Determining the NFL’s Real MVP Candidates

There are 1,696 men on a NFL’s main roster at any given time during the football season, and they’re all eligible for the league’s highest individual honor, the Most Valuable Player award. Every year, there’s a fierce debate of who people believe will win before, during, and even after the season. Nobody can seem to figure it out, but today, I change that. I’ve developed a formula that can accurately predict the MVP of any given season, with a variable of 5-10 players. Don’t believe me? Scroll down.

Determining the NFL’s Real MVP Candidates

Special Teamers?

First thing’s first, let’s clear out all of the mess. Mark Moseley won MVP back in 1982, but I wouldn’t bet on any other placekickers winning MVP any time soon. That same logic applies to punters, pure special teamers, and long-snappers. Sorry guys, you play a vital role in the success of a NFL team, but you’re never going to get the credit you deserve. So eliminate everyone that isn’t a starter on offense or defense.

Also, they’re not really special teamers, but you’ve got to get rid of fullbacks as well. There aren’t many true fullbacks left regardless, but blocking well and catching the occasional Spider 2Y Banana pass isn’t enough to bring home the gold.

Defenders?

Speaking of defense, I wouldn’t bet on any defensive players bringing home the trophy either. A defensive player hasn’t brought home the award since Lawrence Taylor did it in 1986, and in today’s NFL, it’s harder than ever for them to make an impact. You could argue that that means they deserve it more than they ever have, but sadly some of the best players in football have to settle on winning the Defensive Player of the Year award if they want to fill up their trophy case.

Don’t believe me? Just ask J.J. Watt, who had 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 29 tackles for a loss, 10 pass deflections, and an 80 yard pick six in 2014, but watched Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t lead the NFL in passing yards or touchdowns, nor did his Green Bay Packers secure the first seed, take home the award instead. So sadly, you’ve eliminated everyone that isn’t a starter on offense.

Offensive Linemen?

Offensive linemen are some of the most important players on any team. Without an offensive line, the pretty boy quarterbacks are getting crushed and you can forget about any endzone celebrations from tailbacks because they’re getting tackled in the backfield. Games are won in the trenches, and ask any quarterback, their favorite teammates are the ones that keep them off their back. Sadly, they never get the respect or credit that they deserve either, being overshadowed by their skill position counter-parts, and even if they did, playing on the line is a group activity, so you can forget about any linemen winning MVP.

Tight Ends?

Tight ends can make or break an offense. Where would Alex Smith or Patrick Mahomes have been without Travis Kelce? How much of Tom Brady‘s recent success can we attribute to Rob Gronkowski? Even Peyton Manning trusted Dallas Clark for some of the biggest throws of his career. Tight ends are vital to offensive success, but sadly, they’re not going to win the MVP either.

Tight ends are completely dependent on quarterbacks to get them the ball, so even if someone has the best season ever for a tight end, the guy who threw him the ball will get the credit. Greg Kittle and Zach Ertz both broke the NFL record for receptions by a tight end in a single season towards the end of last season, and they weren’t even on the radar for the highest praise an individual can get during the season. Ever since Jim Brown was the first MVP back in 1957, the award has gone to someone other than a tight end, so you can go ahead and eliminate tight ends from the candidacy as well.

Wide Receivers?

You might think that with the highlight grabs and the flashy personalities, wide receivers might have a chance at taking home the award, but sadly, you’d be mistaken. For the same reasons tight ends aren’t eligible, wide receivers aren’t really in the conversation either.

If a wide receiver is having a phenomenal season, his quarterback probably is too, so he’d get the nod instead. Even in rare cases where a wide receiver has an incredible season with a mediocre quarterback, it gets swept under the rug for a reason I’ll discuss when we get to the quarterbacks. Larry Fitzgerald did, Calvin Johnson did it, DeAndre Hopkins did it, but it’s never enough to sway the vote. So while Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster might care about team MVP’s, they can forget about league MVPs.

Tailbacks?

Strangely enough, in an era where the NFL is a passing league and “runningbacks don’t matter,” a tailback can still win MVP. But it’s not easy, in fact, it’s getting harder and harder as the years go by. Over the last 20 years, four tailbacks have been able to bring home MVP, and their qualifications are the following.

1998, Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos- 2,225 all-purpose yards, 23 total touchdowns.
2005, Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks- 1,958 all-purpose yards, 28 total touchdowns.
2006, LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers- 2,343 all-purpose yards, 33 total touchdowns, total touchdowns.
2012, Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings- 2,314 all-purpose yards, 13 total touchdowns

So our four MVP backs average 2,210 all-purpose yards and 24 total touchdowns in a season, and that seems to be around where you need to be statistically to even get mentioned. But you can’t necessarily just go by all-purpose yards, because there have been 136 players to get over 2,000 yards all-purpose and obviously, the vast majority weren’t MVP.

