The Associated Press Most Valuable Player Award in the NFL is the highest honor a player an individual player can receive following the regular season. The award is given to the player most valuable to the NFL during a given season. The MVP is chosen by a panel of 50 sports writers who select their choice prior to the start of the playoffs. The winner is then revealed the night before the Super Bowl at the annual NFL Awards Show. The award has seen multiple 2x winners as well as an unbelievable 5x winner in former Colt and Bronco Peyton Manning.
The one flaw of this award, however, is the lack of position players on the list. Since 1987, every winner of the award has been either a quarterback or running back. It is hard to make any case that this consistency in MVP winners is a coincidence. The voters tend to lean on their biased opinion of who they think should win the award instead of who the best fit would actually be. Whether or not we like a certain selection for MVP, most of the time the voters seem to give the right player the proper honor.
Many factors go into the NFL MVP award that makes it a difficult decision to vote on. Some voters believe that without a winning record, outstanding numbers will not be enough to carry a player to the award. Quarterbacks have won twelve of the last fifteen MVP awards and are often selected because they are accounted for the team’s win/loss record as well as every throwing statistic.
Here is a ranking of the last fifteen MVP winners not including multiple winners:
15 2003 - Steve McNair
Many people remember Steve McNair for the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV when he completed a pass to Kevin Dyson who fell just one yard short of tying the game for the Titans as time expired. McNair played nine seasons in Tennessee, but saw his best year statistically come in 2003. He led the league in quarterback rating with a 100.4 and threw for a career high 24 touchdown passes. He led the Titans to a 12-4 record but saw a bitter end to the season following a playoff loss to the New England Patriots.
McNair is often forgotten as an MVP because he had to share the award with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning also led the Colts to a 12-4 record and won the AFC South after beating McNair’s Titans twice. Manning led the league in passing yards with 4,267 while also throwing 29 touchdowns. If it had not been for the future 1st ballot Hall of Famer, the career of McNair might be more well known.
14 2002 - Rich Gannon
Rich Gannon spent 15 years in the NFL primarily as a backup quarterback before winning his NFL MVP award with the Oakland Raiders. He was considered a journeyman backup who fluttered between 2nd and 3rd string while playing for the Vikings, Redskins, and Chiefs. He was finally given his first permanent starting job when he signed with the Oakland Raiders in 1999. He flourished immediately in Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense and made the Pro Bowl his first four years in Oakland.
During his MVP season, Gannon led the league in completions with 420 and passing yards with 4,689. The Gannon led Raiders made their way to Super Bowl XXXVI but were blown out by former coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gannon threw for an NFL record 5 interceptions during the game and never started a full season in the NFL again.
13 1996 - Brett Favre
Long before the Brett Favre retirement saga taking place at the end of every season in the late 2000’s, he was the first and only quarterback to win three consecutive MVP awards from 1995-1997. His most impressive, however came in 1996 when he led the team to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. Favre threw for 3,899 yards and 39 receiving touchdowns which at the time was the third highest in league history.
Favre won his first and only Super Bowl ring in 1996 while also becoming the first quarterback in history to throw for 3 touchdowns in the Super Bowl and not win the game’s MVP award. Besides that award, Favre at one point or another has owned almost every record for a quarterback. The most impressive record that will most likely never be broken is his 297 consecutive games played.
12 2015 - Cam Newton
With very high expectations being taken number one overall, Cam Newton has shown Carolina Panther fans a bright future during his six years in the league. He has successfully transitioned from a running quarterback in college to an explosive dual threat who is just as talented slinging the ball as he tucking it away and running. His MVP season led the Panthers to an almost perfect 15-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl 50.
He threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns while also running for 636 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He was the ultimate definition of most valuable to his team combining for 45 total touchdowns which was the most for a player since 2013. Although his efforts ended in a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, he still led the Panthers to their best record in franchise history.
11 2016 - Matt Ryan
Unfortunately for Matt Ryan, his MVP year will be overshadowed by the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history. The Falcons led the game 28-3 with just over eight minutes left in the 3rd quarter and instead of letting the clock run down, they continued to rely on their MVP to bring them home. Ryan cracked under the pressure and failed to score another point. The regular season, on the other hand, was a different story for Ryan and the Falcons offense.
Ryan’s numbers speak for themselves regarding his MVP season. He threw for a career high 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns while leading the Falcons to the number one scoring offense in the league. With just a few more big plays on the defensive side of the ball, Ryan may have had a storybook ending to his MVP season.
10 2000 - Marshall Faulk
The first running back to appear on this list is none other than the lead back from the Greatest Show On Turf. Marshall Faulk is often considered at the top of the list when it comes to the most versatile running backs in league history. Not only would teams have to load the box on obvious run situations, but also keep linebackers away from him when he goes out for a pass. Faulk even broke the record for most receiving yards the previous year when he caught 87 passes for 1,048 yards.
The Rams led the league in scoring during his MVP campaign totaling 540 points. Faulk was responsible for 1,359 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns along with 830 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Without Faulk, the Rams may never have reached all-time great status in the midst of the early 2000s.
9 1999 - Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner’s journey to an NFL MVP is one that most people would call a storybook ending. After being cut by the Green Bay Packers in 1994, Warner worked as a grocery store cashier making just $5.50 an hour. Thankfully for him and thousands of St. Louis football fans, he never gave up on his dream and continued to pursue it even when it looked bleak. He was finally given his chance as a full time starter in 1999. Warner joins Brett Favre as the only person on this list to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory after winning the MVP award.
