It was a glorious day to be an Indianapolis Colts fan on Sunday, perhaps as good a day as many of us can remember. As many have lamented, Indianapolis has actually been pretty good this year, only to come undone in close games against top teams like the Titans, Rams, and Ravens.
Even as the Colts entered halftime with a substantial lead, I feared we’d be watching a repeat against a very talented Buffalo team. I needn’t have worried. Indianapolis played a brilliant third quarter to put the game to bed and secure a dominant and vital 41-15 victory. One only needed to watch Frank Reich’s reaction to the win to see how much it meant to everyone in the organization.
There was a lot to like from many players, with the Colts secondary deserving particular praise for how they handled Allen, Diggs, and co. However, there can be no debate about the player of the game. Jonathan Taylor was utterly dominant, scoring five total touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) and gaining over 200 total yards. It was no surprise to see Taylor named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
The Colts have seen some incredible running backs in their history, with the names of Dickerson, Faulk, and James fondly falling from fans’ tongues. In less than two years in the league, Taylor has achieved feats only previously done for the horseshoe by those elite three players. Even more impressively, he’s done this despite a sluggish start to his professional career and a slow start to this season.
Before this weekend, the main talk around Taylor was whether he’s the best running back in the league when Derrick Henry is healthy. That’s a debate that will no doubt continue to rage for years to come. But after Sunday’s incredible performance, Taylor’s name was whispered in connection with a new accolade. Whispers that soon turned into a shout. I am, of course, talking about Taylor as an MVP contender.
I first saw this tweet from fellow second-year elite offensive weapon Michael Pittman Jr., but Reggie Wayne and others soon joined the calls. Even Good Morning Football has discussed Taylor’s MVP credentials. Jim Irsay seems pretty keen on Taylor too. Famously, it was Irsay who reminded Ballard how much he loved Taylor and encouraged him to trade up to get him.
As great as he has undoubtedly been so far this season, should Taylor be considered a genuine MVP contender?
His numbers have been very impressive. He has 1,122 rushing yards (with 299 receiving) and 15 total touchdowns. He ranks first in yards, touchdowns, and yards per carry amongst running backs. If he keeps this pace up, he will achieve 1,632 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns for the year. Yet, there are good reasons to believe Taylor could actually outperform these projections. Taylor had a slow start to his season, which was understandable given the Colts’ offensive line struggles and Wentz’s injury. It was only against Miami that Taylor started to get going. If Taylor can maintain his form over the past eight games for the rest of the season, he’ll be on course for an incredible year.
There can be little doubt that Taylor is the best healthy running back at the moment, and he’s making a great case to be the best running back in the NFL full stop. I’m not going to debate whether Taylor or Henry is the better running back here. But I do want to address the reasonable view I’ve seen expressed over the past few days; Taylor shouldn’t be MVP this year if Henry wasn’t even close to winning it last year.
I appreciate where those making this argument are coming from. Henry had an incredible year last season (and the season before that) and probably should have been in the conversation more. The challenge for Henry was that MVP has primarily become a Quarterback competition, and Aaron Rodgers had a fantastic year.
It’s always going to take a lot in the modern NFL for a Quarterback not to win MVP. The reason I think it might be possible this year is because no Quarterback has really made themselves the clear choice. Murray has had a brilliant season, but the significant number of games he missed due to injuries have held him back. Brady, Prescott, and Stafford have all had periods where they’ve looked formidable. But they’ve all had games where they’ve made bad mistakes and been kept quiet by defenses. Even last year’s frontrunners of Rodgers, Allen, and Mahomes have had some really bad games and have looked significantly worse than last season. There are others like Jackson and Herbert I haven’t yet mentioned, but like the others, they’ve had great moments and some uninspiring ones. One of these QBs I’ve discussed could catch fire and become an obvious MVP choice, but at the moment, none of them are ahead of the field.
When no Quarterback is clearly better than the other elite QBs, surely it’s right to give the MVP award to someone who has more clearly been one of the very best at their position? NFL fans seem to agree, with Jonathan Taylor opening a slender early lead in Pro Bowl voting. The man in second place, Cooper Kupp, absolutely also deserves to be in the MVP conversation. Taylor currently has more touchdowns and total yards than Kupp, but it’s certainly conceivable Kupp secures the award with a solid end to the season. Given Robert Woods’ injury, he’ll likely need to be brilliant if the Rams are to win the Super Bowl.
Just as the MVP award shouldn’t be confined to Quarterbacks, it shouldn’t be confined to offensive players. There have been many years where I wouldn’t have begrudged Aaron Donald winning the accolade. However, whilst he has played well again this year, he’s currently only 19th on the sacks leader board. This hasn’t been Donald’s best season and shouldn’t be the year he wins MVP. Myles Garrett leads the league in sacks with 13, closely followed by TJ Watt with 12.5. Both are brilliant players, but so far, neither feels like they’ve been dominant enough to really make themselves MVP contenders.
Elsewhere on the defense, Trevon Diggs has notched a lot of takeaways but certainly hasn’t been good enough all-round to be MVP. JC Jackson has arguably been the best corner but is probably in the DPOY race rather than the MVP one. Earlier in the season Colts, fans were talking about Darius Leonard as a possible DPOY given his remarkable success in forcing fumbles. Still, the way injuries have limited Leonard’s overall game probably rules him out of that.
One factor affecting many of the players I’ve mentioned is their team’s overall fortunes. The MVP doesn’t have to play for the best team, but they tend to play for one of the best ones and have a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs. Recent history shows that the MVP’s team seldom wins the Super Bowl. But the likes of Rodgers, Mahomes, Ryan, Brady, and Newton have tended to at least get to their respective division’s championship game after picking up the award.
Taylor, Garrett, and Watt are all on teams right in the mix of the crowded AFC playoff picture. We have to assume that for any of those three players to be genuine MVP contenders, they’ll have to make the playoffs and amass a lot of momentum over the next few weeks. A playoff place for the Colts is far from certain at this stage, but they’ve got a real chance. Given the number of Quarterbacks I mentioned earlier who’s played well, I could certainly see someone like Kyler Murray win a lot of games down the stretch to claim the MVP award.
I’m not saying that Taylor should definitively be the MVP come the end of the regular season; there’s far too much football left to be played to make that kind of statement. But I do think he’d have to be a frontrunner if the season ended tomorrow. More importantly, he’ll have to be a serious contender if he continues his current brilliant form and no other elite player somehow finds an extra gear to their game.
At this stage, the MVP race is wide open. A lot of great players are in the frame, but no one’s really seized the mantle like Mahomes and Jackson in years past. If Jonathan Taylor continues to play as well as he has in recent weeks, he has to be considered as good an MVP candidate as anyone else.