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The Great MVP Debate

Stepping away from the joke that has become the Jets, I wanted to jump in on the NFL MVP debate and write something about it. This seems to be a wide open race between Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson with Tom Brady looking on the outside at the award. The Vikings late push for the playoffs seems to have swayed some voters his way that were discounting him because his team would be eliminated in the regular season. So I wanted to look at three categories that I think should be used as something in evaluating this award, especially since it is almost always an offensive player that wins this award.  I’m going to also include Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers since I think both should be considered as well.

Percentage of Team Offense

I think this is the category that defines just how important a player is to the overall success of the team. Now its not fair to compare the two positions since the league is designed for Quarterbacks to gain far more yards than a Running Back. For example Mark Sanchez is responsible for 60.8% of the Jets offensive output in 2012, far greater than any back in the league. Adrian Peterson accounts for 42.8% of the Vikings offensive production, which is 9.1% higher than the next closest player and 20.3% higher than that of the average number 1 back for each team. Historically, if Peterson was to win this award, that 42.8% would rank third all time for RB’s named MVP. The only RBs to win the award with a higher percentage of offensive output were OJ Simpson and Walter Payton. It would tie with Marcus Allen, so Peterson is doing something unheard of in the modern era.

adrian peterson performance

To compare the positions this year more realistically I wanted to see how much percentage of offense above the average each player accounted for. The average QB provided for 66.2% of the teams offensive yardage. The average RB accounted for only 22.4%. To adjust the numbers to the same base I made a linear adjustment to each running backs numbers to bring the average to the same 66.2% base.

Name Percent of
Team Offense
Times Greater
Than Average
Peterson 42.8% 1.31
Ryan 81.9% 1.24
Rodgers 78.4% 1.18
Manning 74.2% 1.12
Brady 71.4% 1.08

It’s a pretty clearcut win for Peterson in this category providing 1.31 times the average at his position. Matt Ryan actually is not the highest ranking QB in the NFL. Tony Romo, who makes up 83.1% of the Cowboys offense, ranks first while Cam Newton ranks second.  Neither Manning nor Brady even rank in the top 10 in the NFL.

Increased Yardage

For this category we turn to our friends at Pro Football Focus who collect a number of key data points that we can use to determine how much actual yardage that the player is adding to the team above the average player. For the QB this yardage is based on difficulty of pass and for RB it is for yards after contact.

As a quick explanation of how this works PFF tracks passes by distance in the air. Evaluating the numbers leaguewide we can determine a baseline for the average result for a pass depending on how far the ball is thrown. Using that baseline and applying to our candidates we can estimate the result that should have been achieved with the normal QB throwing the same set of passes and compare it to the actual result. This is not a number PFF tracks, but I think a very valuable tool to realize the overall value of the player.

For the RBs we want to look at yards after contact which is a primary measure of how many yards created by the back and how many by the offensive line. The average of the number 1 set is our baseline value which we can use to determine the expected yards and compare it with the actual yards after contact for Peterson.

Those two categories are the primary categories. I also wanted to include a secondary category which is rushing yards for the QB and receiving yards for the RB. These numbers are calculated based on the average YPA and YPR for our sample sets.

Name Primary  Secondary Added Yards
Peterson 437.1 -78.9 358.2
Rodgers 289.0 29.8 318.8
Ryan 309.5 -5.8 303.7
Brady 262.7 -65.6 197.1
Manning 267.7 -91.6 176.1

Peterson comes out on top of the rankings with an additional 358.2 yards generated. His primary total is an incredible 437.1, over 100 yards more than Matt Ryan.  I found it interesting that neither Manning nor Brady ranked highly and it may indicate that the name value is going a far way towards those two getting the top QB consideration for the award. The one advantage that Brady does have is that he has saved his team 9 interceptions this season while Ryan is only at 2. Rodgers saved 6 and Manning 5. Peterson isn’t really saving any turnovers. People may count that for something.

Strength of Schedule

For the final category I wanted to look at how difficult the schedule the players faced this season. For the passers this will be factored in as yards per attempt since that takes into account both completion percentage and yards allowed. For Peterson it is yards per carry. The league average this year was 6.65 YPA and 4.26 YPC.  Ryan and Manning both had schedules that were easier than average, in Ryan’s case significantly easier, with his opponents averaging 7 YPA. Brady had the toughest schedule at 6.27 YPA. Peterson also faced a tougher than average schedule at 4.18.

Performing a similar adjustment to the one I made in the first category to get the base values similar between the passers and runner I calculated the amount of additional yards per attempt that the player contributed based on the schedule he played. 

Name Percent Increase
Peterson 28.40%
Brady 20.50%
Rodgers 19.30%
Manning 16.40%
Ryan 13.10%

Peterson beats out the field again with Brady slightly higher than Rodgers.


I think it becomes clear that Peterson really deserves the MVP award this season. He blows away the field in both importance to the team and actual production. It really should not even be a close vote. Id put Rodgers second, though you can make an argument for Ryan to get the nod. Ryan is more productive but also benefits from a weak schedule. He also does not prevent the turnovers like the others on the list. I think both of those factors are key. Really neither Brady nor Manning belong in the discussion. Brady is more deserving than Manning and his best qualification is that he faces a difficult schedule and never turns the ball over.

All told after looking at everything Im surprised that this has even been a debate. I think people sometimes get too wrapped up in the name value of the Quarterback when a real detailed look at the production indicates something very different than the perception.  If Peterson was to not win this award, even if the Vikings do not make the playoffs, would really be a robbery especially if he loses it to Manning.  

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