What Makes an NFL MVP?

Paul PreibisiusAnalyst INovember 27, 2009

As the NFL season starts ramping towards its playoff push, award conjectures start to crop up all over the place, especially in article-submitted locales such as Bleacher Report.  But what constitutes an MVP?  How are arguments and favorites created?  What is the ultimate deciding factor?

In other sports it can be much easier to discern, baseball mostly excuses pitchers from MVP voting because of the Cy Young (from 1987 to now only one, Dennis Eckersley in 1992).  We can therefore look to the combination of the same four stats each year to p decide it, it is about how a player handles himself at the plate—defense and quality of player interaction don't weigh in heavily.  Basketball is similarly placed where an individual talent can be simply looked at statistically and probably determined without ever watching that fellow play.

Football is much tougher.  We know weight is given to offense before defense—though it is not impossible for a defensive player to win the award.  If things stand as they are at present, Elvis Dummervil of Denver is on pace for 20 1/3 sacks.  With a team not particularly thought of as a defensive juggernaut, to go with a better than expected team record, how come this name is not mentioned in MVP circles alongside Jared Allen (and his pace for 16.8 sacks)?  Allen is a great player, probably even a better player.  Yet with a superior supporting cast he has the weaker numbers.

Ahh well, let us ignore the sack-totals for now.  Tackles and interceptions are even more rarely used as a primary tool for deciding a league mvp.  This is understandable as the differences in separation have been much smaller.  Darren Sharper’s Seven picks are one behind the leader (Jairius Byrd of Buffalo), and his renaissance has been heavily factored into New Orleans defensive improvement. 

Tackles are even more difficult with seven guys in a span between 86 and 101 tackles at this point.  Though you rarely see the leaders Curtis Lofton (101) and Patrick Willis (96) in any mvp arguments.  So we can eliminate tackles as a probable source.

Ultimately the few names in the running on this side of the football just don’t have the absolutely gaudy statistics required to overcome the offensive bias in MVP voting.  If Darren Sharper keeps turning his picks into points all on his own, or Jared Allen makes use of his capacity for a monster single game, either one could dark horse into the top five, but none will do better than fourth this year.

Next we stride along to the flash and sizzle of what the NFL wants to sell—offense.  This is broken into passing yards/completion percentage/QB rating, receiving yards and receptions, rushing yards/yards per carry, and everyone shares that old favorite, the touchdown. 

It would be fine to leave it at that if the award was accredited to the most statistically superior player.  Peyton Manning is on pace for 5072 yard to end the year, Brett Favre leads quarterback rating at 112.1, touchdowns are a wash at this point with six guys between 20 and 22.  Assuming everyone keeps the same pace they are on it is a matter of Manning’s roughly 1,100 yard advantage (Favre is on pace for 3986) to Favre’s 9.4 point higher rating.  This gives Manning the MVP award from a pure statistical outlook.

Except we then have to cope with Chris Johnson and his pace for 1987 yards on the year.  As a player who is seeing his rushing totals going up, that could easily end up eclipsing 2,000 which would warrant a statistical argument on his behalf. 

The closest competition at running back is from Steven Jackson and Adrian Peterson, both looking to end around the 1,600 yard mark, not enough to dent Manning’s 5,000 or Johnson’s flirtation with 2,000. 

Reggie Wayne is the closest wideout statistically, on pace for 120 catches for nearly 1,600 yards with 12.8 TD’s.  Should he continue that pace he would statistically keep up with Johnson and Manning.

Now that we have narrowed it to basically three guys, we will take the cold hard facts and start molding them a la voting considerations with the less concrete factors.  The media darling-ness is factor number one.  Right now the ‘sexy’ teams are the Vikings and Saints, so we look to Jared Allen again, Adrian Peterson again, the silver fox himself, return to Sharper, and now must add Drew Brees into the equation.  Sharper is the instant elimination here, he is a great player but not the guy reporters jam mic’s in front of.

Jared Allen is very media friendly.  He is the only real chance at a defensive player getting league MVP because of this, Jared Allen sells.  Is this enough to outweigh the other factors, probably not but it will get him a few slots higher in total mvp voting than probably warranted.  Now we have Adrian Peterson. 

He is much more interesting to those with microphones and flashbulbs than Chris Johnson, the Vikes are the team everyone outside of cheeseland are rooting for, and he’s been ‘the guy’ in the purple palace for several years now. 

Favre, the final of the Minnesota trio, is media mecca.  Whether people love him or hate him, the guy would be a hot media sell even as an average player, throw in the inexplicable year no one would have guessed and you have the recipe for media frenzy.  While good sells, the biggest media hurdle in the way of AP or mr. mullet would be Favre, and beyond any other guy, wins the sexy pick here.

After the pure media rigamarole, we also must deal with the fact that past considerations weigh in on present seasons.  In the last twelve years there have been only two repeat mvp’s, and both times they were given the title as co-mvps.  Ironically two of the main names in consideration, Favre and Manning, are those two players. 

Favre’s distant MVP past and troubles last season serve as a benefit to him fro a historical regard.  Manning, with another MV award last year, will be hampered on this front.  He may also be hurt by the precedent an NFL first fourth MVP award would set. 

Drew Brees stands to be helped the most from his past season, where his 5,000 yards were mvp numbers yet he did not take home the award.  With media attention ramping up in New Orleans, it would appear he will be able to run close enough to the others in media attention and stats, that this one factor could tilt the bar his way. 

Record is another indicator used with MVP’s.  Drew Brees ended a monster personal season with an average 8-8 record, the result was a Peyton Manning award.  This year Chris Johnson looks to have the best chance of any non quarterback to take home the award, but his Titans are still working out of an 0-6 hole to start the year. 

8-8 will be a great accomplishment for the team at this point, but it will not help Chris Johnson’s case for the award.  Short of an undefeated 10-6, he falls by the wayside to quarterbacks helming teams looking at deep playoff runs.   The Saints, Vikings, and Colts have one loss among the entire group.  This astounding number puts in squarely back into the court of Favre/Brees/Manning.

The final, most subjective matter is where would the team be without them ? Given an average replacement guy taking the helm, what would the team do?  A name not mentioned yet here, but probably going to crack the top five- Tom Brady, is a good example. 

He is a great leader and valuable of course.  But if the Patriots go 12-4 this year pundits will hurt his chances with the idea that he only improved the team by one win.  Favre is simultaneously helped and hindered by last year. 

team will likely improve by a minimum of three games (10-6 to 13-3) probably four.  This is significant (and something Brady cannot do).  But they still were a division winning playoff team last year with Jackson behind center.  The Saints had Drew Brees (and basically the same receiving corps) and put together an 8-8 season. 

Peyton Manning is the wildcard.  Everything about Indi without him is subjective, he didn’t play elsewhere, he didn’t miss time, and the Colts did fine last year.  Yet one must contend that with one team sporting three candidates, neither one of those three is quite as indispensible.  With a host of injuries and a turnover at head coach, Manning has continued his winning ways.  I do not think a Matt Cassel situation happens in Indi with Peyton Manning on the bench. 

Ultimately I think the race will be close between Manning/Brees/and Favre, none of the non-quarterbacks possibilities have enough to catch up to the value (as well as mvp positional bias) that these three present.  When it all wraps up, Favre will win comeback player of the year as an attempt at making up for Peyton Manning edging out Drew Brees for his fourth MVP award. 


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