However, there have been seven 2,000 yard rushing seasons in NFL, and four of them have taken home the prestigious award, O.J. Simpson in 1973, Barry Sanders in 1997, Davis in 1998, and Peterson in 2012. Eric Dickerson, the man who owns the NFL record for rushing yards in a season, didn’t win the award because Dan Marino also set the record for most passing touchdowns and yards that year. That’s what we call foreshadowing.

Possible Candidates

So in order for a tailback to win MVP, he would have to come close to the record for yards or touchdowns in a season, and here’s the kicker, they have to be on a winning team. Because all four of the guys I mentioned earlier? Made the playoffs. In 2016, David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals had over 2,000 yards all-purpose and 20 total touchdowns but they finished 7-8-1 so he wasn’t in the conversation.

Also! The rule about quarterbacks that applies to receivers and tight ends? Also applies to running backs. Let’s say a guy has 2,000 all-purpose but he plays with an elite quarterback? Then guess who gets the credit. But they’re not completely disqualified because it has happened. So here are the two guys I think actually have a chance.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams.

Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara are great young backs that could have monster years, but they play with quarterbacks that will steal the spotlight. Saquon Barkley is fantastic, and someone that could pull Offensive Player of the Year, but the New York Giants just don’t look like a playoff team to me, so he’s gonna miss out. There are some backs that good have pretty good years, but it’s really just those three that have a shot.

Quarterbacks?

Here’s the real meat of the MVP debate, because most of the MVPs have been quarterbacks. 41 of the 66 NFL MVPs have been quarterbacks, including 22 of the last 30. This is where the real science of the MVP debate gets thrown out the window and I start speculating.

Because as I’ve maintained, you have to make the playoffs to win MVP. O.J. Simpson was the last player to win MVP that missed the playoffs, and that was in 1973. That’s not necessarily a bias, it’s just relevant to the nature of the award. The most valuable player is probably someone making a meaningful impact in a historical way, and it’s hard to imagine a player doing that without making the playoffs.

The Rules

Not even quarterback can win MVP though, there are rules, just like there were for tailbacks. Firstly, you have to have great stats. You can win a Super Bowl without throwing for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, but you won’t win the league MVP. You either have to have a huge statistical year (4,500 yards + and at least 28 touchdowns), or be very efficient (a high completion percentage and a great touchdown to interception ratio).

Secondly, you’ve got to make the playoffs, likely not only winning the division, but by locking up either the first or the second seed. The last quarterback that won MVP that wasn’t also on the first/second seed or a division champion was Peyton Manning in 2008, and the last quarterback to win MVP without making the playoffs at all was Johnny Unitas in 1967.

Narrowing it Down

So we have to eliminate every team that we don’t think is making the playoffs this year. Sorry to all of the fanbases I’m about to offend, because it’s June and your optimism is at an all-time high. But here are the teams I’m not high on.

Derek Carr‘s Oakland Raiders.
Joe Flacco‘s Denver Broncos.
Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill‘s Tennessee Titans.
Josh Allen‘s Buffalo Bills.
Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s Miami Dolphins.
Andy Dalton‘s Cincinnati Bengals.
Matthew Stafford‘s Detroit Lions.
Kyler Murray’s Arizona Cardinals.
Jimmy Garoppolo‘s San Francisco 49ers.
Jameis Winston‘s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Eli Manning‘s New York Giants.

Then you have to eliminate the guys who could make the playoffs but aren’t statistically gifted enough to pull home a league MVP unless they undergo some kind of dramatic career transformation this off-season, which isn’t impossible, as we’ve seen with Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes.

Nick Foles‘ Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sam Darnold‘s New York Jets.
Lamar Jackson‘s Baltimore Ravens.
Mitch Trubisky’s Chicago Bears.
Dak Prescott‘s Dallas Cowboys.
Dwayne Haskins’ Washington Redskins.

Then there’s the fringe guys, these are good quarterbacks on good teams that I just don’t buy as MVP candidates at this point, for this season. I could be wrong about these guys, but I have a gut feeling that they can make it interesting, while still falling short. There are some elite quarterbacks in this group, but I have questions about their ability to put up MVP caliber numbers while leading the team to the necessary success to warrant the award.

