Why Russell Wilson Is a Legitimate MVP Candidate

Since Week 11, Russell Wilson has been on an absolute tear. And he's done enough to be included in the MVP conversation.

With just three weeks remaining in the 2015 NFL regular season, it’s time we start having a serious discussion regarding the NFL's Most Valuable Player award.

While the MVP trophy – as well as every other individual-based award – pales in comparison to the ultimate prize, a Super Bowl ring, don’t kid yourself by thinking players don’t strive to win it. Being recognized as the best all-around player in a single season is a highly prestigious honor.

Cam Newton is the current favorite to win the MVP, and rightfully so. He's the leader of the last undefeated team in the league, and has already set a career-high mark for touchdown passes in just 13 games this season.

Tom Brady is another possible MVP winner who, at age 38, is still one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the game. The fact that he has guided a team overwrought with injuries to an 11-2 record also helps his cause.

Carson Palmer has earned his place in the discussion as well, leading the Arizona Cardinals to an 11-2 record while on pace to set single-season career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns.

Is this a clear three-horse race? Or is there a darkhorse candidate lurking just behind the lead pack?

A Tale Of Two Seasons

With so many injuries to high-profile running backs this season, none have really emerged as possible MVP winners. Even so, since the 2000 season only four non-quarterbacks have won the award.

According to  the most current odds available at Odds Checker, the three quarterbacks listed above are the odds-on favorites to win the MVP trophy. 

Just behind, sitting at 28/1 odds, is Russell Wilson.

It’s been a tumultuous season for the Seahawks’ signal-caller. First we had  that strange “Recovery Water” thing, his much tweeted about relationship with pop star Ciara and, oh yeah, the fact that Seattle started the season 2-4 coming off an NFC championship in 2014.

Since their Week 6 loss to the Carolina Panthers, though, the Seahawks have gone 6-1 and placed themselves firmly into the wildcard picture, a situation that was difficult to imagine after such a disastrous start. 

And while the tides began to turn in Week 7 for both Wilson and the Seahawks in general, he has gone absolutely bananas over the last four games:

Game Completions Att. Comp % Pass Yards Pass TDs INT Adjusted Yards/Attempt
Week 11 24 29 82.8% 260 3 0 11.03
Week 12 21 30 70.0% 345 5 0 14.83
Week 13 21 27 77.8% 274 3 0 12.37
Week 14 23 32 71.9% 292 5 0 12.25

Using Tom Brady’s historic 2007 statistical season as a reference, Wilson’s numbers during this four-game stretch are right on par with Brady’s best stretch during his big campaign:

Game Completions Att. Comp % Pass Yards Pass TDs INT Adjusted Yards/Attempt
Week 5 22 38 57.9% 265 3 0 8.55
Week 6 31 46 67.4% 388 5 0 10.61
Week 7 21 25 84.0% 354 6 0 18.96
Week 8 29 38 76.3% 306 3 0 9.63

Wilson also ranks second in completion percentage, touchdown percentage, and adjusted yards per attempt this season, all measures of a highly efficient passer. 

When comparing Wilson’s  Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics -- our main algorithm used to show efficiency here at numberFire -- to the other three main MVP contenders, it’s clear to see that Wilson belongs in the conversation:

Player Passing NEP Passing NEP/Pass Passing Success Rate Rushes Rushing NEP Rushing NEP/Rush
Cam Newton 93.41 0.22 48% 98 27.36 0.28
Tom Brady 148.66 0.26 49% 20 11.28 0.56
Carson Palmer 164.16 0.35 53% 8 3.71 0.46
Russell Wilson 114.14 0.27 51% 72 22.16 0.31

While both Palmer and Brady have been relatively efficient runners this season, neither rely on their rushing ability all that much as evidenced by their small sample sizes. 

On the other hand, both Wilson and Newton are more than capable runners, and you can see that Wilson has been a slightly more efficient runner even though Newton has rushed for six more touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Wins Could Make The Difference

Judging by raw statistics and efficiency metrics, it’s clear that Wilson belongs among the candidates for the MVP trophy. The one area that currently puts him at a disadvantage is his team’s overall record.

And while attributing a team’s record to a quarterback alone is foolish, it’s become almost second nature. The importance placed on the quarterback position in today’s NFL lends itself to allowing this type of internal bias.

Newton, Brady and Palmer have combined for just four losses while Wilson has sustained five on his own. A strong finish to the regular season for Seattle could remedy this slight against Wilson, but it's still an uphill battle.

Barring a continued streak of “Madden-like” statistics and a deep playoff run, Russell Wilson will likely fall short in the MVP chase, but there’s no doubt that, based on statistics and metrics, he has earned a spot in the discussion.