As we approach the reveal of the NFL MVP award, the time-old debate of “How does one measure value on a football field?” is alive and well. It’s generally accepted that the quarterback position is easily the most valuable on the field. It’s also generally accepted that one cannot provide any value in games they don’t play in.
The difficult question, then, becomes, when does a player actually begin providing value once on the field? Is it once they cross replacement level? Once they're considered above-average? Once they outplay their backup? It’s a lengthy conversation, and frankly, one that’s been beaten to death already. So, without further ado, let’s examine the five players deserving to be in the discussion for NFL MVP this season.
[Editor's note: PFF will be revealing the winner of its Best Player award on Jan. 23, 2017. The Best Player award recognizes the best overall performance by an individual player in the NFL for one particular season, regardless of position. For more on PFF's awards, visit our awards page.]
1. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
The argument against Matt Ryan for MVP usually revolves around one of three things:
- Tom Brady’s level of play was higher.
- Ryan had a lot of help.
- He threw a game-losing pick-two versus the Chiefs.
The first argument we’ll address later. The second seems silly, considering few thought highly of Atlanta's receiving corps (outside of Julio Jones) before the season. And the final one is a singular game where he made two awful throws and still nearly hit 300 yards. No quarterback in the NFL recorded 15 games this season that can come close to matching Ryan’s best 15.
By almost any advanced statistical measure, Ryan is the obvious choice for MVP. His 4.99 air yards per attempt were tops in the league. His 136.1 passer rating on deep passes (throws traveling 20-plus yards downfield) is the highest we’ve ever seen in our 11 seasons of collecting data, thanks in part to an 11:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio on those throws. Ryan was also the only quarterback this season not to throw a single interception under pressure. When Ryan is putting up numbers the likes of which we’ve never seen in the PFF era (since the 2006 season), it’s hard to keep him out of the top spot.
2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
It was a tale of two seasons for the Packers quarterback. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Rodgers was the 14th-highest-graded quarterback in the league. Over the next nine weeks, though, no QB earned a higher grade. Rodgers finished the regular season with a league-high 40 touchdowns and an NFL-leading 93.8 passer rating under pressure. Over the second half of the season, he had an unbelievable 9:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio under pressure.
Even Rodgers' first-half struggles, though, come down to three ugly games against the Vikings, Giants, and Cowboys. Outside of those matchups, he recorded a 111.4 quarterback rating and 36 touchdowns, compared to three interceptions.
3. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
When it comes right down to it, Tom Brady missed four games due to suspension. That said, no one player recorded a higher average level of play this season—or arguably in the last 10. But at the same time, Brady provided exactly zero value in a quarter of the Patriots' games this season. His 0.8 percent turnover-worthy throw rate was the lowest of any quarterback in the past 11 seasons, and his four turnover-worthy throws were fewer than half that of the second-fewest (Tyrod Taylor’s 9). At 39 years old, Brady only seems to keep getting better.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 11, 2017
4. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Carr’s MVP campaign took two drastic hits late in the season. The first was one of the ugliest performances all year on a Thursday night game in Kansas City. The second was a leg injury that ended his—and effectively the Raiders'—season in Week 16. What happened prior to that, however, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Through the first 13 weeks of the season, no quarterback had a higher passing grade than Carr. Carr’s season is even more impressive when you consider the fact that no one quarterback suffered more dropped passes by his receivers than Carr’s 37. That’s over three times more than Marcus Mariota had this season in Tennessee (12). In only his third pro season, the Raiders quarterback looks poised to join the elite.
5. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
If there is a “lack of help” argument to be made anywhere around the NFL, it’s with Andrew Luck and the Colts. On his side of the ball, Luck was given a tattered offensive line with one of the league’s least-dynamic rushing attacks. Defensively, Indianapolis routinely put Luck behind the eight-ball early in games, with few redeeming qualities to speak of.
The only thing holding Luck back from the volume stats he put up in the past was the team's play-calling. He dropped back to pass over 100 fewer times than he did in his last full season (2014). It was probably for the best, though, as no quarterback was under pressure at a higher rate than Luck (44.4 percent of dropbacks) in 2016. With all that in mind, Luck still earned the week's highest game grade among quarterbacks in three separate weeks this season.