortest odds to take home the offensive player of the year award at season’s end.

Fred Warner

If you thought McCaffrey was a long shot, then you are probably getting a good chuckle at the inclusion of Warner on this list. Warner most likely won’t have the stats to become the first defensive league-MVP since Lawrence Taylor (1986). But, if the award is to evaluate value, is there any defender as valuable to a defense as Warner?

Another effect of the shift to greater passing offenses is that the Defensive Player of the Year award has become heavily focused on pass-rushing statistics. 10 out of the last 12 DPOY winners were defensive linemen or edge rushers. Only Stephon Gilmore (2019) and Luke Kuechly (2013) have obtained the honor in that time.

A quick glimpse at Kuechly’s stat line shows that Warner might have a real shot. In 2013, the former Panther accounted for 156 total tackles, 10 TFL, 4 INTs, and 2.0 sacks. Through the first five games of 2023, Warner has tallied 41 total tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 2.0 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

If voters truly want to make this award about impact, Warner should be a clear-cut nominee. He currently stands as the only non-pass rusher with odds greater than +7500 to take home DPOY. At +3000, only Micah Parsons (+220), Myles Garrett (+275), TJ Watt (+300), Aidan Hutchinson (+1500) and Nick Bosa (+2000) sit above Warner.