Russell Wilson is not playing like the best quarterback in the NFL.
He has missed some open receivers, thrown the ball poorly at times, taken bad sacks, and thrown a couple bizarre INTs. You could probably look at the tape of Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, or Dak Prescott and seen some prettier film.
However, even though Wilson may be playing worse than those QBs, through nine weeks he is undoubtedly the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
The concept of value in the NFL is difficult to parse. Adrian Peterson had probably the best RB season in a decade, but was his 2,094 rushing yards (+214 receiving yards) more valuable than Drew Brees throwing for 5,177 yards, 43 TDs, at a 7.7 yards per attempt clip? The nature of the sport is that the QB is the most valuable position, and it would take an incomprehensible running back season to even get close to the value that a QB provides his team.
So, simply based on positional value, a quarterback should always win the MVP award. The award has often gone to the QB with the gaudiest stats. Yards, touchdowns, and avoiding interceptions is what makes QBs valuable so it makes sense to give the award to the QB that accumulates the most of these. The MVP award favors volume, so it selects for QBs that throw a ton. This is what has often disqualified Russell Wilson from the MVP arguments, because up until 2015 he simply did not throw enough to enter the mainstream discussion. And while Wilson is not good because of his run game or defense, with his low pass attempt numbers and few opportunities for shootouts, he never accumulated the volume necessary to be the NFL MVP.
Volume won’t be an issue this year.
Wilson currently leads the NFL in pass attempts and yards and is in the top 10 of TD%, Y/A, ANY/A, and passer rating. And he is doing with a run game ranked 19th in yards and 23rd in yards per carry. Oh and Wilson is currently the Seahawks’ leading rushing by yardage and attempts. However, he has not received much MVP buzz due to a slow start, and other, “more compelling” storylines such as a recent second overall pick playing behind a top-five offensive line with a top defense putting up impressive numbers, or a first overall pick with one of the strongest collections of offensive weapons throwing deep for the first time in his career, or a QB in his twilight years putting up numbers essentially in line with his last 3-4 years under the tutelage of the best coach in the NFL.
While these might be fun stories to feed into the NFL narrative machine, none of these players are as valuable to their teams as Wilson is to his. And I can prove it.
All stats are courtesy of the invaluable Pro-football-reference.com.
MVP Production %
|MVP||Yard %||TD %|
|MVP||Yard %||TD %|
This chart is a list of the last 10 players to win MVP and the percentage of their team’s yards and TDs they are responsible for. I was a bit shocked to see how stable these numbers are, with almost every QB accounting for about 73% of their team’s yards and about 70-80% of their team’s TDs. The only exception is Adrian Peterson’s 2012, which was a great season, but accounted for less than 40% of his team’s yards and TDs. For the visual learners out there, here is a graph. I have scaled the axis to focus on the QB MVPs, so that gap in 2012 should be there.
Taking just the QB MVP awards, the mean yard% is 72.6% and the mean TD% is 73.4%. How do the 2017 contenders match up to this standard? Here is another chart. Can you guess which QB is which?
2017 MVP Candidates
And here is it represented in graph form, with the answers.
I threw in Dak Prescott because he has dealt with a lot of the same caveats that applied to Russell in his first few years. Nearly every one of the contenders fits into the MVP zone of creating 65-75% of their team’s yardage and is clustered around creating 75% of their team’s TDs. The one exception is stark. Wilson accounts for over 80% of his team’s yards and 95% of his teams TDs. He is the Seahawks’ offense.
When he has a bad game, there is nobody else on that side of the ball to pick up the slack. These numbers, while a crude approximation of value, indicate that none of the other MVP candidates are playing as big a role in their team’s success as Wilson. If he maintains this pace, there will not be a worthier candidate for MVP. I don’t know if this pace is sustainable, but there is no QB I trust more to sustain the unsustainable than Wilson.