Jared Goff‘s Los Angeles Rams.
Russell Wilson‘s Seattle Seahawks.
Cam Newton‘s Carolina Panthers.
Carson Wentz’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Kirk Cousins‘ Minnesota Vikings.
Ben Roethlisberger‘s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Baker Mayfield‘s Cleveland Browns.

And here they are. The creme de la creme, the guys I get excited about, the real MVP candidates.

Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.
Philip Rivers‘ Los Angeles Rams.
Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs.
Andrew Luck‘s Indianapolis Colts.
Deshaun Watson‘s Houston Texans.
Drew Brees‘ New Orleans Saints.
Matt Ryan‘s Atlanta Falcons.
Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.

The Final Count

After starting with nearly 1,700 players, I’ve narrowed it down to ten. One of these men will win MVP at next year’s NFL Honors ceremony. These are the elite men that will probably put up big numbers while carrying their team to incredible success. Hopefully, otherwise I did a ton of research for no reason.

10. Todd Gurley

I have my doubts about Gurley’s knees. He’s talented enough, when healthy, to be the driving force behind a dominant Los Angeles Rams team, but man, how bad is the arthritis in his knees? Before the injuries really became apparent and abruptly slowed down his season, Gurley was on pace for over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 25 total touchdowns. If he comes back in great shape and the Rams pick up where they left off, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a serious candidate, but those knees keep him out of the top nine.

9. Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers should probably be a lot higher, given his history of putting up incredible numbers, but I just don’t trust the Green Bay Packers to dominate. The NFC North is a very competitive division, and it’s not like the Packers have been one of the NFL’s better teams in recent memory. Rodgers putting up big numbers is good enough to put him on this list, but the Packers might hold him back in his trophy pursuits.

8. Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is low on this list because it’s hard for a tailback to have the kind of season he’ll need to have to win the award. Zeke has yet to play all 16 games but that hasn’t stopped him from averaging over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns a season. All it takes is the continued health of both him and his offensive line. With Amari Cooper in town, there’s a real chance he sees fewer loaded boxes and can have a great year while taking the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs.

7. Deshaun Watson

I’m a huge fan of Deshaun Watson, and with an offensive line that’s slightly improved this year, he’ll have that much more time to sling the ball around the field. The AFC South should be pretty competitive, and there’s another quarterback in his division on this list, but all that means is that the eventual AFC South champion will be the one who had to score even more points. I hope Watson balls out this year, and I think he could make a real run at MVP.

6. Matt Ryan

This one might shock some people, but Matt Ryan actually played really well last year. The Atlanta Falcons ended up going 7-9 last year, but that’s only because their entire defense, as well as big parts of their offense, were out for the entire season. Matt Ryan went off last year, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards, 35 touchdowns, and he only threw seven interceptions. If the Falcons even pretend to play defense this year, they’ll be one of the more dangerous teams in the conference. Ryan is my darkhorse MVP candidate.

5. Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers belongs in the MVP conversation, just based on how consistently he’s put up huge numbers and how good the Los Angeles Chargers look on paper. He’s got Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Melvin Gordon, and Hunter Henry to play with on offense, and his defense features Joey Bosa, Nasir Adderly, Derwin James, and other playmakers that should lead the team to the playoffs. I don’t believe Rivers will win the MVP, just because the Chargers are historically brilliant choke artists, but he should be in the conversation.

4. Andrew Luck

I think the Indianapolis Colts are probably the most dangerous team in the AFC, and as of this typing, they’re my pick to take the whole division. If that happens, it won’t be because of Marlon Mack, it’ll be Andrew Luck going ballistic. Luck is an elite quarterback on a great team, you do the math.

3. Drew Brees

The New Orleans window is closing, but it’s definitely still open for now. Brees was in the conversation alongside Mahomes during points last season before they lost steam towards the end of the year. The offense has only gotten better with the addition of Jared Cook, the tight end last seen with the Oakland Raiders, and Brees is looking to add to the NFL record for most passing yards in a career. Assuming the Saints remain the kings of the NFC South, Brees will stay in the MVP conversation.

2. Tom Brady

It’s a safe bet to assume that Tom Brady will A. be in the MVP conversation, B. be on a team that wins a ton of games, and C. be reminded of his age every time he does anything relatively impressive. I just assume Tom Brady will be in this conversation for the rest of my life and my kids will have to write about him as well. Feels bad.

1. Patrick Mahomes

And last but not least, Patrick Mahomes, the reigning MVP has to be considered the favorite to repeat. It looks like Tyreek Hill won’t be suspended, Travis Kelce is ready to make his claim to the position of best tight end in football, and Mahomes is just that more experienced than he was last year. That is… unless the Madden curse has anything to say about it.

 

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