In just his first year starting, Warner put up an astonishing 4,353 yards and led the league with 41 touchdowns. He capped his storybook ending with a Super Bowl MVP award after beating Steve McNair’s Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV.
8 2005 - Shaun Alexander
The Seattle Seahawks had been irrelevant as a franchise for many years until Shaun Alexander arrived on the scene. After sitting behind Ricky Watters his rookie season, Alexander exploded onto the scene and became a 1,000 yard rusher for the next five years capping a historic 2005 season. He broke several records during his MVP season including most 100 yard rushing games against divisional opponents with 9 and 28 total touchdowns surpassing Priest Holmes' record.
The Seahawks relied on Shaun Alexander who carried them all the way to Super Bowl XL. Alexander, however, finished the game under 100 rushing yards and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10. He never seemed to recover from the loss, failing to reach 1,000 yards again in his career.
7 2006 - LaDainian Tomlinson
Ladainian Tomlinson did not give people a chance to breathe after witnessing Shaun Alexander’s rushing and total touchdown record performance. The very next year Tomlinson broke both records rushing for 28 touchdowns and 31 total touchdowns during the 2006 season. Tomlinson carried the Chargers to their best record in franchise history in 2006 when they finished with the number one seed in the AFC and a 14-2 record overall. Unfortunately, they ran into Tom Brady and the Patriots and were bounced after just one game.
Tomlinson will go down as one of the greatest running backs to ever play in the NFL. He owns dozens of NFL records including an impressive eight straight 1,000 yard seasons to begin his NFL career. He capped off his career by being inducted into the NFL Class of 2017 Hall of Fame Inductee.
6 2011 - Aaron Rodgers
Doesn’t it seem like Aaron Rodgers is in the running for the MVP award every year? He is certainly Green Bay’s most valuable player because they’ve seen how awful their offense can look when he’s not in the lineup. Following his first Super Bowl victory in 2010, Rodgers led the Packers to a 15-1 record while throwing for a career high 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns.
He also broke the record for QB rating in a season at 122.5. His MVP season ended short as well becoming the first team in NFL history to finish the season at 15-1 and not win a playoff game. Without any doubt, Rodgers will find his way into Canton someday and more than likely break many more quarterback records along the way.
5 1998 - Terrell Davis
The shortest NFL career on this list belongs to the 1998 MVP Terrell Davis, who is often remembered for helping John Elway win his two Super Bowls in the late 90s. Davis played just seven seasons in the NFL with his best season stats wise coming in '98. Davis is one of just seven men in league history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season with 2,008 and 21 rushing touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Davis could never recover from injuries following his MVP season and called it a career just three seasons later. He never reached 1,000 yards rushing and never saw more than eight games of action during a season when he finally hung up the cleats. Who knows how great he could have been if only he had stayed healthy?
4 1997 - Barry Sanders
One of the lone bright spots of the Detroit Lions franchise is the career of running back Barry Sanders. Sanders is without an argument the best player to ever put on a Lions uniform and his statistics speak for themselves. Sanders ran for 1,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl in each of his ten seasons in the league. His most impressive season came in 1997, running for 2,053 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Lions lost their wild card matchup against the Buccaneers 20-10 to end Sanders' astonishing season. Following the 1998 season, Sanders shocked the world when he announced his retirement. It was hard to blame him at the time because of the lack of talent the front office put around him. To this day, Sanders is often regarded as the best running back to ever play in the NFL.
3 2007 - Tom Brady
Now nicknamed as the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady finds himself 3rd on the best MVPs of all time. Had it not been for one of the greatest Super Bowl catches in league history, Brady’s 2007 season might be talked about more often. Brady led the 2007 Patriots to the first ever perfect regular season at 16-0 with the help of future Hall of Famer Randy Moss and the shifty Wes Welker. During the last game of the season against the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Brady threw his 50th touchdown breaking the previous record held by Peyton Manning.
Although Brady will be remembered as the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls, his greatness during the 2007 season will be difficult for another quarterback to replicate. People from this generation should be glad they were able to see the greatest quarterback to ever play.
2 Adrian Peterson, 2012
The single greatest MVP performance for a running back belongs to the 2012 season of the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. When healthy and out of league trouble, Peterson has proven to be a top back in the league year in and year out. No matter how often teams seem to stack the box, Peterson is still able to break free every once in a while for a huge game changing play.
Peterson put the team on his back during the 2012 season falling just 9 yards short of the NFL record for rushing yards in a season when he finished with 2,097 along with 12 touchdowns. The 7x Pro bowler helped take the Vikings to the playoffs following a 10-6 record where they lost to the division rival Packers on Wild Card Weekend. As great as Peterson was that year, injuries and off the field issues have left him looking for a job heading into the 2017 season.
1 Peyton Manning, 2013
Peyton Manning statistically has had the greatest season by a quarterback in the NFL. Even though he lost one of the most lopsided games in Super Bowl history, many people will remember his record setting 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. His 55 touchdowns marked the second time in his career he broke the record for passing touchdowns in a season. The first coming in 2004 when he broke Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino’s record of 48 in 1984.
Manning has been referred to as the greatest regular season quarterback to ever play, which is a very true sentiment. For years, the 5x MVP would put up remarkable stats in the regular season but fall short of the ultimate goal giving him a postseason record of 14-13. Thankfully after years of carry his teams on the weight of his arm, Manning was able to ride his number one defense during the 2015 season all the way to the Super Bowl and finish his career as a Super Bowl champion.