Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown has been red hot the past few weeks. He has been hot enough that people are starting to ask if he can win NFL MVP this season.
I understand why he’s getting mentioned. And I have nothing against Brown, who I touted for MVP before last season. But Brown isn’t winning MVP. History tells us that.
First, we have to recognize that voters have a very specific criteria. Basically, you have to be a quarterback or a record-setting running back. Over the last 23 seasons, dating back to Emmitt Smith’s win in 1993, there have been 25 Associated Press MVP winners (it was split twice). Here is the breakdown:
• 19 quarterbacks
• 3 running backs who set an NFL single-season touchdown record (Marshall Faulk in 2000, Shaun Alexander in 2005 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006)
• 3 running backs who rushed for 2,000 yards (Barry Sanders in 1997, Terrell Davis in 1998 and Adrian Peterson in 2012)
Unless you check one of those three boxes, you’re not winning an MVP. When Aaron Rodgers won the 2014 NFL MVP over J.J. Watt, it was a clear signal that you have to be a quarterback (or in rare cases, a historic running back) to win the award. Watt had one of the greatest seasons ever for a defender, and even played some offense. He couldn’t have possibly done more. Rodgers was great too, but not historically so. It wasn’t the type of season that had to win MVP. Watt clearly deserved the award. That vote let everyone know that if you have MVP dreams, you better play quarterback.
Like the running backs who have won the award, perhaps a receiver could win it if he set some records. I don’t think Brown will get there, even though he’s having a great season. Brown is averaging 108 yards per game, which isn’t even his career best (that was 114.6 in 2015). He’s on pace for 117 catches, which would only be his third-best season. His pace of 12 touchdowns wouldn’t be a career high either and nowhere near a record.
That’s not to say a 117-1,728-12 season wouldn’t be worthy of consideration. I think it would be fun to have some players from other positions win. I’m just telling you that it would be the second-biggest outlier in the history of the award (kicker Mark Moseley won in 1982, and that will never be topped).
No receiver has ever won NFL MVP, not even the great Jerry Rice. It goes even deeper than that. The last time a receiver got a single vote for MVP was 1998 (Randy Moss got four). There are 50 voters every year and each one only lists his sole MVP pick on his ballot. Before Moss, Jerry Rice in 1995 was the last receiver to get a vote (this is from MVPvoting.com, which has historic vote totals). So starting in 1996, receivers have gotten four of 1,034 votes (four years in that stretch didn’t have exactly 50 voters). That is 0.4 percent. And none of the 898 votes over the past 18 years have been for a receiver. And you think Brown will win when quarterbacks Tom Brady, Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson are legitimate candidates?
One of these years a non-quarterback might win, and it would probably need to be in a year in which no quarterback stood out. It would be good for the sport if MVP was spread around a bit. But once Watt didn’t win a few years ago, it became tougher to believe that would happen. Brown does deserve inclusion in the conversation and the debates are fine, but history tells us he has no real shot of winning. That’s too bad.
Here are this week’s rankings for the NFL awards:
1. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady — I laid out the argument for him last week. Brown’s biggest problem in the MVP race is Brady is having a truly incredible season.
2. Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz — I still have him ahead of the guy at No. 3, but the gap is closing.
3. Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson — The Seahawks are 8-4. What would they be without Wilson? Would this be a four-win team? Worse? If you’re going with the strict definition of most valuable (which I hate), then you can make a good argument for Wilson. Wilson could really make a push with a big game this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars’ fantastic defense.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown — I don’t think he’ll win but he should be on a short list. His performance on Monday night, when it was unclear if he’d even play with a bad toe but then had 101 yards and a game-tying touchdown, was remarkable.
5. Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff — I’m fine with any argument that Todd Gurley should rank ahead of Goff but, again, look at all the history above.
Defensive Player of the Year: I’m still hoping a cornerback wins because there have been some great ones this season, and cornerbacks get about the same respect for this award as non-QBs get for MVP. Xavier Rhodes of the Minnesota Vikings, who just held Julio Jones to two catches and 24 yards, almost made the list this week.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey
2. Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald
3. Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
Coach of the Year: If the Los Angeles Chargers come back to win the AFC West, we’ll have to at least consider Anthony Lynn. He’s a rookie head coach who had to navigate a franchise relocation and then an 0-4 start. To keep his team focused through all of that is very impressive. But he’s not there yet.
1. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick
2. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay
3. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton
Offensive Rookie of the Year: This is moving toward being a surprisingly easy vote. New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are one of the NFL’s most productive running back duos in more than 30 years, and it might be the most productive ever. Just imagine Kamara’s production if he wasn’t splitting time.
2. Kansas City Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt
3. Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette
Defensive Rookie of the Year: New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore missed his second straight game, but that doesn’t affect his ranking here yet. He has been the best rookie defender by far.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt
3. Buffalo Bills CB Tre’Davious White
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