Only The Truth

Most Valuable vs. Most Outstanding

04/09/2013 17:19

Here is a summary of the 2012 NFL Regular Season:

  • Baltimore, a 4-seed in the perceived weaker conference (AFC), upset the 1-seed (Denver) and 2-seed (New England) on the road and then defeat arguably the best team in the NFL (San Francisco) in the Super Bowl.
  • Adrian Peterson (MIN) ran for over 2,000 yards in a season following an ACL tear and with a very young, unpredictable quarterback leading the offense.
  • Peyton Manning (DEN) changed teams and led them to a 13-win season after they just barely squeeked out 8 miraculous wins in 2011.
  • Alex Smith (SF) was one of the highest ranked passers in the NFL. He got benched for another high-ranking passer in Colin Kaepernick who appears to have more upside. CK helped guide SF within a few yards of winning the Super Bowl.
  • J.J. Watt redefined what a 3-4 DE could do, leading the NFL in sacks and setting an NFL record in batted passes at the line of scrimmage.
  • Aaron Rodgers had a bad offensive line, lost his top-two wide receivers, had no running game, and still accounted for over 40 touchdowns with only 12 turnovers after having the best season in NFL history for a QB.

There were outstanding performances all around, and this list doesn't even include Von Miller (DEN), Charles Tillman (CHI), Aldon Smith (SF), Calvin Johnson (DET), Tom Brady (NE) and countless others, including an impressive rookie QB class.


After the dust settled, Adrian Peterson won the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards. J.J. Watt won the Defensive player of the Year award. Peyton Manning won the Comeback Player of the Year award. These 4 awards are awesome, except for one thing, they each have a different meaning to every fan.


The difference bewteen MVP and OPOY is found in that word "value". Unfortunately, few in the NFL community understand what can be considered valuable in the NFL. Obviously, a quarterback is the most valuable position in football. Does that mean the award can never go to anyone else? How good does a non-QB have to be to surpass some of the best QB performances in history? How many wins does a great running back add to a team compared to a great quarterback? These are all interesting questions that will be addressed in this article.


The reality here is that no running back, and obviously no player at any other position either, can come close to the value of the quarterback. This means that a running back needs to do more than just gain yards. Why? When there is no time left on the clock, yards are irrelevent and only points on the scoreboard determine who wins and loses.


Teams that throw for more yards or rush for more yards win anywhere from 60-70 percent of the time. However, teams that have the best quarterback rating, regardless of how the formula is constructed, will win 82-85 percent of the time.


This is just one of many reasons that indicate that in order for a running back to surpass a quarterback in value, he needs to do more than just gain yards. Here are the 5 MVP running backs since 1998 and how they compare to each other:


Player Touches Yards Yds/T TDs Tm Record
Terrell Davis (DEN - 1998) 417 2225 5.34 23 14-2
Marshall faulk (STL - 2000) 334 2189 6.55 26 10-6
Shaun Alexander (SEA - 2005) 385 1958 5.09 28 13-3
LaDainian Tomlinson (SD - 2006) 404 2323 5.75 31 14-2
Adrian Peterson (MIN - 2012) 388 2314 5.96 13 10-6


When you factor in receiving totals as well, Adrian Peterson is 2nd in total yards and 2nd in yards per touch. However, his team is tied with Marshall Faulk for the fewest wins at 10 of the 5 running backs. The other three won at least 13 games. Obviously, much of this has to do with the surrounding talent. However, those running backs on much more talented teams scored 23, 28 and 31 touchdowns, or about double what Peterson did in 2012.


How is Adrian Peterson's season any different than Chris Johnson's season in 2009, when he also surpassed the 2,000 yard rushing mark but failed to win the MVP?


Player Touches Yards Yds/T TDs Tm Record
Adrian Peterson (MIN - 2012) 388 2314 5.96 13 10-6
Chris Johnson (TEN - 2009) 408 2509 6.15 16 8-8


Chris Johnson had superior numbers, but because his team didn't make it to the playoffs, he was "ineligible" to win the MVP award while Adrian Peterson snuck into the playoffs and took both the MVP and OPOY awards.


Peyton Manning won the MVP award in 2009 with a passer rating of 99.9.  In 2012, with a new team and recovering from 4 neck surgeries, Peyton Manning had a passer rating of 105.8, and lost to someone who had worse numbers than someone he defeated 3 years ago. Denver was 13-3 this past season and the 1-seed in the AFC.


