Take Tuesday: The NFL MVP Debate
Arthur W Mueller
The NFL regular season has ended which means that it is time to argue over who should be the league MVP. Anybody who knows me knows that I love to argue over meaningless things like the MVP award, but I just don’t have the energy this year. The NFL season took a lot out of me. Many games felt like they were a chore to watch. This was especially true for Thursday Night Football. Nobody really rose to the top as an MVP candidate. Every candidate has strong points and flaws. Basically every MVP debate ever is a debate over the meaning of the MVP award, not a debate over the actual players themselves. Is the MVP the player with the most impressive stats? Is the MVP the best player on the best team? Is the MVP the best player in the game over multiple seasons? Does the MVP have to be a quarterback? Can the MVP be a defensive player? Since there isn’t a clear answer to these questions I will present to you my list of the candidates for the MVP award. Just being in this conversation is an accomplishment and all of the players on this list had great seasons and should be really proud of themselves. Without further ado, here is my list.
• Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens – Justin Tucker had a great season. Justin Tucker is the best player at his position. Justin Tucker is a kicker. Kickers don’t win MVP awards.
• David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals running back is the random guy that advanced analytic people love. His special category was yards from scrimmage, which is the sum of rushing yards and receiving yards. David Johnson led the league in yards from scrimmage and even more impressively, he had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first fifteen games of the season, before leaving the final game of the season early with an injury. He was consistently great all season. However, the Arizona Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs, and there hasn’t been an MVP on a non-playoff team since O. J. Simpson in 1973. Johnson’s yardage from scrimmage, while league leading, is not particularly noteworthy. It would take a record-breaking performance for a running back on a non-playoff team to be the league MVP; Johnson’s 2016 performance is only the 40th highest yards from scrimmage total of all time. Johnson had a great season, but it wasn’t enough to overcome his team’s mediocrity. David Johnson is a fantasy football MVP, not a real life MVP.
• Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys – Prescott started every game at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and compiled a 13-3 record, earning the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys might have been the biggest story of the season and that is what Prescott’s case is based around. No quarterback won more games in 2016. The problem is, Prescott doesn’t have the stats to back up his win-loss record and he had a lot of help from the Cowboys’ running game. 3667 yards passing and 23 touchdowns is not going to win an MVP in 2016. The Cowboys’ success can be attributed to Ezekiel Elliott, another MVP candidate.
• Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers – Le’Veon Bell was great when he played, but a three game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy prevented him from leading the league in any major statistic. Bell was also active for the Steelers’ four game losing streak in the middle of the season; the Steelers were only 8-4 with him in the lineup. He had a great game in Buffalo when Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play well, but just because he’s a great running back doesn’t mean he should be the MVP.
• Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers had some brilliant moments in 2016. He led the league with 40 touchdown passes. He also had some bad moments. While the Packers defense was not great all season, the fact remains; Aaron Rodgers only won ten games this season. Ten game winning quarterbacks rarely win MVP awards. Aaron Rodgers is also a previous MVP. People have gotten used to his high level of performance. They would need to see something truly special to give Aaron Rodgers the award again. It also doesn’t help that Aaron Rodgers typically doesn’t throw for a large amount of yards. He’s never thrown for 5000 yards in an era where many other quarterbacks have. This leaves him in a no mans land in terms of producing MVP level stats. He doesn’t have the volume to amass the yardage necessary to lead the league in stats like passing yards, but he has too much volume to lead the league in any of the rate stats. In 2016, Rodgers was not as efficient as Tom Brady, and he wasn’t as prolific as Matt Ryan or Drew Brees. Leading the league in touchdown passes and winning ten games probably isn’t enough for the MVP.
• Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders – The Raiders’ quarterback won twelve games in his third season in the league, but he never put up the stats that an MVP award requires. Even when you account for Carr missing the final game of the season, his stats don’t put him on par with some of the other quarterbacks in the MVP discussion. The biggest argument for Derek Carr is that the Raiders were really good when he was playing and really bad when he wasn’t. I don’t think you should win an MVP award for being better than Matt McGloin. If you replaced Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan with Matt McGloin, their teams would probably also be much worse.
• Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys – Elliott led the NFL in rushing, racking up over 1600 yards on the ground behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Elliott should win rookie of the year, but it is hard to see a running back winning the MVP award in today’s NFL absent a truly spectacular season. Elliott can’t claim that all of the success the Cowboys had was his doing. The whole team played well. Elliott’s case is especially hampered by how good his offensive line was. The bottom line is, in today’s NFL, a running back probably needs to rush for 2000 yards to win an MVP award.
• Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan quietly had an amazing season in 2016. He led the league in passer rating, he was second in passing yards and touchdowns, third in completion percentage, and he led the Falcons to an eleven win season and a first round bye. If you just look at the numbers, Matt Ryan should be the MVP, but I don’t know if he the storyline that people are looking for. He’s never won a Super Bowl, and he’s never been viewed as an elite quarterback. He’s relatively obscure; my mom doesn’t know who he is. He should be the MVP, but will he be?
• Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots – Our final candidate is the best player on the best team in the league. Tom Brady went 11-1 as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, overcoming key injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Tom Brady’s four game suspension prevented him from piling up the stats the way other quarterbacks did, ordinarily, that would knock him out of the conversation for MVP, but it’s important to remember that his suspension was unjust and Tom Brady did nothing wrong. Under these circumstances, there is no better way to stick it to Roger Goodell than giving Tom Brady the MVP award. That’s why Tom Brady is my 2016 NFL MVP.
Now, here are my picks for the NFL playoffs.
Wild Card Round
Pittsburgh beats Miami
Oakland beats Houston
Seattle beats Detroit
New York beats Green Bay
Pittsburgh beats Kansas City
New England beats Oakland
Seattle beats Atlanta
New York beats Dallas
New England beats Pittsburgh
New York beats Seattle
New York beats New England