If you think a guy could be the best player in the NFL or if you keep hearing that a guy is the best player in the NFL, then at some point shouldn’t that be player be considered for an award that arguably should go to the best player in the NFL? We have all heard many times before that “Aaron Donald might be the best player in the NFL” but because he doesn’t play quarterback, Aaron Donald does not stand a good chance of ever winning MVP.
Donald’s odds of winning the MVP award in 2021 are currently 100-to-1, and while those are long, I like his chances more than the many player who will never be associated with the phrase: “Best player in the NFL.”
Last season, Donald won his third AP Defensive Player of the Year award and he hasn’t even turned 30 year. (Donald’s birthday is this Friday.) He received 27 of 50 first place votes, beating out Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt, who had 20, and Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, who received three. Yes, three people chose Howard for Defensive Player of the Year over Donald and Watt.
And now is as good of a time as any to say that AP voters can be trusted to do the right thing no better than 94-percent of the time. Or maybe no better than 60-percent of the time.
But maybe 2021 could be Donald’s year or some other non-quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers received 44 of 50 first place votes for MVP, beating out Josh Allen (4 votes) and Patrick Mahomes (2) easily. It was Rodgers’ second MVP, also winning in 2014, but it seems as though we could be approaching a moment in time when the ways in which we do everything is being reconsidered.
Why not reconsider the value we place on the quarterback position in relation to the value we give to the NFL’s other most valuable players?
The last time a non-quarterback, non-running back won the award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. It’s a phrase that’s been timed innumerable times since, whenever a defensive player might be considered for the award. Such as in 2018, when Donald led the NFL with 20.5 sacks and took 45 of 50 first place votes for Defensive Player of the Year but ran into Mahomes’ breakout campaign; or 2017, when Donald had 32 of 50 votes but the MVP trophy went to Tom Brady for the third time.
That year, it was Todd Gurley, not Donald who received the most MVP attention: Brady received 40 votes, Gurley received eight, and Carson Wentz had two.
So forget a moment about whether or not Donald should win an MVP trophy over Brady or Mahomes or Rodgers — if a running back on the Rams can still get into the conversation despite so many people being vehemently against drafting backs early or paying them free agent contracts, then why not “the best player in the world”?
It may not be nearly as “100-to-1” as you think.
J.J. Watt received 13 MVP votes and was runner-up to Rodgers in 2014. Linebacker Bobby Wagner received one MVP vote that year also.
Linebacker James Harrison had three MVP votes in 2008, Ray Lewis had two votes in 2003, Derrick Brooks had one vote in 2002, and Brian Urlacher had two votes in 2001.
Don’t those votes hold up a lot better years later than ones cast for Chad Pennington, Michael Turner, DeMarco Murray, or Wentz?
How is it even possible that Aaron Donald has been in the NFL for seven seasons, winning three AP Defensive Player of the Year awards, making every first team all-pro roster since 2015, and shattering records for defensive tackles by dominating box scores and redefining how often a player can be double and triple-teamed because of his relentlessness and strength — hasn’t even received one vote for MVP in his career?
Fewer career MVP votes than Bobby Wagner, Chad Pennington, and Michael Turner.
Last season, we saw Donald lead the NFL’s number one defense — points allowed, yards allowed, first downs allowed, passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, points per drive allowed — and once again create a monster by his side (this time that monster being Leonard Floyd) in the process. If a player making players around him infinitely more valuable over and over again isn’t the definition of “most valuable” then what else is?
Especially when that defense is the “most effective” of any defense in the NFL?
Then, when Donald was injured in the final game of the year and became limited in the postseason, the Rams defense allowed season-highs in total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards in a divisional round loss to the Packers, giving up over 30 points for only the second time all season. The only other time came in Week 3 against Josh Allen, the number two player in MVP voting.
Next season Donald should be a much better bet for MVP than 100-to-1, but that would only be true if we were living in a rational world. Rationally and logically, there should be fewer better players to win MVP than “the best player in the NFL.” Now, let’s hope that he’s motivated to beat those odds ... and everybody else who tries to stop him.