If Cooper Kupp Doesn't Win 2021 NFL MVP, Do WRs Even Have a Chance?

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2022

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) jogs off the field after an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
Terrance Williams/Associated Press

The year is 2042. It's the first week of January. The NFL MVP conversation has reached a fever pitch, with the odds-on favorite being…64-year-old Tom Brady, in his 42nd season.

In all seriousness, for as long as they keep giving out the award, the NFL Most Valuable Player will almost without exception be a quarterback.

Since the Associated Press first presented the award in 1957 (moving to the "Most Valuable Player" nomenclature 1961), 45 of the 66 winners have been quarterbacks. 

The voters, a panel of 50 sportswriters, overwhelmingly tend to favor offensive positions, with 63 of the past winners playing on that side of the ball. 

You likely remember the last time a non-quarterback was named NFL MVP. It was in 2012, when Adrian Peterson rumbled his way to 2,097 yards, the second-most for a running back in a single season (behind, of course, Eric Dickerson) and only the seventh time any player had broken the 2,000 mark.

The historic nature of Peterson's season, not to mention the clear value he brought to the 10-6 Vikings as he was twice named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, essentially forced the voters' hands. How could they not give the guy the award? 

The quarterback favoring that is baked into the award wasn't absent in 2012; Peterson received 30.5 votes, while Peyton Manning, in his Comeback Player of the Year season, earned 19.5.

But the panel couldn't ignore what was right in front of them: a skill-position player with a historic season. 

Fast forward to 2021. By all accounts, Aaron Rodgers has the MVP award on lock, aiming to become only the fifth player in history to win the award consecutively. He's the odds-on favorite at -400, with Brady coming in second at +500 and Joe Burrow at +1000. 

But what about the non-quarterback coming in below them at +2000? Los Angeles Rams wideout Cooper Kupp isn't just having a dominant season; he has a chance to rewrite the record books. 


NFL MVP Odds 2021, Week 18

Aaron Rodgers: -400

Tom Brady: +500

Joe Burrow: +1000

Jonathan Taylor: +1600

Cooper Kupp: +2000


If Kupp catches 12 passes in the Rams' Week 18 tilt against the San Francisco 49ers, he'll top Michael Thomas' single-season record of 149 (2019). And if Kupp amasses 136 receiving yards, he'll break Calvin Johnson's record of 1,964, set with the Detroit Lions in 2012—interestingly, both had Matthew Stafford as their quarterback. 

Perhaps it's written in the stars for Kupp, who has thrived with Stafford's addition to Sean McVay's system in L.A., to smash two single-season records. But even if he does, will it be enough to convince the voters not to give the award to a quarterback?

There's an enduring and polarizing battle at the heart of what a Most Valuable Player award means.

Some think it should go to the player who posts the gaudiest numbers in a given season. Some love to facetiously (or maybe not) argue that the award should go to quarterbacks who suffer season-ending injuries early and their teams go into a tailspin as a result. "Clearly, he's that team's most valuable player!" they'll argue. "They can't win without him!"

But Rodgers and Brady are on the other side of the equation. They've been lights-out, leading their teams into the postseason like such bright beacons.

Brady is actually leading in both passing yards (4,990) and touchdowns (40), though he's unlikely to break Peyton Manning's single-season passing yards (5,477) record, set in 2013, and he's not within striking distance of his touchdowns (55) record, also set in 2013. 

Despite Brady's statistical lead, Rodgers is the odds-on MVP favorite in part for his sheer accuracy, throwing 35 touchdown passes to just four interceptions, and the league's top QBR of 67.8. He also has two game-winning drives (the first also a fourth-quarter comeback) under his belt this season, Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers (30-28) and Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals (25-22). 

Of course, there are plenty of crucial storylines and details that go beyond the stat sheet, and that's been the case for the Packers this year.

Though Rodgers has inarguably excelled, there have been multiple games the Packers defense has won for them. Without Davante Adams in Week 8, Green Bay's defense forced three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone with under 20 seconds remaining, to help beat the undefeated Arizona Cardinals 24-21.

The unit shut out the Seattle Seahawks 17-0 in Week 10.

In a Christmas Day nail-biter, the Cleveland Browns were driving at midfield with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter with the Packers leading 24-22 when cornerback Rasul Douglas intercepted Baker Mayfield, sealing the narrow victory.  

When it comes to the MVP award, we need to think about how often that player is the clear-cut reason his team wins—and if he's outperforming everyone else at his position to boot.

Not only is Kupp the architect of many Rams wins this season; he's outperforming every wide receiver in 2021…and potentially ever! 

Kupp is flirting with solely claiming a defining historic feat: being the first player to have 2,000 or more receiving yards in a single season. At 184 targets on the year, Stafford (569 attempts) has looked to Kupp on 32 percent of his throws, far more than any other weapon (Van Jefferson is next, with 86 targets, 15 percent). 

Kupp has 10 games this season with 100-plus receiving yards; his 15 90-plus-yard games are two more than any other player in NFL history, per Turf Show Times' Kenneth Arthur (via NextGen Stats).

He's already tied former Ram Elroy Hirsch and Jerry Rice by posting 10 games of 90-plus yards and one-plus touchdown; he can break the record with his 11th if he does it against San Francisco in Week 18. If he scores two touchdowns this week for the sixth time this season, he'll join just five other players who have done that.

With his league-high 138 receptions, 1,829 yards and 15 touchdowns, Kupp is headed for the "triple crown," leading in all three categories as Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith (2005) have before him. 

When Rice had 1,848 yards and 15 touchdowns in 1995, he finished second in MVP voting. Kupp has 1,829 and 15 with one game to go.

And though Kupp himself has said "it wouldn't seem right" to break the records in a 17-game season, the fact remains that his accomplishment wouldn't come with an asterisk.

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Cooper Kupp is chasing history as the first WR to win MVP... See what he does in Week 17 on #NFLRedZone! (by @gatorade) https://t.co/Riq7ryZnt6

If we're expanding the MVP conversation beyond quarterbacks, we need to give Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor his due as well. 

Taylor has put together a monster season, leading the league in rushing yards (1,734) and rushing touchdowns (18). But he may not hit that coveted 2,000-yard mark, and he's far off LaDainian Tomlinson's rushing touchdowns record (28). 

Kupp was a lightly recruited FCS product who received zero FBS scholarship offers. He's long been regarded as "just" a slot receiver, and while he dominates on those routes, he's deadly outside the numbers too. 

Of course Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady make their teams better; they're the two best to ever do it. But when we're looking at crowning the 2021 NFL MVP, let's keep our focus on the 2021 season. When we do that, it's hard to ignore Kupp putting together one of the greatest seasons—if not the greatest—for a wide receiver. 



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