What Does NFL “MVP” Really Mean?

Will Matt Ryan Win the NFL's MVP Award?

The 6th Annual NFL Honors will take place on February 4th and among the awards will be the announcement of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).  There’s only one problem: we can’t seem to agree on who that should be.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan seems to be the favorite, but with no true standout player in the 2016 season, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of players involved in the MVP conversation.  Tom Brady seems to be Ryan’s main competition for the award, along with Aaron Rodgers, who wasn’t even in the conversation a month ago but closed out the regular season on one of the hottest streaks we’ve ever seen.  It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Cowboys Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott receive votes either- you can find reputable people arguing for both.  Adam Schein, one of the 50 voters for the NFL awards, has announced that he voted for Derek Carr.  Back in mid-December, there were cases being made for Matthew Stafford, LeVeon Bell, and David Johnson as well.

That’s nine guys in MVP talks deep into the season- what gives?  Again, no one blew everyone else out of the water, leaving much up to debate.  However, it’s tough to reach a conclusion through debate when you don’t even know what’s being argued.

The award is for the league’s most valuable player, but nowhere is there a specific definition for what that really means.  Is the MVP the best overall player in the league, or the player that means the most to his team?  Does the MVP have to come from one of the NFL’s best teams?  While traditionally the award is given to a member of a great team, some will oppose this because that kind of success requires much more than a single star player.  If a whole team is stacked, there is no way it can have the league MVP.  However, there are others that argue the opposite- an MVP must be on a great team because without a strong record, you can’t say a player had the kind of impact worthy of the award.

This is the primary reason why David Johnson doesn’t stand a chance despite having one of the better resumes of the nine candidates.  Johnson led the league with 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns, and combined for over 100 rushing and receiving yards in each of his first 15 games before leaving the season finale with an injury.  Despite this, the NFL is a results-oriented league, and the Cardinals’ disappointing 7-8-1 season kept attention away from Johnson.

Contributing to the confusion surrounding the 2016 NFL MVP have been a pair of interesting circumstances.  Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season as a result of the Deflate-gate scandal.  After his return, Brady played arguably the best football of his career and set an NFL record with a 28:2 TD/Int ratio while the Patriots finished the year with the NFL’s best record at 14-2.  Supporters will argue Brady was the league’s best player when he was on the field, and it’s certainly an argument you can make.  However, many see Brady’s four-game absence as a disqualifier.  You certain aren’t providing value if you aren’t on the field, and Brady missed a quarter of the season.  Can you miss time and win the MVP?  If so, how much time?

2016 also saw the Dallas Cowboys achieve an incredible 13-3 record behind two stellar rookies, the aforementioned Prescott and Elliott.  The duo had a seamless transition into the league, and each entered the MVP race for their remarkable play.  However, ask which one is more deserving of MVP (and Rookie of the Year, for that matter) and you’ll get mixed opinions.  If neither player established himself as the best man on his own team, how could either win the award?

Football isn’t like some sports where one player has the ability to single-handedly dominate a game.  For a wide receiver to get a receiving touchdown, for example, the center must have a good snap, the offensive line and often other personnel must pick up their blocks to prevent the pass rush, and then the quarterback must identify the open man and deliver a catchable pass.  It’s a far call from just letting Kobe Bryant go to work.

Because of this, there is no individual stat that measures a player’s contributions to their team, such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball.  A better comparison would be to soccer, where every year the Ballon d’Or is given to the year’s best player.  However, in soccer, only a handful of clubs in the world are capable of producing a Ballon d’Or winner, and determining the top competitors and winner isn’t too difficult- the award has gone to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in each of the last nine years.

When I analyze MVP candidates, there’s one main question I’m looking to answer: based on this season’s performances alone, if I had to construct a football team to win a single game, who would my first pick be?  Numbers speak for themselves, and statistics make up a large portion of a player’s argument.  However, there are other factors to be considered.  Since the goal is simply to win, a candidate’s record is important, but there isn’t any certain requirement for victories, and wins alone won’t get the job done.  You have to consider the team as a whole- while evaluating a quarterback, you can’t just look at their backs and receivers.  The strength of a team’s offensive line has huge effects on the ability of the QB to work his magic, and the defense and special teams determine how many points the offense must score to win the game and the offense’s starting field position.

Something you can’t overlook is consistency- a player can go off for a few incredible games, but an MVP is someone who week in, week out delivers greatness, rarely if ever having a poor performance.  You’re always confident they can get the job done against anyone.

As for time missed due to injuries or suspensions, it’s difficult to draw a line where a player has been out for too long.  You have to remember, though, that the player can’t provide value from the sidelines.  If someone legitimately misses time (not just being rested in week 17), anything more than a single game would drastically diminish their chances in my eyes, and if they are out, they must be able to put up comparable numbers to other candidates in their limited action.  If this player isn’t a clear standout, I’m likely to go with someone who played consistently for longer.  Ultimately, though, everyone has their own opinions on what the MVP should be, which is why there are 50 voters to make sure all opinions are heard.

To hear my personal take on the MVP candidates, learn who my vote for MVP goes to, and see my picks for several of the other NFL awards, stay tuned- it’s coming later today.


Readers Comments (1)

  1. Good analysis and now you’re leaving us with a tease. Good ploy!


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