Stop the Insanity: Russell Wilson Is Not the NFL’s MVP

Russell Wilson's team has only lost once, but that doesn't mean he should be the NFL's MVP.

At the conclusion of last night’s Seahawks win, Twitter blew up with “Russell Wilson for MVP" talk. And some considered it validated when Ray Lewis went on air and claimed, “If Russell Wilson isn't in the MVP race, something is wrong.”

As a Steeler fan, I guess I’m fine – actually, elated – when Ray Lewis disagrees with me. Because unlike Ray, I don’t really see why Russell Wilson would be in the race for league MVP.

Russell Wilson By the Numbers

The Most Valuable Player is effectively the player who contributes the most for his team. I don’t think this can really be disputed.

Fortunately, our Net Expected Points metrics do just that. In essence, the NEP numbers that we use here at numberFire show how many points a particular player is adding for his team, based on down and distance and in-game situations. For more on the metric, click here.

Unfortunately, NEP isn’t a statistic that rewards each position equally. Running backs tend to have lower totals because running is less efficient than passing, so comparing someone like Adrian Peterson to Peyton Manning doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In a way, it’s like fantasy football: You can find the most valuable player by seeing how he’s performing within his position.

For the sake of argument and long, annoying statistical breakdowns, let’s just assume the MVP will be given to a quarterback this year. That not only helps Russell Wilson for MVP backers, but it allows us to narrow in on our candidates.

Below is a list of the top-10 quarterbacks in terms of Passing NEP through Week 13.

PlayerPassing NEPPassing NEP/Drop BackSuccess Rate
Peyton Manning203.720.4156.57%
Drew Brees130.500.2654.38%
Philip Rivers123.880.2755.14%
Aaron Rodgers81.400.3052.04%
Russell Wilson78.440.2348.96%
Nick Foles76.980.3647.66%
Matthew Stafford73.320.1448.45%
Tony Romo57.310.1250.43%
Tom Brady56.600.1147.01%
Matt Ryan49.600.1049.23%

Imagine that. Peyton Manning leads the charge, contributing 203.72 points to the Broncos offense this year. Drew Brees is listed in second, Philip Rivers' surprising campaign is in third, while Aaron Rodgers is in fourth.

Russell Wilson comes in at the five spot, more than 40 points behind the third-ranked Philip Rivers. Respectable? Absolutely. But the raw Passing NEP numbers show that Wilson isn’t quite on that elite level just yet.

On a per drop back basis, Wilson’s 0.23 average is worse than each of the aforementioned passers plus Nick Foles. If you think volume’s the reason for Wilson’s lower-than-you-thought Passing NEP, think again.

Lastly, take a look at the column on the right. The Pass Success Rate shows us the percentage of a quarterback’s passes that contribute positively towards that passer’s NEP. In the case of Wilson, his sub-50% rate leaves him with the seventh-best one among the top-10 2013 passers.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking: “But Russell Wilson gets it done with his legs, too! He’s not just a pocket passer!”

Correct you are. Below is a chart showing the top-five rushing quarterbacks in the NFL. By no surprise, Russell Wilson is part of that group.

PlayerRushing NEPRushing NEP/RushSuccess Rate
Cam Newton41.070.5665.75%
Andrew Luck30.490.8275.68%
Alex Smith20.140.3956.86%
Russell Wilson19.010.2863.24%
Terrelle Pryor17.360.2751.56%

Wilson’s the only player that makes this list and the passing list above. He’s the only quarterback in the league that has a top-five Rushing and Passing NEP.

I can already hear the chants. M-V-P! M-V-P!

With his legs, Russell Wilson has added an additional 19.01 points for the Seahawks this year. As I mentioned above, rushing is less efficient than passing, so this number is lower by default. However, even if we were to double it – putting him more on Cam Newton’s level – his Total NEP wouldn’t equal Philip Rivers’ Passing NEP. The only way, realistically, that Russell Wilson would overcome his passing deficit would be by having an absurd Rushing NEP total, and that’s just not the case.

The Supporting Cast

It’s never a player’s “fault” when he’s in MVP talks and has a stellar team around him. I’ve never really liked that argument. However, if a player does have a nice supporting cast, he should put up better numbers; numbers that are so good to the point that they dissuade people from using the “supporting cast” argument.

A great example of this is with Peyton Manning this year. We all know Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker are great receivers, but even with that, Manning’s playing better than we’d expect. And because of that, the “supporting cast” argument doesn’t really work – 41 touchdowns through 12 games is 41 touchdowns through 12 games. It’s ridiculous.

Let’s use the quarterbacks above who seem to have the most going for them analytically, and show where their supporting casts rank via the run and on defense.

PlayerTeam Adj. Rushing NEP RankTeam Adj. Defensive NEP Rank
Peyton Manning2218
Drew Brees1712
Philip Rivers931
Russell Wilson151
Nick Foles121

The metrics used in the chart above are our Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points and Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points. Essentially, the concept around these metrics are identical to the Passing NEP one described above, but each are on a team level adjusted for strength of schedule.

It’s pretty clear that, of the other quarterback MVP candidates, Russell Wilson has the best supporting cast. The Seahawks defense now ranks first in the league, and although they’re just 15th at running the football, they’re pretty average compared to the other players involved in the analysis.

For some perspective, the Seahawks defense has played over 61 points (-61.12 Adj. DNEP) above expectation. The Broncos, on the other hand, have an Adj. DNEP score of 24.11, playing worse than what would be expected, as shown by their below average rank. The difference between the two defenses is 85.23, which is the number of points Peyton Manning's Broncos would effectively gain if they had the Seahawks defense this year.

Doing the same exercise, Philip Rivers' defense has a 111.01 Adjusted DNEP. That's a solid 172.13-point difference from the Seahawks defense. You don't think that helps a quarterback, and in turn, helps his team win games?

This is Manning’s to Lose

If anyone’s questioning whether or not Peyton Manning should be MVP at this point in the season, they need to reassess how they’re evaluating the award’s potential winner. Not only is his Passing NEP through the roof – on pace to best the top one of all time – but he’s doing it with a running game that ranks 22nd in the league when adjusted for strength of schedule, and a defense that’s below average as well.

I do understand, however, that the talk with Wilson right now is that he should “just be involved” in the race. But even that point seems like a slight stretch.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve set this expectation that Drew Brees is Drew Brees, so anytime he plays at a Drew Brees level, it’s just an expectation – not an MVP season. And maybe we’ve written off Philip Rivers as a legitimate candidate because his team is now 5-7 in the best division in the AFC. People may just be ignoring Nick Foles, too, because he’s thrown under 200 pass attempts, and is “bound to regress.”

But given the metrics, and given what the MVP award is all about, I’d take any of those passers ahead of Wilson at this point in the season. Sure, the Seahawks are the best team in the league and Russell Wilson is the quarterback of that team, but that doesn’t mean he’s the most valuable player in the league.

I love Russell Wilson - he's great for the game, and appears to be the type of high-profile star that's actually a good role model. But I think it’s gotten to the point where we just want someone to compete with Manning for this award. And unfortunately, Russell Wilson shouldn't be that guy.

Not this year, at least.