Anyone who has followed any sport for any length of time has been exposed to lists and rankings. It is a form of sports writing that has (probably) always been around and will never go away.
Who are the top 10 quarterbacks?
What are the best 15 teams to ever play in the NFL?
Who are the 20 greatest players to ever play the game?
We humans are an inquisitive and analytical bunch, and it is not enough for us to just have our teams win championships. Instead, we want our teams to be the best ever, and we want the members of our teams to be the best to ever play their positions.
In short, we want more bragging rights.
So we form lists and rankings filled with what ifs and maybes, and we will argue until we are blue in the face and spittin' mad about the order of said list.
And guess what? Nobody will ever agree.
Nothing wrong with that though. It can be maddening at times, but it can also make for fun debate.
There is one problem, however. Most of these lists really don't matter.
Who cares if you have the "best" quarterback if your team isn't hoisting the Lombardy Trophy at the end of every year. Does it really matter if your team is better than the '85 Bears? When are those teams actually going to play?
In an effort to at least temporarily cure B/R of the "every day list," I am offering a list with a twist (isn't rhyming fun?) in hopes that it just might have at least some degree of relevance:
The NFL's Top 10 Most Valuable Offensive Players.
On the surface, this might appear to be just another every day list, but the difference lies in semantics.
In this list, you will not find the 10 best offensive players in the league. You will find the 10 players who are most important to their respective team's title chances—the players who provide their team the most value.
These are the 10 players whose teams' title hopes live and die with their health or lack thereof.
As such, there is one automatic disqualifier. No great players on bad teams will make this list. If one player can make the difference in their team winning two games or winning six, are they really that valuable? Their team is still sitting home come playoff time.
So with that, I must apologize to the Carson Palmers and Calvin Johnsons of the world. In order for a player to make this list, their team needs to at least be a contender for a playoff spot.
One quick note. This list is NOT scientific. There are too many variables that factor into a player's "value," a vague term in and of itself.
Therefore, I put together a list that is very subjective in nature, and can be torn down and reconstructed a million times without a majority of those who read it ever agreeing.
Feel free to disagree with this list, as I am most certainly wrong in more ways than one. I am probably missing players, and I have probably got some players ranked too high or too low.
Let me know, along with the rest of our "cyber friends," what you consider to be a truly valuable player, and how you would change my rankings, or if you even would.
And now that I have fully discredited myself and taken away any authority that this list may have previously had, I bring you the NFL's 10 Most Valuable Offensive Players.
10. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
When I started this list, Andre didn't make the cut. That had to be fixed.
There is no denying that Johnson is one heck of a talent, but the Texans have never made the playoffs. So by my own rules, Johnson should be disqualified, right?
I believe the Texans will make the playoffs next year for the first time in franchise history, and Johnson will be one of the main reasons why.
One of the most underrated receivers in the NFL, Andre Johnson led the league in both catches and receiving yards last year (115 for 1,575).
Although not a flashy player and not necessarily a big play threat, Johnson is extremely consistent, with 79 of his catches (68.7%) gaining first downs. Yep, he was best in the league at that too.
There is reason to doubt whether Tennessee has staying power as one of the league's best teams, Indy is continuing to get older, and Jacksonville is spiraling out of control with off the field issues.
It is not inconceivable to think that Houston has a shot at winning the AFC South next year (albeit a small one). If that happens, it will almost certainly be because Andre Johnson has another outstanding season.
Despite the loathing that I have for the jersey he wears, I wanted to put McNabb higher on this list. I really did.
There is only one reason not to, and that reason is Brian Westbrook.
Everyone knows the key to the Eagles' season year after year is the health of these two. If they are healthy, the Eagles are almost a lock for the NFC Championship game. If they are not, then the Eagles won't make the playoffs.
That being said, McNabb is the only player on this list who has a teammate that I also considered putting on the list, which begs the question. If you're one of the "10 most valuable players," and you're teammate is one of the "10 most valuable players," are either one of you really that valuable?
When looking at the other skill players these two have had around them in their time together, the answer is a resounding yes. This is particularly true of McNabb.
Since being drafted in '99, McNabb has been the most successful quarterback year after year in the NFC. Furthermore, he has had this success with little to no help from his receiving corps. Outside of a couple of years with Terrell Owens, McNabb has had a bunch of nobodies to throw the ball to.
Some will argue that McNabb has choked when it mattered most, but I vehemently disagree. If anything, he has overachieved.
The Eagles, under McNabb, have made it to the NFC Championship game five times since '99 and the Super Bowl once. Show me one person who looked at the Eagles' rosters in those years and predicted that kind of success, and I will show you a liar...or just an extreme homer.
Tony Romo has his fair share of detractors, and for good reasons. Media and fans alike (myself included) were quick to proclaim Romo as the next great Dallas Cowboys quarterback, and he has yet to live up to that billing.
However, if anyone doubts his value to the 'Boys, they need look no further than the Brad Johnson era to quickly change their mind.
In what was unquestionably Romo's worst year last year, he still finished fifth in the league in yards per game (265.2), sixth in touchdowns (26), and eighth in quarterback rating (91.4). Again, this was the worst season of his career.
How many quarterbacks would kill to say that?
Factor in the fact that his team averaged 24.7 points per game with him, while averaging only 13.7 points without him, and one thing becomes abundantly clear. The Dallas Cowboys need a healthy Romo if they are going to have a shot at the Lombardi.
