Does Anyone Deserve to Be the 2016 NFL MVP?
We’re now nearly 14 full weeks through the NFL season. At this time last year, regardless of the camp you were in, there was a favorite for NFL MVP. It didn't matter whether you were backing the eventual winner in Cam Newton or favoring someone like Carson Palmer -- guilty -- there was a pretty strong argument at this point.
There’s no such front-runner this year. What we have is a handful of fairly flawed candidates. A case could easily be made for any of them, but an opposing case could also just as easily be made.
Let’s go through the candidates to see if anyone really deserves to be the 2016 NFL MVP.
Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliott
Voters would look at the Dallas Cowboys as the NFL's best team, but split votes between the two rookies by having to pick which one was more valuable. Dallas' loss to the New York Giants kind of derailed the campaign for both players, even though only one played poorly.
Prescott entered as the league's top quarterback by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. He led all signal-callers in Passing NEP per drop back, but this loss was easily his worst game of the season. His -0.50 Passing NEP per drop back was the worst of any quarterback in Week 14, even below Russell Wilson and Jared Goff. He was so bad that he's dropped from first to third among quarterbacks for the season in that metric.
While Elliott put together a good game -- 24 carries for 107 yards -- it’s harder to make an MVP case for him when he does play well but the Cowboys still lose because of a bad game from the quarterback.
Even though he's an integral part of one of the best running teams in the league -- Dallas ranked second in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play heading into the week -- he hasn’t been the best running back with regard to NEP this season.
Elliott now ranks second in Rushing NEP per attempt among backs with 100 or more carries behind Buffalo’s Lesean McCoy. With McCoy, the Buffalo Bills also lead the league in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play as a team. No one is saying McCoy is the best running back on the best rushing team, even though the ground game has been essential to every Buffalo win.
Neither Prescott nor Elliott should be disqualified from the conversation because of a loss to the Giants, especially since it's only their second of the season. But for some, it will put a halt to their run as the co-favorites.
Derek Carr was an incredibly popular MVP pick before a disastrous Thursday Night Football performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. His -0.33 Passing NEP per drop back was his worst of the season, and while it wasn’t as bad as Prescott’s, his highs weren’t nearly as high as the Dallas quarterback’s, either.
Heading into the week, Carr was sixth in Passing NEP per drop back (now he's eighth). His case was mostly built up on team wins because individually, his statistics weren’t all that impressive -- or at least not impressive enough to be considered MVP-caliber.
Carr is seventh in passing yards, 4th in pass attempts, 8th in passing touchdowns, 11th in touchdown rate, 19th in yards per attempt and 17th in completion percentage.
The Oakland signal-caller's value was also heavily weighted by comeback victories, but his numbers while trailing weren’t much different than Prescott, who has also outperformed him when holding a lead. That should matter just as much as coming from behind.
Prescott has been credited with four fourth-quarter comebacks, which is just two less than Carr. When trailing in the second half, the two have been similar outside of touchdown passes:
|Trailing in 2H||Comp/Att||Yards||TD/INT||PNEP/DB||Success Rate|
|Carr||84/149 (56.4%)||1025 (6.9 YPA)||13/0 (8.7%)||0.3||44.37%|
|Prescott||51/83 (61.4%)||560 (6.7 YPA)||3/0 (3.6%)||0.25||50.57%|
And Prescott has been better -- again outside of touchdowns -- when trailing at any point in a game.
|Trailing any point||Comp/Att||Yards||TD/INT||PNEP/DB||Success Rate|
|Carr||146/235 (62.1%)||1697 (7.2 YPA)||14/0 (6.0%)||0.28||46.67%|
|Prescott||92/145 (63.4%)||1160 (8.0 YPA)||8/0 (5.5%)||0.35||50.99%|
See: Carr, Derek, but with similar stats and two more fourth-quarter comebacks.
This is either incomplete or a non-starter depending on how you view the qualifications for the MVP.
Some will disqualify Tom Brady for only playing a max of 12 games due to his suspension. But while Brady still has to play the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football to close out Week 14, he’s been the best quarterback in the league when on the field.
Brady leads all quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back and he’s already sixth in total Passing NEP despite the four games he missed. While he’s been able to put up stats, he hasn’t exactly needed to be the reason the New England Patriots have won.
New England did go 3-1 without him, but even more telling have been their past three wins, where Brady has basically been on cruise control. His past two games against the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams were his two worst by Passing NEP per drop back, at 0.18 and 0.08 -- well below his 0.37 season average.
Matt Ryan isn’t the typical sexy MVP pick, but he might be the best candidate. Sure, he’s just the quarterback for a current 8-5 No. 4 seed, but Ryan's individual performance has been fantastic. Some of that is due to the scheme of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but a lot of it is on Ryan, too.
He’s currently second behind Brady in Passing NEP per drop back and has been consistently good all season. The signal-caller had one bad game against the Philadelphia Eagles, who were at their peak as the No. 1 defense by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play at the time. Other than that, Ryan has sustained play as a top-level quarterback all year.
For standard stats, Ryan is second in passing yards, tied for second in passing touchdowns, and first in touchdown rate.
Matty Ice also leads the league in yards per attempt by a full yard over Brady (pending Monday night) and Kirk Cousins -- a full yard. Not only would his 9.2 be the highest yards per attempt in a season since Aaron Rodgers in 2011, that lead would be the biggest gap between No. 1 and No. 2 since Kurt Warner over Steve McNair in 2001, which was also a full yard. Warner won MVP honors that season.
Now 14 weeks into the season, we don't have one or two standout MVP candidates. At this point, Ryan probably should be the favorite, or at least the most deserving, but as we’ve seen plenty of times, the definition of the word “valuable” gets debated more than who should win the award.
With the Atlanta Falcons in position for the playoffs and Ryan at or near the top in just about every quarterback category, you’d think he would fulfill any definition of the word, but that’s never a guarantee.
In a year of no dominant teams and no dominant players, there’s no guessing as to how the voting for this award will go. Someone is going to win it and whoever it is won’t be the overwhelming favorite to do so.