So this is now very interesting. Why would a running back sweep the offensive awards when he only had good rushing numbers? Even though yards are meaningless, he won it because he came off an ACL injury and because his quarterback at times was awful.


This then begs the question: How valuable can a running back be (CJ/AP) if he gains at least 2300 yards, about 6 yards per touch and at least 13 touchdowns, but his team gets no more than 10 wins? When quarterbacks have these great seasons, their teams typically win 12-16 games every season. Since 1998, When TD won the MVP, 20 QBs have produced a season with a quarterback rating of at least 100 when playing all 16 games. Of the 20 teams, only 4 won less than 11 games and the average win total is 11.8, with 12 of the 20 teams winning at least 12 games.


Since a good quarterback is so valuable to team success, then AP did all a running back could have done considering Christian Ponder was so bad. This must be why AP won the award, right?


Here are AP's stats in the 10 wins vs. the 6 losses:

  Touches Yards T/Gm Yds/T Tds/Gm Avg. PR Gms PR 100+
10 Wins 263 1427 26.3 5.43 0.80 84.8 3
6 Losses 125 887 20.8 7.10 0.83 68.3 1


As you can see here, Adrian Peterson's yards per touch and touchdowns per game actually increase in the losses. Essentially, it didn't matter how well he played, which dismisses the idea that he was as valuable as a QB. On the other hand, Ponder's passer rating dropped 16.5 points, on average, in the losses. There is a clear correlation between Ponder's success and Minnesota winning games while there is a negative correlation for Peterson.


This is a simple way of looking at the numbers. Here is a more sophisticated method for the two previous winners, LT and Shaun Alexander. This chart indicates the percentage of yards gained on scoring drives by the offense and the percentage of touches on drives compared to the stats gained on drives that ended in punts or turnovers. 


*Note: There are 3 YPC averages. the 1st is for the YPC avg in non-scoring drives, the 2nd YPC avg is for his season average, and the 3rd is for drives that ended in a field goal or touchdown.


Player YPC NSD YPC SA YPC SD % Tot Att % Tot Yds % Inc YPC
Shaun Alexander (2005) 2.84 5.08 6.26 66.1 80.6 120.3
LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) 2.80 5.22 6.46 65.4 81.8 130.9
Adrian Peterson (2012) 4.22 6.03 7.27 59.2 71.4 72.4


This chart indicates that both SA and LT averaged a very poor 2.8 yards per carry on non-scoring drives during their MVP seasons. However, over 65 percent of their touches and 80 percent of their yards came on scoring drives. Both of them more than doubled their YPC average as well. On the other hand, Adrian Peterson averaged well over 4 YPC on non-scoring drives and only 71.4 percent of his yards were gained on scoring drives.


The reality is Adrian Peterson had a phenominal season after a torn ACL; however, the numbers do not point to his performance being valuable. The reality is he had great games in wins and great games in losses. Minnesota won when Ponder played well, not Peterson. Unlike the past two running backs to win the MVP, there is not a significant enough correlation, if any exists at all, to warrent consideration for MVP of the NFL.


Peterson won the MVP because it was a good story. He had the injury factor, he played on a mediocre offense and he almost made history in rushing yards, despite the fact that yards are meaningless anyway. Drew Brees didn't even come close to winning the MVP in 2011 when he set the NFL record for passing yards in a season.


Rodgers and Manning went 1-2 in 2012 for passer rating (Manning led the NFL in my QBR, however) and both led their teams to at least 11 wins. Both dealt with issues as well. Manning had plenty of surgeries and was on a new team, while Rodgers had a leaky offensive line, no running game and his top wide receivers injured. 


The only way a running back deserves to be in the conversation for MVP, fair or not, is if he scores a significant number of touchdowns. The four running backs before AP to win the MVP all scored at least 20 touchdowns.


Otherwise, the award for most value will go to a QB. This past season, it was a great race between Manning, Brady and Rodgers and it a very tough choice between the 3 best QBs in the NFL right now. As for the OPOY award, Peterson still isn't quite the runaway either, but what he did on an up-and-down offense in impressive.


There may not be a whole lot of value to what he did, but averaging over 6.0 yards per carry is incredible. There is no denying his talent and production, just the fact that he did not have as big of an impact as many believe. Adrian might have been the best player on offense, but the most valuable offensive player was a quarterback in 2012.

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Luke Clementson