The Cowboys acquired Kitna over the offseason, which should help to shore up the backup QB position should Romo miss a few weeks again this season. But make no mistake about it, the Cowboys are not a legitimate contender without their "celebrity quarterback."
7. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers proved to everybody last year how big of a joke the Pro Bowl really is when he was left sitting at home Pro Bowl weekend after an MVP caliber year.
He lead the league in both passer rating (105.5) and touchdowns (34—tied with Drew Brees), and then he brought his team back from the dead to seize a playoff spot in week 17 against the Denver Broncos.
Although his team finished the season at 8-8, they were just a couple of unlucky bounces (and whistles) away from an 11-5 or 12-4 season, and proved to be better than advertised when they knocked the Colts out of the playoffs in the Wild Card round of the playoffs
Rivers should continue to play well, and as such, the Chargers should continue to be contenders in the years to come.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
If the New Orleans Saints had a defense, Drew Brees would have had a serious argument for 2008 Most Valuable Player.
In his three years with the New Orleans Saints, he has had three of the top 25 seasons in passing yardage in NFL history, including last year when he turned in the 2nd ever 5,000-plus yard season. Only Dan Marino has ever turned in a better season.
Oh yea, he also chipped in 34 touchdowns for good measure, and he didn't even have a truly legit No. 1 receiver with Marques Colston out with an injury for much of the year. With more than 5,000 yards last year, Brees still did not have a 1,000 yard receiver.
There is still a good chance that New Orleans won't have a good defense next year. But defense or no defense, Drew Brees always gives his team a chance to win.
This is not a typo. Tom Brady barely squeaked his way into the top five of my list, but by no fault of his own.
Brady is, in my opinion, the best quarterback currently playing the game, and is one of the top five of all time. Hands down.
Brady is as low as he is on this list because of Bill Belichick. The guy might be an ass, and some will even say he is a cheater (*), but the man can flat out coach. How else do you explain a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school taking Tom Brady's Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008.
That team should have been in the playoffs, and from there anything could have happened. Just ask the Cardinals.
Matt Cassell's Patriots were not as pretty to watch as Brady's, but they still got the job done. They were still a great team.
Had Brady not gone down last season, I would probably have him as number one on this list. Unfortunately, he did go down, and because of that we learned once again that Belichick can overcome the loss of seemingly anyone.
Still, Brady is at worst a top two quarterback in the league, and is one of the best postseason quarterbacks this game has ever seen.
4. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
Even I was surprised when I was reading back through this list and saw that Michael Turner was as high as he is.
However, when you really step back and look at it, it is impossible to put him any lower.
Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan got all the pub last year, but it was Turner who truly deserved all the love. The Falcons were one of the most surprising teams in 2008, and they have Turner to thank for it.
The Falcons, who finished as the 26th ranked rushing team in 2007 (95 ypg), were the second-ranked rushing team in 2008 (152.7 ypg). The difference? Michael Turner.
While Ryan certainly had a very impressive rookie campaign, he did not finish in the top 10 in yardage, touchdowns, or quarterback rating. Turner, on the other hand, finished second in rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns (1,699 and 17 respectively), and he only fumbled the ball three times.
If you want to understand how the Falcons improved from 4-12 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008, or if you are looking for a reason they might be a legitimate contender in 2009, look no further than the man carrying the rock.
Peyton Manning is a beast, simply put. He is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, and he is without question a first ballot Hall of Famer.
He is already seventh in the league in career passing yardage, fifth in completions, fourth in touchdowns, and currently has the second best career passer rating to only Steve Young.
He has led his team to six consecutive 12-win seasons, the first quarterback (or team for that matter) to ever accomplish the feat. He has also accomplished this while never playing with a particularly strong defense.
Dude is good. Don't even argue it.
But perhaps Manning's greatest value is not even his play on the field, but his smarts. Having Manning as your quarterback is essentially like having another coach on the field.
It can be argued that there is no other quarterback in the history of the NFL who was better than Manning at reading defenses and reacting.
Adrian Peterson is like Michael Turner, except that he does not even have a serviceable quarterback.
Put quite simply, Peterson is the Minnesota Vikings offense.
It is remarkable enough that the guy finished at the top of all running backs with 1,760 yards rushing in only his second year in the league. But when you look at who was throwing the ball (Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson) and who was catching the ball (Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian), it is even more impressive.
Peterson spent much of his season facing eight man fronts because the rest of his offense was so inept, but that still didn't slow him down. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and the Vikings finished 12th in scoring offenses despite the lack of talent surrounding AD.
Adrian Peterson is the absolute only reason the Vikings even sniffed the postseason, and will be their only major weapon to help them get back there next season.
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
In my opinion, it is pretty hard for a wide receiver to make this kind of list, and damn near impossible for them to top it. Wide receivers generally just do not get enough touches to make the kind of impact that would warrant labeling them as one of the most valuable players in the league.
Larry Fitzgerald is the exception to the rule.
As good as he was in the regular season, he was even better in the postseason, and he had the Cardinals just a few bad defensive plays away from winning their first ever Super Bowl.
He proved that it is possible for a receiver to load his team on his back and carry them to the promised land.
Sure, Kurt Warner was great, but he was great in part because Fitz was indefensible. In the playoffs, Fitzgerald averaged 136.5 yards receiving per game for a total of 546 yards on 30 catches and seven touchdowns.
The next best receiver was Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes, who had 13 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs (75.3 ypg average).
That is domination, and that is why Larry Fitzgerald is the most valuable player in the game today. He made the Arizona Cardinals—repeat, the Arizona Cardinals—into a very legitimate Super Bowl contender.