The final play of Super Bowl XLIX will always be remembered for two things: Malcolm Butler intercepting Russell Wilson and the fact that the play was not a run by Marshawn Lynch. The idea of Lynch getting "redemption" for this playcall has probably glittered all of our minds at one time or another, but now that we are 12 games into the following season it seems obvious now that if it came down to the exact same situation again in Super Bowl 50, Lynch would again not get the ball.
Thomas Rawls would.
The undrafted rookie free agent has changed the hearts and minds of millions of Seahawks fans who still adore Lynch but can't ignore their puppy love for Rawls. He's not only got that new running back smell, but he's fulfilling the promises of Christine Michael without any of the "high draft pick" baggage. I can remember at some point in the summer, Danny Kelly began to ask some of our podcast guests on Real in the Field Gulls about Rawls and my first thoughts were always ... "Why?"
The list of undrafted running backs is shorter and less impressive than my ... bansai tree.
Arian Foster and Priest Holmes are by far the best of them, but then you're soon naming off players who could clearly never be of help to a team like Seattle such as ... Fred Jackson. (Who does happen to have the third-most career rushing yards for an undrafted player, just ahead of Willie Parker.) After all, I can't even recall if Danny, or anyone else, gushed about Rawls more or less than they did about Rod Smith. There were probably at least two dozen names in training camp that we all thought were interesting for one reason or another that are gone now.
Rawls couldn't hack it at in the land'o'lakes, why would he be able to do any better in the city'by'ocean?
In the preseason, Rawls finished third in the NFL in rushing yards. Which meant about as much as the fact that Zach Zenner and Jarryd Hayne finished first and second. What did mean something though was that he had fewer carries than Michael but 40 more rushing yards and what meant everything was that by the end of preseason, Michael and Robert Turbin were gone. People, including myself, had suspected all year that Michael would be released or traded, but Turbin?
Under the guise of an injury, Turbin had been thrown to the wayside and replaced not by Rawls really, but by Jackson. If anything happened to Lynch though, a 29-year-old running back who had somewhat miraculously avoided missing significant gametime with injuries and was potentially "due," it would be Rawls that would take his place.
A player who less than a year earlier had been at Central Michigan, where most of his games could only be seen on ESPN3.com. I mean, think about it.
Last year, Rawls wasn't even the leading rusher in the MAC. He was fourth. The guys ahead of him last season were younger, less experienced, and potentially much better prospects. I mean, the fourth-leading rusher in the MAC a year prior was David Fluellen. That's not the name of a running back, it's the name of a podiatrist.
Today, Rawls is the 10th-leading rusher in a league where probably less than 1-in-1000 MAC players are able to stick, and all nine running backs ahead of him this year have had more carries than he has. But that's not all.
Rawls leads the NFL in yards per carry and since Week 3, in which he has started 6 of a possible 10 games, he has the fifth-most rushing yards in the league. That is despite the fact that he had a grand total of 13 carries in the four game stretch between his two three-game starting streaks. Solve for X.
Also, Rawls has three games this season with at least 15 carries and 6.0 YPC, which is tied with fellow rookie Todd Gurley for the most in the NFL this year. The most. Rawls has only gotten that many carries in a game six times this year. That's less than 12. It's barely even seven! Wait, it's not even seven. It's six.
But none of those is really getting to the heart of this post, which is announcing Rawls candidacy for MVP. You know that Rawls has a harrowing underdog story, you know that in a limited sample size half he's been awesome, but what makes him the most valuable NFL player?
First of all, "most" is a relative term, so that means that we have to weigh him against every other player in the league and since many people are calling Cam Newton the MVP, we know that it's not a strong year of candidates. There is not a lot of talk these days for Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, or Drew Brees. Knowing that the winner of the award is always a quarterback or a running back, we can quickly eliminate a bunch of other players and focus on these two groups. What do we see?
Newton, Palmer, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton. Let me stop you at "Andy Dalton."
The obvious running back choice for the entire season has been Peterson, but the Vikings really don't look that good and Peterson was just outplayed last week by ... yep. Rawls. That's not the only place though where Peterson is getting beaten by Rawls all day.
He also has him (and pretty much every other running back in football) outranked in all of the advanced stats too.
Per FootballOutsiders, Rawls is ranked first in DYAR. First in YAR. First in success rate. And second in DVOA. The only player who is ranked ahead of him in DVOA is Le'Veon Bell, who only went ahead of him this past week because Rawls lost a couple of points. But Rawls is still well ahead of third place Giovani Bernard, and Bell could lose qualification soon since he is on injured reserve.
All of which is to say that on a per-play basis, Rawls has been the most valuable running back this season. Peterson is 15th in DVOA and 22nd in success rate. The only other backs to be ranked in the top five in all of those categories are Devonta Freeman and Bernard. Freeman, in line with the Atlanta Falcons, has fallen off considerably in the past month. Bernard is 21st in rushing yards.
So I actually think that you could argue right now that Rawls has been the most valuable running back, but also, there are still four games to go. He's ranked 10th in rushing yards right now but only 65 yards separates him and fourth place. By the end of the year, he could easily be top five in rushing yards, number one in yards per carry, and tops in all the advanced stats.
But is he the most valuable player?
Well, what is value? It can be applied to two things: How you affect the final score and how you affect the players around you. First, look at the final score.
In games where Rawls has gotten more than two carries, the Seahawks are 7-1. In the games where he has gotten two or fewer carries, they are 0-4. Fact. Value.
Over the last three games, in which Seattle has undoubtedly played their best offensive ball of the season, averaging 35.3 points per game, Rawls has put up 459 total yards with four touchdowns. With Lynch, the Seahawks were 1-17 when allowing 30 points. With Rawls, they're 1-0. Fact. Value.
But what does Rawls do for others around him? Does he lift them up? Both mentally and physically?
Yes. And yes. Wilson has a bible verse he's been saying a lot on Twitter recently that goes, "He must increase, but I must decrease." However, with Rawls, it's clear that as He increases, Wilson also increases.
Russell Wilson with Rawls: 121-of-165, 73.3%, 9.78 Y/A, 14 TD, 1 INT, rating of 129.7
Russell Wilson with Lynch: 120-of-187, 64.1%, 7.4 Y/A, 1,383, 7 TD, 6 INT, rating of 85.4.
In the six games in which Rawls has been a significant part of the offense, Seattle is 5-1. What sort of difference could Rawls -- who now has two career games of at least 160 rushing yards compared to zero for Lynch -- have made in the games in which he did not get an opportunity? Isn't there some room for interpretation on the word "valuable" to allow for us to assume that if the Seahawks have been so much better with him than without him, that his value is a difference of four wins?
Of course, there is!
The Carolina Panthers have won 14 straight games with Newton, but Newton actually didn't start the Panthers current winning streak ... Derek Anderson did. Anderson won the first two games of the streak at the end of last season, and actually posted much better numbers over those two games. I think we can also assume that if Rawls had to be substituted in for Newton, he would also throw five touchdowns and no interceptions.
So far, we haven't seen any evidence that Rawls can't do any of those things, or that he isn't worth between 13-15 wins per season.
There you have it folks. In one of the most unusual NFL seasons of recent memory, where anything can happen from the Panthers going 12-0 to the Raiders winning more than three games, why can't an undrafted rookie free agent with basically less than half of a season of experience not be the most valuable player? You can't say he's definitely not the wrong incorrect answer, can you?
And if I'm right, then maybe if Seattle is once again one yard away from a championship, you'll see who they think is the most valuable player. After all, it's not like they could make a bad decision in that situation or anything, right?