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The 2014 NFL MVP: The most valuable player in the NFL... OOPS, I mean the best Quarterback
So who's the most valuable player...er... QB in the NFL?
Since 1986, quarterbacks have won the NFL MVP an outrageous twenty-two times. Quarterbacks are the orchestrators of their offense, the captains of their teams, and the face of the league. There’s no doubt their value is on a different level when compared to the rest of the 53 man roster. Look at the great teams throughout the Super Bowl era. Green Bay has had three elite quarterbacks, each have won at least one Super Bowl. Dallas had Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman and won five Super Bowls between them. The only team to ever win six Super Bowls, the Pittsburgh Steelers has had two Hall of Fame level quarterbacks that are 6-1 in the big game. Yet as dominant as the Steelers were in the 70’s and have been recently, they were just as awful before that era and just as pedestrian from the 80’s through the 90’s. As great as San Francisco was in a two decade span starting in the early 80’s, where they won five Super Bowls, the team had been subpar since its inception. From 1946 to 1980 the 49ers never won a championship, they never appeared in the Super Bowl, and had a record of 211 wins and 240 losses. Joe Montana took over as the full time starting quarterback in 1981 and Steve Young was his successor a decade later. In just a 14 year span the 49ers won their 5 super bowls. And in their combined 18 years of starting for San Francisco, Joe and Steve won 207 regular season games. That’s just four less than what the team posted before the Hall of Famers arrived.
What’s the point? Quarterbacks are the most valuable position in the NFL and perhaps all of sports. While football is possibly the most team oriented team sport on the planet, the guy throwing the rock still dictates the success of the team. Teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Minnesota would sell their souls to the devil to have one decade long Hall of Fame quarterback under center for their respective teams. Of course the QB isn’t the only position that takes the team to the promise land; the Bengals, Bills, and Eagles have all had fantastic quarterback play with no Super Bowls to show for it. But the underlining fact of the NFL is simple; get your quarterback, then build around him.
So it’s no wonder the MVP is handed out to quarterbacks like fun-sized candy on Halloween. But something needs to change. In 2012 the MVP race was neck and neck between a QB who just went through massive neck surgery and a running back that virtually carried his team all year. Peyton Manning was getting older, moving on from being an Indianapolis Colt to a bucking Bronco in Denver. He proved doubters wrong about his health and instantly re-vitalized the Broncos into one of the most formidable teams in the NFL. Peyton threw a notable 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns with 11 picks. All of those numbers weren’t as impressive as what he just posted this past season in 2014, a year in which Peyton wasn’t even in the discussion for the MVP. Meanwhile Adrian Peterson was posting an MVP caliber season of his own in Minnesota. With a no name quarterback and a talentless offense, AP put up one of the best seasons for a running back in NFL history. He lifted his team to the post season with incredible play week in and week out. Down the stretch of the season Peterson willed his team to victory and he capped it off with an incredible 199 yard performance against the Packers to solidify his team into the playoffs. Adrian ended the season with 2,097 rushing yards, second best all time and just 8 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s record. The fact that there was a debate about who would win the MVP all the way up to the night of NFL Honors is ludicrous. Thankfully Peterson got the award that night, he deserved it. Manning would get his fifth MVP the following year, he deserved it then.
So again, what’s the point? In 2012 Adrian Peterson completely ran away with the MVP award in the eyes of football fans, most analysts, former players, and my own. However Peterson got 30 and a half votes to Manning’s 19 and a half out of 50. Often times, like in 2011 and 2013 the final count is something like 49 for the winner. So even though he completed one of the great running back campaigns in the history of the game, Peterson’s MVP vote was to close for comfort. J.J. Watt is this year’s Adrian Peterson, except he didn’t win. Running backs line up right behind the QB, and that’s where they stand in MVP tallies as well. While quarterbacks win MVPs like Germany wins medals in the Luge (that’s a Winter Olympic sport by the way), running backs are right behind in MVP victories. However for Watt, as a defensive player, trying to win an MVP award is becoming a pipedream. There are better chances of snapping a photo of the Loch Ness monster and Big Foot having tea on a yacht then seeing a defensive player hoist the MVP award. J.J. Watt’s 2014 season was perhaps the best legitimate shot for defensive player to win the MVP since Lawrence Taylor won it back in 1986. On every level Watt truly overwhelmed. From the stat sheet to the eye test to the game changing plays to the inconceivable consistency, J.J Watt killed it every week all season long. He played his heart out from start to finish and was in the running for MVP the whole year. But sadly, it really doesn’t seem to matter how great he is or how great his season was, as long as he’s on the defensive side of the ball he may never win it.
