With NFL Playoffs just a couple weeks away, the football world begins to discuss one of its hottest and most debated topics: who is worthy of the coveted MVP Award?
While the award winner will not be announced until the Saturday before the Super Bowl, MVP voters will be voting the week after the regular season ends, which means playoff performance will not be a factor in who wins it.
So, who deserves it? Is it Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who missed the first four games due to suspension, and whose team went 3-1 without him? Is it Aaron Rodgers, who began his season 4-6 and had people just a few weeks asking if this was the end of his prime? Is it rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, who have a stellar system around them? Maybe Derek Carr, who has had a few forgettable performances and who also has a fantastic offensive unit. These are your five frontrunners it seems. But here’s my question about this list: why do we feel like we HAVE to give it to a quarterback?
This is a question that is brought up every year. It is the growing idea that the NFL MVP award is now a quarterback award. And we are merely waiting for one quarterback to stand above the rest. But it’s okay, because when (every so often) we don’t have a quarterback stand out, we give it to the best running back. That’s fair right? No. In the past 30 years, only nine non-quarterbacks have won the MVP award (one of those winners still shared a co-MVP award with a quarterback). To further hammer this point in, of those nine winners, eight of them were running backs. The last non-quarterback and non-running back to win the award was in 1986, when linebacker Lawrence Taylor won it.
But here’s where it gets more damning: since the awards debut in 1957, only three non-quarterbacks and non-running backs have won the award. Those were Lawrence Taylor (linebacker), Mark Moseley (kicker), and Alan Page (defensive tackle). No receivers, tight-ends, defensive ends, corners, safetys, linemen, or punters have ever won the award. Why? Because defensive players aren’t stars, and typically if a receiver or a tight-end has a good year, it is covered up by the year their quarterback had.
But the brokenness of the award doesn’t stop there. In fact, most analysts do not even agree with the criteria. MVP stands for “most valuable player.” Does this mean the most valuable player on a team? Or does it mean the best player in the league that year? If we go by the former, it would be hard to argue against a quarterback. But with the latter, it almost feels lazy to say so. Considering each position has their own job, how can you exactly measure how someone is doing? It’s possible, just ask Pro Football Focus (PFF). Yet while PFF has their own grading system, most sports pundits (and voters) do not. It essentially is a cop-out to award it to a quarterback, as really digging into how someone performed as a defensive player comparatively is much more difficult than looking for the quarterback (AKA the position the sport is now almost built around) who played better than, say, the other quarterbacks.
Unfortunately, the award, along with the game of football, is stuck in-between evolution. We are seeing more of a passing-first league. Quarterbacks today are doing things weekly that were never heard of before. In 1980 there was a total of 54 300+ yard passing days. Last year there was 133. Here’s another statistic: between 1990 and 2000, quarterbacks passed for 30+ touchdowns 20 times. Between 2010 and 2015. 41 quarterbacks accomplished the same feat. In fact, since 2010 six quarterbacks have thrown 40 or more touchdowns, a feat accomplished one time in the entire 1990’s decade. Dan Marino shattered the single-season passing touchdown record in 1984 with 48 touchdowns, something thought of as impossible at the time. That record took 20 years to break. And between 2004 and 2013, it was broken three times.
But hold on now, it gets worse. The NFL is an entertainment business, which means it is trying to put the most entertaining product on the field. This is nice for consumers, but unfortunate for the game. As time has gone on, we’ve seen rule changes made to specifically benefit the offense. A prime example is the five-yard rule with corners. A cornerback covering a receiver can hit and be physical with him for up to five yards. Receivers get five 1/2. It may seem like a small amount, but leverage and positioning is everything in “a game of inches” like football. Not to mention receivers on average are larger than corners, which is a mismatch in itself.
The days of good defensive games are gone. The best games of the season typically are not low-scoring affairs, but rather games where there are tons of points put up; “shoot-outs” as they are called.
Gaudy passing numbers are fun to look at, and even more fun to watch. But where is the consideration for, say, the Cowboys or Raiders offensive linemen? Receiver Odell Beckham? Safety Eric Berry? Where’s the talk of the most dominant linebacker winning it? Typically when we have a dominant defensive effort, like JJ Watt in 2014, a quarterback has done just enough to snatch it away, despite that quarterback not doing anything truly remarkable comparatively.
It’s a shame, but it’s how the award works. And on February 4th, a quarterback or running back will win the award. If it goes to this group, it should go to running back David Johnson for the Cardinals, who has had a phenomenal season despite playing for a weaker team this year. Nonetheless however, this group of players most likely doesn’t deserve the award. But it will go to them. It almost always does.