The Most Valuable Player should be the player who would most adversely affect his team if he were unable to play. Other conceptualizations of the MVP fail to recognize that it’s not an award for the best player irrespective of position. It’s the most valuable player, and value is inherently tied to a player’s position. For instance, Aaron Donald and Justin Tucker are transcendent players, but their value cannot be divorced from the position they play. Any reasonable person would agree that neither a Defensive Tackle nor Kicker is going to win the MVP, regardless of how good they are.
When thinking about the MVP, ask yourself the following question: how big of an impact would this player being unavailable have on his team’s win/loss record? The answer has to be at least a multiple game difference for the player to be in the conversation.
While there can be some debate about which player is ultimately the correct choice, it’s going to be a severely uphill battle for a non-QB to win the MVP. With the way the game is being played, there is no position that rivals the QB in terms of its impact on winning. Removing Tom Brady from the Bucs or Aaron Rodgers from the Packers would make their respective teams worse by 3-5 wins.
Even so, there is buzz growing for Jonathan Taylor to be the MVP. Since starting 1-4, the Colts have gone 7-2 to put themselves in playoff contention. Correspondingly, Taylor has had a spectacular season, accumulating over 1,500 yards on the ground and 19 total TDs thus far. He’s averaging 108.4 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry, both of which rank second. The Colts RB also received the most fan votes for the Pro Bowl.
This is all to say that Taylor is having an excellent season; he is a conspicuous talent and a key part of a good team. He deserves to be praised, but he should not win the MVP.
Let’s take a look at why Taylor’s MVP candidacy should not be gaining traction…
An MVP performance should result in a significant improvement in the team from the prior year or keep them at an extremely high level. Yet, the Colts are not doing better than last season. Through 15 weeks in 2020, Indy was 10-4. They are 8-6 this season.
Despite playing in one of the easiest divisions in football, they will likely have to settle for a wild card spot. They were swept by a Titans team that broke the record for most total game participants in an NFL season (since 1993) due to injuries. Prior to beating the Patriots this week, the only other playoff teams they had beaten were the Bills and 49ers.
As good as Taylor has been, the Colts are not a much better team than a year ago. Yes, Wentz has been up and down, but the other MVP candidates have either elevated their team’s success or they have kept them playing at an incredibly high level. Rodgers falls in to the latter category—the Packers are once again on pace for the bye, and they have only lost 2 games that he’s started.
With many running backs injured, backups are having significant impacts on games that matter. This week, Duke Johnson, D’Onta Foreman, and Jeff Wilson all played key roles in games with possible playoff implications. Craig Reynolds and the Lions became just the 3rd team in the Super Bowl era to enter a game with fewer than 2 wins and beat a 10-win team. Here’s how these four players, along with Taylor, performed this week:
For the most part, backup QBs do not have the same success when called to action. Mike Glennon, Tyler Huntley, Nick Mullens, Drew Lock, and Cam Newton all lost in Week 15. Although the Saints earned the win with Taysom Hill starting, the credit there belongs to the defense for shutting out Brady and the Bucs.
However, don’t take this to mean that running backs are unimportant. As I’ve written previously, it is quite the contrary. There is just an oversupply of talent at the position, which makes each individual player less valuable. In turn, this will make it very difficult for any RB to be worthy of the MVP.
For a running back to have any chance of being in the MVP race, he must play lights out. This entails having a major impact in the running game as well as the passing game and blitz pickups.
Whereas Taylor’s impact is primarily in the running game, there are other players (e.g. Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara) who have more dynamic roles. On his own team, Taylor is not even the best receiving back. The Colts take him out for some of the most important plays because Nyheim Hines is better in the passing game. Taylor has only played 59.3% of the Colts’ 3rd and 4th downs, and he has only played 59.1% of passing downs. This may be the majority of such snaps, but compare this to a QB who plays 100% of his team’s offensive snaps. In total, Taylor has played 66.7% of the Colts’ offensive snaps this season.
To his credit, Taylor did make a block on J.C. Jackson that enabled Hines to score against the Patriots:
Hines finds the endzone with a little help from JT. ????
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 19, 2021
The Colts would be worse without Jonathan Taylor, but his value is significantly less than that of the top QBs. There are other running backs who could help fill his void, as demonstrated by the above chart along with Nyheim Hines’ production. In contrast, if you remove Aaron Rodgers from the Packers or Tom Brady from the Bucs, they would go from Super Bowl contenders to around .500 teams.
You can argue that Taylor is the best player relative to his position, but he isn’t the most valuable. For the foreseeable future, that title will always belong to a quarterback. I’ll leave it up to you to determine which one is worthy of being the MVP this year.