Allen Page won the MVP in 1971 and Lawrence Taylor won in 1986. But that’s it; no other defensive players have won the award. To clarify the MVP award has been around since before the Super Bowl. And although there is confusion around what year it actually started and what the name of the award was 50+ years ago, there’s no doubt that since 1961 only two defensive players have taken home the prize. Why? Is offense more fun to watch overall? Is it harder to track and remember stats on the defense? Defense does win championships; right? In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s a lot of statistics weren’t recognized. It was only 1982 when sacks were first recorded by the NFL. But in today’s game, where every stat is analyzed and the impact of each individual player is scrutinized to a T, there’s no excuse for not awarding the best and most valuable player in the league no matter what side of the ball he lines up on.
Reggie White could have won the award in 1987, with 21 sacks and four forced fumbles. But the Eagles didn’t do well overall and there was no way the MVP would go to a defensive player in back to back seasons. Ray Lewis in 2000 had to compete with Marshal Faulk’s stupid good season. Pat Swilling in 1991 had a fantastic year—posting 17 sacks, 60 tackles, and six forced fumbles. But Buffalo’s Thurman Thomas had a monster season. Brian Urlacher in 2005 could have had an opportunity if Seattle didn’t go 13-3 and Shaun Alexander didn’t go for 1,800 yards and 28 scores. In 2002, 2008, and 2009 the defensive players, Derrick Brooks, James Harrison, and Charles Woodson respectively all had arguably better years than the offensive guy that won the award. But since it was a close race, the tie always goes to the runner, and in this case the runner is the QB. Peyton Manning won his most unearned MVP in 2008. Manning’s 27 touchdowns were fifth in the NFL and his 4,002 yards were sixth. His team did go 13-3, but Manning didn’t deserve the award. Manning wasn’t even the best QB that year. Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, and Kurt Warner didn’t win many games, but they each outplayed Manning. But if you want to look at the winning record as one of the benchmarks to winning the MVP, then the Defensive Player of the Year should have competed with Manning for the 2008 MVP. James Harrison’s 16 sacks were fourth best in 2008, and the 115 yards lost on those sacks were the most in the league. His seven forced fumbles led the NFL. Meanwhile his 101 combined tackles led all players with 9 or more sacks and his 67 solo tackles were second. Harrison made game changing plays seemingly every week and literally won the game on multiple occasions with his authoritative playmaking ability. Harrison’s Steelers were the number one ranked defense; they ended 12-4 that season and went on to win their sixth Super Bowl. Manning’s 2009 season was only a bit more productive than 2008. Charles Woodson led the league with a remarkable 9 interceptions, had four forced fumbles, and two sacks. He had one of the great seasons at the cornerback position, but he still had no chance against Manning. There are about a dozen different examples just like these of arguments that the defensive player out-dueled the MVP of the season. But it just doesn’t seem to matter. No matter how good a defensive player is, his hopes of winning the MVP as about the same as an ice cube’s in hell… Until this year we thought. All season long we heard Watt’s name as a front-runner for the MVP. Demarco Murray, Phillip Rivers, and Peyton Manning were names thrown around in September and October. Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady were candidates in October and November. In December Aaron Rodgers picked up steam and Tony Romo started getting praise. But from start to finish, the only player to be in the running for the entire 2014 season was J.J. Watt. And we didn’t hear his name on January 31st? Why?
J.J. Watt’s 2014 performance was not only worthy of winning the MVP, but it was one of the most historically marvelous defensive seasons in decades. Watt did practically everything in 2014. He became the first player to ever record 20 or more sacks in two separate seasons with 20.5. He forced four fumbles and recovered a league high five. He returned one of the fumbles for a touchdown and added another interception in which he returned for a score as well. J.J WATT is a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Putting up gaudy numbers at that position is remarkable. The outside linebackers in that defense can put up huge stats, like Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore or Justin Houston in Kansas City. Defensive ends in 4-3 schemes like Jason Pierre Paul in New York (Giants) or Cameron Wake in Miami are in a perfect scenario for huge success. But Watt completely taking over the stat sheet as a defensive end in the 3-4 is astonishing. Along with his 20.5 sacks, Watt’s 140 yards lost on those sacks led the league. His 32 quarterback hurries were also tops in the NFL. My favorite underrated stat is called a “stuff”. It’s when the defensive player tackles the running back behind the line of scrimmage. This could be on a short distance to go scenario or in any given running play. A running back stuff is basically equivalent to a quarterback sack. J.J. led the entire league with 14 stuffs. Watt also had a safety this year and led all defensive linemen by a mile with a ridiculous 11 pass deflections (one of his nicknames happens to be J.J. Swatt). On top of his defensive dominance, Watt lined up on offense in goal to go situations this year a few times and netted three receptions for three touchdowns. Beyond the statistics there’s one more assessment that Watt passes with flying colors on, and that’s the eye test. Just watch tape on Watt for the entire season; in fact watch it for his whole career. His motor is unmatched in football. His passion and energy bleeds through. On every single down Watt can be seen physically commanding his opponents. There’s no player that was more fun to watch in 2014 and no player that so obviously demanded the eyes of viewers. J.J. Watt was the best player in the stadium every single week of the entire season.
