After the Bills’ latest victory, a 45-16 thrashing of the hapless 49ers, Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News had an interesting take:
BN Blitz: #Bills RB LeSean McCoy, NFL MVP? Though six games, he's got my vote (well, if I had one) https://t.co/b1ppyrfQM7— Jay Skurski (@JaySkurski) October 16, 2016
To be honest, I had the same thought after watching Shady go off for 140 yards and three touchdowns, but I figured I was just caught up in the moment, and after a good night’s sleep I’d be able to cool my jets on the thought.
There are quite a few deserving candidates out there, so by no means am I implying that he’s a clear-cut winner. There are also eleven weeks of the season left to play. Many, many things can happen.
That said, at this point in the season I think LeSean McCoy is as good of an MVP contender as anybody.
Now, before you decide who the MVP is, you have to really wrap your head around what the term “most valuable player” actually means. The debate has been going on seemingly forever, which has always made me wonder why there’s never been a push to either clearly define the word “valuable” or just remove it from the award’s title entirely. Would it be that hard to change the name to “Most Outstanding Player”?
Anyway, I digress. A look back at the previous winners of the award doesn’t quite offer a clear definition, but it does spell out one thing: you probably have to be a quarterback or running back to win the award. Dating back to the inception of the AP’s version of the award (which is the one that’s generally cited as the NFL MVP) in 1957, only three players outside of the offensive backfield have won the award: Vikings defensive end Alan Page in 1971, Redskins kicker (!) Mark Moseley in 1982, and Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Someone outside of the two primary positions needs to have an all-world season to even enter the conversation (such as J.J. Watt in 2014), and even then it’s a long shot.
At this point, there’s really nobody that fits that definition. There aren’t any Jerry Rice-esque receivers, and while there are some solid defenders, nobody is playing at a level that would merit MVP consideration right now.
Among the quarterbacks and running backs, there are a few archetypes for the MVP:
- The Peyton Manning Category: The guy whose numbers are completely off the charts and totally unavoidable, as Manning’s record-breaking numbers were in 2013.
- The Cam Newton Category: The guy who is the face of the league’s best team, while putting up a great individual season in his own right. Newton and his 50 total touchdowns clearly did that last season.
- The Adrian Peterson Category: The guy who basically carries his team to a playoff spot on his own, which is what Peterson did for the 2012 Vikings (who started Christian Ponder at quarterback for 16 games, if you’d forgotten).
- The Aaron Rodgers Category: When in doubt, the voters seem to just opt for the best quarterback. Rodgers filled that void in 2014 when voters seemed to have a problem with picking Watt, a dominant player on a wholly mediocre Texans squad.
Those categories leave us with a few key contenders. At this point, I’d put Shady on top of the Peterson category. There have been some standout performances this season, notably from Lorenzo Alexander, Zach Brown, and even John Miller, but without Shady the Bills probably aren’t any better than 2-4. He is clearly the catalyst for the team’s current run, and if you don’t believe me just remember how you felt when he went down at the end of the first half.
Right now, the player filling the Manning role is probably the only person who is ahead of McCoy in the rushing race right now. Ezekiel Elliott started off slow, but if there’s been a better running back over the last four weeks it’s clearly the rookie from the Cowboys. Even with McCoy’s recent run, Zeke is still 116 yards clear of him for the rushing title. He has absolutely justified the high pick the Cowboys spent on him so far, and is as good a choice as any to become the first rookie MVP since the legendary Jim Brown won the first AP award in 1957.
There’s nobody really filling the Newton role right now, although in short order that position should be occupied by someone we all know all too well. The 5-1 Patriots are on top of the AFC right now, and in two games since returning from his four-game suspension Tom Brady has been his usual Tom Brady self. It remains to be seen whether the voters will go for someone who’s only played in 12 games if a more viable 16-game candidate is out there, and the Patriots have some solid pass defenses remaining on the schedule that could bring him down a bit, including the matchup he’ll face in two weeks at New Era Field.
As for the Rodgers role, while it could eventually be filled by Brady, Matt Ryan leads the NFL in most passing categories right now, and he’s at the helm of a 4-2 Falcons squad that looks to be a contender through six weeks in the NFC. If Ryan and the Falcons keep winning, he could easily take home the award.
Of course, that’s really what it’s all about. Winning. Since the league moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the only MVP on a team with fewer than 10 wins was Barry Sanders, who split the 1997 MVP with Brett Favre after running for 2,053 yards on a 9-7 Lions squad. Since 2002, the only MVP winner from a team with fewer than 12 wins was Peterson, who fell less than a first down short of the NFL single-season rushing record for the 10-6 Vikings. If the Bills don’t keep winning, Shady doesn’t stand a chance.
If they do, though? If Elliott’s monster stretch peters out, or the voters decide that Dak Prescott bears just as much responsibility for the Cowboys’ success? If Brady finally begins to show his age? If Ryan and Falcons go into the same free-fall that saw a 6-1 start turn into an 8-8 finish?
In that case, the Bills could be home to the NFL’s MVP for the first time since Thurman Thomas and his 2,086 yard from scrimmage took the award in 1991. More importantly, though, they’ll be back in the playoffs, and they’ll have one man to thank more than most for that.