Over the final four weeks of the NFL season, there will be a lot of debate as to who should be the MVP following the regular season. There has yet to be a quarterback to really stand out and make a strong case. Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill and Christian McCaffrey are both having record-breaking seasons at their respective positions.
There is always a conversation this time of year on what the MVP award is from a definition standpoint. If we’re looking at what it means to be the most “valuable” player, that player is and always should be the quarterback. No position is more valuable in the NFL than the quarterback position. This is a league in which a Daniel Jones caliber quarterback is able to make $40M a year. There is a reason why the Kansas City Chiefs were willing to pay Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year, $450M contract extension. The quarterback position is the most valuable piece of the offense.
While the quarterback position is reliant to an extent on the situation around them, an elite or bad quarterback can heavily impact a team. Take Christian McCaffrey off of the San Francisco 49ers and, while an impact would be felt, it’s important to remember that Elijah Mitchell had nearly 1,000 yards in just 10 games in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
When the Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, they still easily led the NFL in passing EPA.
The last 10 MVP winners have all been quarterbacks. Adrian Peterson was the last non-quarterback to win the MVP and he won the award after rushing for over 2000 yards.
When it comes to the quarterbacks in 2023, nobody wants to give the award to Brock Purdy as he is seen as a “system quarterback”. That’s not necessarily wrong, but Purdy also leads the NFL in EPA per dropback as well as DVOA and DYAR which are both value metrics.
Here's another great Purdy stat:— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) December 12, 2023
Purdy's explosive play rate (20+ yards) is 14.5%. It's second only to 2013 Vick for single-season explosive play rate since 2000.
ON EXPLOSIVE PLAYS, Purdy is averaging 15.4 air yards per attempt. That is 683rd among 778 seasons since 2000 https://t.co/NOZwdWLlyY
The other quarterback in the conversation is Dak Prescott who only has an EPA per dropback of 0.254. However, Aaron Rodgers won the MVP in 2021 with an EPA per dropback of 0.259. That is half of a thousandth point more than Prescott currently.
What’s interesting about that 2021 season in which Rodgers won the MVP is that it was the same year that Cooper Kupp won the first triple crown for a wide receiver since Steve Smith in 2005. (Smith was tied for the league lead in receptions and touchdowns.) In that season, Kupp finished just 17 yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s record for most receiving yards and four receptions shy of Michael Thomas’ receptions record in a year.
Kupp received a single vote for MVP. Tom Brady received nine more votes than Kupp in second place.
There is a lot of buzz around Hill winning the MVP this season. That was especially magnified after the Dolphins lost to the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. The offense struggled without Hill in the lineup as he dealt with an injury. Quickly, the narrative shifted to “tonight is the case for Tyreek Hill winning MVP.”
Dolphins offense instantly changes when Tyreek Hill is on/off the field.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) December 12, 2023
That's MVP impact.
This isn’t to take away from the season that Hill is having. Hill could surpass 2000 yards in a season and is averaging 4.15 yards per route-ran. Over three yards is great and for Hill to be over four yards isn’t just elite, but other-worldly. For reference, Kupp averaged 3.12 yards per route ran in his triple crown season.
If the precedent hadn’t been set that the MVP is a quarterback-only award, Hill would absolutely deserve the NFL’s MVP this season. However, that is the precedent that has been set. The MVP is a quarterback award and the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Awards typically go to the best non-quarterback unless the quarterback also had a historic season.
While a quarterback has won the last 10 MVP awards, they have only won the four Offensive Player of the Year awards in that same span. Three of the last four players to win Offensive Player of the Year were wide receivers.
From a pure, non-biased perspective, Hill is arguably having a better overall year than Kupp had in 2021. Through 13 games, Hill has more yards, yards per reception and yards per target than Kupp. Hill is behind in receptions, but is also tied with Kupp in touchdowns. The Dolphins receiver also has one 200 yard game which Kupp didn’t have.
Again, however, Kupp had a historic season in 2021, winning the first triple crown since 2005. What makes Kupp’s triple crown so impressive is just the current overall talent pool of wide receivers in the NFL. When Smith won the last triple crown in 2005, only four wide receivers had over 100 receptions and there were 20-1,000 yard wide receivers. In 2021, there were 10 wide receivers who eclipsed 100 receptions and 26 with over 1,000 yards. Kupp’s triple crown is arguably the most impressive outside of Jerry Rice’s in 1990.
Hill has had a great year and certainly deserves to be in the MVP conversation. However, Kupp also deserved to be in that conversation in 2021 and received a single vote. The Rams wide receiver ended up getting the MVP that mattered in the Super Bowl. However, in a down quarterback year he should have won the regular season MVP following a historic season and earning the first wide receiver triple crown in over a decade.
This is the precedent that has been set and now it’s hard to justify changing that precedent. Whether or not it’s fair, it has been determined that the NFL MVP award is a quarterback award. That's why Kupp didn't win the award in 2021 and it’s why Hill shouldn’t win the award in 2023.