A year ago, Aaron Donald and Lamar Jackson had the same MVP odds at “+10,000” per Action Network. Odds for Patrick Mahomes were at +400, Russell Wilson was at +1400, for greater perspective. As the season wore on, Jackson’s odds got better and better, finally becoming the favorite on Nov. 20 and not relinquishing. Jackson had the longest preseason odds of any MVP winner since at least 2009.
Betting on Jackson would’ve yielded a great reward though I don’t think you would need access to a time diamond — a fictional prediction device that I’ve now created for the purposes of this sentence — to have foreseen potential success. Jackson was a 2018 first round pick, a star in college, and had gone 6-1 with 556 rushing yards over his seven starts as a rookie.
Betting on Donald however would make me question what you’re laundering your money for and if purposefully losing money on a bet could somehow be tied to money laundering. Because there’s zero reason to believe that a non-quarterback or non-running back is going to win the award.
Even if he’s the best player in the NFL, why the hell would anyone bet on Aaron Donald to win MVP when something like that has never happened?
Since 2007, every winner except Adrian Peterson in 2012 was a quarterback. Since 1987, the winners are comprised of 28 quarterbacks and seven running backs. The winner in 1986 was New York Giants pass rusher Lawrence Taylor, the most recent non-QB or non-RB to win the award. The only other defensive player to do that was Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1971.
But as years pass, the league and the media become more and more obsessed with the idea that the entire game and success within it is predicated around the quarterback position.
Many seem to examine and ponder what making the Super Bowl meant for a player like Jared Goff and yet few of those same people seem to have spent a lot of time thinking about the credit that Aaron Donald deserved for the LA Rams winning the NFC two seasons ago.
The 2018 Rams were absolutely led by their offense but where would they have been without an average defense? And where would their average defense have been without that season’s best defensive player? Donald led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2018 and was named Defensive Player of the Year but nobody other than Patrick Mahomes was allowed into the MVP conversation.
This is what seems to be happening every year with the MVP narrative: no discussions, no debate, no conversation. If a quarterback is on a hot streak and his team is winning in November and December that seems to be the deciding factor in many cases. “A well-deserved and obvious choice” tweeted Ian Rapoport. “Shouldn’t surprise anyone” said Larry Holder.
People want you to know very clearly, “Hey, I am not going against the grain. I’m not stupid, I know who the MVP is because everyone’s saying who the MVP is and I’m not the dumb one who doesn’t see what is so obvious to Rap Sheet and everyone else.”
Except that it wasn’t that obvious to everyone. Drew Brees got nine of the 50 first place votes. If not him, Philip Rivers and the LA Chargers were 12-4 and his numbers were about as good. And if you turned to the Rams, you’d have to first mention Todd Gurley or Goff, in most cases.
A choice of a defensive tackle is not seen as a reasonable choice by most people. Understandably there is a lot of inherent value in playing quarterback already. The quarterback touches the ball on virtually every offensive play. The decisions made, the execution of the throws, the leadership, being the bridge oftentimes between the coaches and the players, the responsibility — there is so much about being the quarterback that makes it so important to each team.
If that is true to the degree that people talk about quarterbacks though, then there is no point in having an MVP award that is allegedly an open competition to all positions. The fact that the only other position that gets considered for MVP eligibility is the position that is the lowest-paid and shortest in the league only emphasizes the farce of the award to begin with.
So why can’t Aaron Donald win MVP?
“It’s time for a change” said Donald at the Super Bowl about 18 months ago when asked about a non-QB winning MVP. Fair enough, as I mentioned he had 20.5 sacks that season. He actually had zero in the first three games, so he averaged 1.6 sacks per game over the final 13. If Donald did that for 16 games, he’d have 25 sacks, 31 tackles for a loss, and 49 QB hits based on his pace after Week 4.
The Rams won six games in 2018 by a touchdown or less and Donald had at least one sack in each of those contests.
- In a 38-31 win over the Vikings, Donald sacked Kirk Cousins twice in the fourth quarter, both of which were potential drive killers during a close game.
- Sacked Russell Wilson in 33-31 win over Seahawks.
- Killed a Broncos drive at midfield, up 10, with a third quarter sack in Week 6.
- In Week 7, sacked Aaron Rodgers to force a field goal rather than let Packers into red zone, sacked Rodgers with 5:30 left to force punt that setup Greg Zuerlein for game-winning field goal.
- Down 14-10 in second quarter, sacked Wilson to force punt twice in a period of five minutes. Paired with Ndamukong Suh for sack to force field goal instead of touchdown in 36-31 win to sweep Seattle.
- In historic 54-51 win over Chiefs, sacked Mahomes to force a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Samson Ebukam. At start of third quarter, again strip-sacked Mahomes to give his team the ball back.
That is simply me looking at sacks and not QB hits, disruptions, tackles for a loss, plays that Donald is creating moment-to-moment. In these cases though it’s not that hard to see how Donald’s play helped the 2018 Rams potentially go from 10-6 or 11-5 and losing the division to Seattle with a loss to Kansas City to being the 13-3 team that they were.
That’s just cherrypicking a few moments in order to build my own narrative though. But what’s the alternative to a Rams team without Aaron Donald? The 2018 Rams were 22nd in net yards per pass attempt allowed and 32nd in yards per carry allowed and they still went to the Super Bowl. If they didn’t have Donald, as they were streaking down the field and putting up all these points, how many yards per carry would they allow above the 5.1 that they did?
If not for Donald, would they have accumulated 41 sacks (like they did) or more like 25 sacks?
Patrick Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns and the Chiefs went 12-4 and the MVP discussion was over because it was an “obvious” choice to honor the best QB. Some people did feel that Brees (32 TD, five INT, NFL-best 115.7 rating, NFL-best 74.4% completions) was the better of the two QBs but they all agreed that it had to be a QB. After all, if they had even been looking at Donald’s 20.5 sacks and attributing any of LA’s 13-3 record to him, surely the conversation would have gone a little differently.
So can Donald do anything to win MVP award in 2020 or beyond? The answer by now has to be “Absolutely not.” I don’t understand how anyone could bet on Donald to win MVP — or even come close — if he hasn’t already. If you can be the best player in the league, directly help your team win a few close games late in the contest, go 13-3, and not get serious consideration, what more can Donald do?
He can’t do anything. The media’s narrative is what needs to change for that to become a possibility.