Aaron Rodgers may be the best quarterback in football right now and over the past few years. His accuracy, power, athleticism, and tenacity combine for a truly outstanding passer of the football. In 2014 Aaron Rodgers was arguably the top QB. However he didn’t have one of the all time great type seasons, he just had a really good one. Rodgers had the best passer rating with 112.2 and he very impressively only threw five interceptions. Rodgers was extremely efficient. But he still didn’t post up insane numbers the same way Watt did on the opposite side of the ball. In fact Rodgers 4,381 yards were only seventh best in the league. His 38 touchdowns were third best, a couple behind Andrew Luck. If we compare the top quarterbacks who could have been the possible MVP, Romo and Brady didn’t have as many yards or touchdowns as Rodgers. Manning’s late season slump kicked him out of the running. Andrew Luck had 400 more yards and two more touchdowns, but his 16 interceptions were much too high. Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards, tied with Drew Brees, with 4,952. But 32 touchdowns were less than Rodgers’ and his 9 interceptions were low, just not as low. All the quarterbacks mentioned above did something in common; they put up very nice numbers and also led their respective teams to their division title. Any way you slice it; there were quarterbacks who outplayed Rodgers in one area or another in 2014. Some threw more touchdowns, some had better games, some passed for more yards, and some had just as many victories. When it comes down to it, Rodgers was the best quarterback of the year but not by a landslide. And his 2011 MVP season was by far superior, when he posted 45 touchdowns and six interceptions with 4,643 yards. Rodgers got 48 votes that year for MVP and Drew Brees took the other two.
J.J. Watt was by far the best defensive player in the NFL in 2014—in fact his 50 votes for the Defensive Player of the Year prove that. Watt did something no one has ever done; he became the first player to unanimously win the award. He became only the seventh player to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award multiple times. Meanwhile the Offensive Player of the Year award went to Demarco Murray. So we’ve got the first unanimous Defensive Player of the Year going up against the best Quarterback of 2014… in most areas… but not all… who didn’t manage to win the Offensive Player of the Year… who has had far better seasons in the past. Watt shouldn’t have just won by a landslide; he should have won by an avalanche. Instead the final vote was split up between six players. Bobby Wagner of the Seahawks surprisingly got a vote. Tom Brady also obtained a vote for the award. And Murray and Tony Romo each received two votes. Aaron Rodgers won the award with 31 votes and J.J. Watt came in second with 13. J.J.’s 13 MVP votes were the most ever received by a defensive player since L.T. won it back in 1986. Did Rodgers have an MVP caliber year? When compared to the other quarterbacks, sure. Did he have one of the all time great quarterbacking seasons? No. Can you argue that sometimes the Packers shut down the passing game in different times during the year when they were up by 35+ points? Maybe. Is Rodgers one of the most valuable players in football? Yes. But Watt is so much more. His season was one of the greatest defensive campaigns the NFL has ever seen. The numbers, the eye test, and the tape point to Watt being the most dominate defensive player since perhaps Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor. Play the tape of weeks 1, 3, 8, and 15 for Aaron Rodgers and it’s evident that Rodgers was far from perfect in 2014. Is it fair to ask for perfection? No, it isn’t. But put on tape of Watt for the entire season and it’s hard to find a single bad game.
When a player on the defensive side of the ball truly dominates, it cannot be compared to anything else in football. Every decade or so an NFL defensive player sniffs the MVP, but he'll most likely never win it.
It’s obvious now more than ever. We may never see an MVP given to a defensive player again. The league may as well throw out the Offensive Player of the Year Award and just give one MVP Award to each side of the ball. It would take a historically awful season for every quarterback and running back in the NFL mixed with an all time great season by a defensive player for him to have a chance. THEN maybe THEN somebody will have a prayer. Until then, if that ever even happens, I’m giving my 2014 NFL MVP to Justin James Watt.