The case for and against 49ers QB Brock Purdy being MVP

Fred Warner tells McAfee how impressed he is by Brock Purdy (1:43)

49ers linebacker Fred Warner talks to Pat McAfee about Brock Purdy's incredible season. (1:43)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As it turns out, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy's endorsement for Most Valuable Player doesn't carry quite as much weight as his play.

Which is why, less than 24 hours after Purdy declared that Niners running back Christian McCaffrey should win the award, it was Purdy himself who emerged as the clear favorite to take it home.

As of Tuesday evening, Purdy was a -215 favorite to win MVP, according to ESPN Bet. He's the first odds-on favorite in the MVP market all season.

"I think more than anything, it is a team award," Purdy told ESPN. "That's how I look at it. And if we were to be able to win it, great. If not, it's okay. We still have a goal in mind in terms of winning a championship."

The case for and against Purdy has become fodder for television debate shows and various social media platforms. Everyone has an opinion, and most are delivered at maximum volume.

Those discussions will be turned up even more this week as the Niners prepare for a Christmas night showdown against the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Levi's Stadium, ABC/ESPN+), a game that features the two betting favorites to meet in the Super Bowl and three of the league's five top MVP candidates in Purdy, McCaffrey (fifth at +1200) and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (second at +450).

It's the biggest national stage remaining for Purdy and McCaffrey and a chance for Jackson to make up ground with another big game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.

For now, Purdy is the favorite and has a clear path to becoming the first Niner to win MVP since quarterback Steve Young in 1994.

Why Purdy will win MVP

While most 49ers are hesitant to choose between teammates, linebacker Fred Warner succinctly explained why Purdy is in the driver's seat.

"I think he's playing the best on the team that's playing the best in the entire league," Warner said. "If it's not him, I think Christian should get it. One of them. I feel like it's kind of a no-brainer. ... He's a second-year player who is ranked first in all the categories that matter, so I think he should win it."

While the arguments about Purdy often center on where he ranks among quarterbacks, there's one thing that isn't up for debate: Purdy might not be the NFL's best quarterback, but he's undoubtedly its most productive.

Through 14 games, Purdy leads the NFL in QBR, yards per attempt, expected points added per dropback, touchdown passes and touchdown-to-interception ratio and sits at or near the top of many other important categories. Also seemingly lost in the mix: Purdy is doing all of this less than a year removed from a devastating right elbow injury that had some wondering if he could even play this season.

That Purdy's counting stats rank so highly despite just 27.4 pass attempts per game (21st in the league, fewest of any quarterback that has started every game) is testament to him posting historic efficiency numbers. Purdy ranks first or second in expected points added (EPA) on throws at every level beginning at or behind the line of scrimmage up to those that travel at least 30 yards in the air.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been five quarterbacks that led the league in yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio in a season since 2000. Four of them -- 2011 Aaron Rodgers, 2007 Tom Brady, 2004 Peyton Manning and 2003 Steve McNair -- won MVP. Purdy could be the fifth.

Purdy's yards per attempt (9.9) is on pace to be the third-highest mark in a season in NFL history, trailing only Hall of Famers Otto Graham (1953) and Norm Van Brocklin (1954). He's percentage points ahead of Kurt Warner (2000), a coincidence given that Purdy would be the lowest drafted (or undrafted player) to win the award since Warner, who claimed it twice.

This makes Warner -- whose rise to stardom for the St. Louis Rams bore a striking resemblance to Purdy's -- an expert worth listening to when it comes to what Purdy is accomplishing in 2023.

"He's doing what they ask him to do and he's doing it as high a level as any quarterback that's being asked to do anything in their team in the NFL," said Warner, who currently has Purdy in the top three of his MVP list. "Period, end of story."

Why Purdy won't win MVP

Of the various counterpoints to Purdy's candidacy, it's his own suggestion that McCaffrey should be the league's MVP -- which ostensibly means he's the team MVP -- that might loom largest.

Like Purdy and passing numbers, McCaffrey ranks at or near the top of the league in every major rushing and receiving category among running backs. He's first in rushing yards, scrimmage yards, yards after contact and 10-plus yard runs and tied for first in touchdowns from scrimmage.

And while Purdy's production on relatively few attempts is impressive, the Niners are still a run-first offense with McCaffrey as the do-everything fulcrum. It helps explain why coach Kyle Shanahan loathes the idea of trying to choose between his two MVP candidates.

"I don't want them to cancel each other out," Shanahan said. "But if any non-quarterback is going to get an MVP, I don't get how Christian McCaffrey can't. I mean, he's amazing in what he has done all year. If it's going to a quarterback, then I don't have to talk about Christian. I can talk about our quarterback."

McCaffrey isn't the only Niner who is brought up in the argument against Purdy. Detractors point out that Purdy is surrounded by the best supporting cast of skill players and playcaller -- Shanahan -- in the league. It's a group that includes McCaffrey, receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. That doesn't account for all-world left tackle Trent Williams, who has his own legit argument as the team's true most valuable player.

It's a notion that nobody in San Francisco, including Purdy, would deny. Purdy undoubtedly is in an ideal spot to succeed. The Niners are a dominant yards-after-catch force, posting 6.49 yards after catch per completion, which is easily the best mark in the league.

"Does he benefit from the system and the players? Of course," Kurt Warner said. "But what great quarterback doesn't? That's the thing. It just continues to dumbfound me. All great quarterbacks are surrounded by great players. You don't have Hall of Fame quarterbacks that didn't have great players around them."

There are other contenders beyond Purdy and McCaffrey, including Jackson, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. All are big names with big upcoming games that could bolster their case.

And in some ways, Purdy's efficiency could work against him. The Niners have won 10 of their 11 games by double digits, with many decided going into the fourth quarter or soon after it began. Purdy is averaging just 5.4 pass attempts (only Jackson tries fewer) and has played an average of 12.6 snaps (only Tua Tagovailoa has played fewer) in the closing quarter.

That means Purdy not only is missing out on opportunities to pile up numbers but has also had very few chances to lead the type of late and game-winning drives that might stand out to voters.

Those victories are the only thing Purdy truly covets, regardless of how they look.

"I think more than anything, just putting the team first, wanting to win more than anything and getting to where we need to be as a team," Purdy said. "That's my focus and that's my goal. It's much more than an MVP."