Pro Football Focus gave out some season awards today starting with their 2015 Dwight Stephenson Award, "given to the best player in the NFL."
Topping the list? St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald:
As a rookie, Aaron Donald was PFF’s highest-graded defensive tackle. In his second season, he didn’t just take a step forward, he broad-jumped into the area previously reserved only for Watt, a player universally acknowledged now as generationally great and one of the best to ever put on pads. Donald out-graded Watt this season, and by the end of the year, it wasn’t even particularly close.
There's more in their right up, but they're essentially trying to fight the J.J. Watt narrative. And good for them. Their grades are their grades, and there's no reason not to stick by them.
A solid list.
And then things got confusing.
PFF also released their 2015 MVP award, another five-person list. There wasn't much correlation.
Donald did not make the MVP list. Brown didn't either. In fact, four of their five "best players" didn't even make the MVP list.
No, their MVP list was instead a "best QB" list starting with Palmer followed by Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and finishing with Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Credit PFF. They approach things from a quantifiable basis, so any gripe here on my part isn't necessarily with them. As they note,:
Pro Football Focus selected players based on their total impact above a replacement level player for every single snap they played this season, obviously using our grades as a guideline. The quarterback position has, by far, the lowest replacement level of of any position we’ve calculated. A QB also can significantly impact a high percentage of plays, so naturally, they are our first choices for MVP.
That's fine. And it certainly makes sense...it's just difficult to accept the idea that four of the "best players" in the league don't even make the MVP cut. And the qualitative context, which I recognize PFF doesn't do since quantitative v. qualitative and all that, is completely ignored.
Of the 58 MVPs as awarded by the Associated Press, 37 are quarterbacks. Another 18 are running backs. So I get that there's a positional bias that's only going to get worse in this era. Seven of the last eight MVPs were QBs; the only non-QB MVP in the last eight years was Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, and that was in 2012 when he missed the single-season rushing record by just eight yards. Peterson was so good that year, he helped a Christian Ponder-led team to 10 yards. That's an MVP resume bullet.
I just wonder if we're overlooking the dominant seasons at other positions in favor of just awarding it to the best quarterback.
Which one of these two QBs won the MVP?
A) 14-1 starting record (sat the last game to prep for playoffs), 343 completions out of 502 attempts, 68.3% completion, 4,643 passing yards, 45 passing TDs, six interceptions
B) 12-4 starting record, 341 completions out of 520 attempts, 65.6% completion, 4,381 passing yards, 38 passing TDs, five interceptions
The answer? Both. A is Aaron Rodgers in 2011. B is Aaron Rodgers in 2014.
My two favorites for the award last season? Watt, who came in second in the voting, and Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant who didn't even get a vote. Bryant's QB, Tony Romo, got two votes.
So I get it. It's just not going to happen. The QB bias is real and it's not going anywhere.
But it just sucks to see dominant performances at other positions swamped by the behemoth of the QB position, especially when it's Aaron Donald being swamped.