A little over a month ago, I posed the question of whether Jonathan Taylor was legitimately in the Most Valuable Player (MVP) conversation. Following a brilliant performance in a huge win against the Buffalo Bills, I decided that he was. But with only two games left of the regular season, does Taylor still have a legitimate chance to be this year’s MVP?
We know MVP tends to go to a Quarterback, with the Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY) award being a prestigious consolation prize that usually goes to the best running back, wide receiver, or another Quarterback. We need to accept that Quarterbacks are likely to usually win the MVP award, even if we don’t believe it should be the case.
However, part of the reason I thought Taylor had such a good chance of being MVP was the fact no Quarterback was having an outstanding season that separated them from the other elite quarterbacks in the league. As great as the likes of Burrow, Herbert, Jackson, Murray, and Stafford were playing, none had done enough to put them in MVP contention. As brilliant as Burrow was against Baltimore last week, none of those players are in the conversation now.
There are, however, two Quarterbacks who have emerged as legitimate contenders now. The first is reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. He has to be considered the best Quarterback this year, throwing 33 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Wins aren’t a QB stat, but Rodgers has led the Packers to a 12-3 record to this point. Whilst Green Bay looked terrible in their loss to Kansas City, where Jordan Love had to play in place of Rodgers. The biggest argument against Rodgers being MVP this year is that he hasn’t been as good as last season, where he was the clear choice for the award. Rodgers is on course to throw fewer touchdowns and has a lower passer rating with roughly the same number of interceptions as last year. That still shows Rodgers having another excellent season this year, and if any Quarterback is MVP this year, it should be him. But it does mean it is a less obvious choice this year.
Others are calling for Tom Brady to be given his fourth MVP award. Brady does lead the league in many important categories, including yards (4,580) and touchdowns (37). However, Brady has also thrown 11 interceptions, tied for 17th in the league. If Taylor’s MVP credentials are hurt by the fact, he runs behind possibly the best offensive line in the league, as some have claimed. Then I think Brady’s credentials should equally be hurt by the fact he’s been playing with probably the best weapons in the league, a great offensive line, and an elite defense. I do also wonder whether either Brady or Rodgers MVP cases are hurt by their respective terrible performances against the New Orleans Saints this year.
I maintain that if a QB is to win this year’s MVP, it needs to be Aaron Rodgers, barring any particularly brilliant or terrible performances in the last two games of the season. That being said, I don’t think any QB has nailed down the award this year. That leaves the door open for Jonathan Taylor, but it also leaves the door open for Cooper Kupp.
Many pundits and fans have said throughout this season that if Jonathan Taylor is in MVP contention, then so should Cooper Kupp, and they’re right. Kupp is having a phenomenal season. He’s on course to have 1,850 yards and 15 touchdowns, which would make his season one of the best in terms of receiving yards. However, it would be significantly short of the greatest seasons for receiving touchdowns enjoyed by Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. Needless to say, Cooper Kupp is enjoying a brilliant season and has been the key offensive weapon for an LA Rams team that has been successful despite injuries to the likes of Cam Akers and Robert Woods. I wouldn’t begrudge Kupp if he won either the MVP or OPOY awards, but I think there is still a strong case for Jonathan Taylor.
How good has Taylor been since I wrote that article after the Buffalo game? There can be no doubt that Jonathan Taylor has continued to have a stellar season. He’s rushed for 1,626 yards and 17 touchdowns so far this season, with another 336 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on top of that. Since the Buffalo game, Taylor outmuscled a Patriots team expecting the running game, securing the win with a brilliant touchdown.
It says a lot that two of Taylor’s statistically less impressive games have come in the past few weeks. Against Tampa’s best run defense in the league, Taylor struggled to make an impact for three quarters but still ended with almost 100 combined yards and a touchdown. Against a strong Arizona defense and behind an almost entirely backup offensive line, Taylor still managed to rush for 108 yards. These contributions against teams that know the Colts will run the ball have helped open up the passing game for Wentz. Making them almost as valuable as his more statistically successful games.
If anything, I expect Taylor to outperform his projected stats for the end of the season. Like the rest of the team and Colts fans, Taylor will be delighted to have at least most of his starting offensive line back against Las Vegas this Sunday. He had a productive outing against them last year, rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns, whilst the run defense has continued to be an Achilles heel for the Raiders. With Taylor playing even better than he did last year, I expect him to have a strong game this Sunday. The Raiders have two strong Defensive Ends in Crosby and Ngakoue, but I expect the likes of Nelson and Kelly to create interior running lanes for Taylor to exploit.
The final week features a potentially even more favorable matchup against a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars team. It’s possible that if Indianapolis has secured a playoff spot by beating Las Vegas this weekend, they could rest big players like Taylor against Jacksonville. However, I think that’s unlikely as Colt’s playoff seeding will still be important and worth fighting for. Jonathan Taylor had one of the best games of his young career in the final week of last season as he rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville. Given the Jaguars don’t look to have significantly improved over the past year, Taylor will clearly have the opportunity to have another big game against Jacksonville to close this year’s regular season. It is possible that Taylor doesn’t get a lot of second-half snaps if the Colts control the game, but the Colts have rarely been in that kind of position in Jacksonville in recent years. If they are, I suspect it will be because Taylor will already have had a successful day.
Taylor has the opportunity to rush for 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and could even have close to 2,500 and 25 combined touchdowns come to the end of the regular season. If he can have great games against Las Vegas and Jacksonville to put up those kinds of numbers, I can’t see Rodgers or Kupp beating him to the MVP award.
When various media organizations have floated Jonathan Taylor as a potential MVP candidate, a common riposte has been that Jonathan Taylor shouldn’t win the award if Derrick Henry didn’t last year. I don’t find that argument convincing or relevant. As I said earlier, I don’t think any Quarterback has had the kind of year Rodgers did last year, a performance that made Rodgers the clear choice for MVP. The competition to be this year’s MVP is between Taylor, Kupp, and Rodgers this year, not with Henry or any other player last year.
Henry and Taylor are undoubtedly both elite running backs. I hope both will remain fully healthy next year so we can decide who is the best running back in the NFL. I will be ready to praise Taylor’s strength, speed, and superior efficiency. I’m sure Titans fans will highlight Henry’s own power and speed as well as his ability to wear defenses down with attrition and beat them in the fourth quarter. We will have to see whether it is sustainable for Henry to have that kind of workload after returning from injury. But it will be for Taylor and Henry next year to battle it out to be the best running back in the league. There can be no doubt that Taylor has been better than Henry this year, and Henry’s brilliant performance last year is irrelevant to this year’s MVP conversation.
I don’t believe that the MVP award should be confined to offensive players, but I don’t think any defensive player has made themselves genuine MVP contenders this year. I suspect the likes of Watt, Garrett, Donald, Parsons, and Leonard will be battling it out to be the Defensive Player of the Year. I’m sure whichever wins will be a deserving recipient of the award, but I don’t think they’ve done enough to be MVP. Some have also highlighted Trent Williams’ incredible season as deserving of greater accolades. As undoubtedly brilliant as Williams has been this year, it’s so hard to give an offensive lineman an individual award given the limited individual stats for an offensive lineman. However, I would love to see Quenton Nelson win OPOY or MVP in the coming years.
With only two games left, the MVP competition has to be a three-way race between Taylor, Kupp, and Rodgers. Rodgers is probably the favorite as a Quarterback. But Taylor has the opportunity to make the award his own if he can take advantage of two favorable matchups. With the Colts on the brink of making the playoffs as the 5th seed in the AFC, being named MVP would be just a reward for his role in making the Colts a winning team that no one will want to face in the playoffs.
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