Just like with any league in professional sports, sometimes the NFL gets it wrong. Actually, they get it wrong a lot of the time with a variety of decisions, not the least of which is the MVP award. In theory, selecting a justifiable MVP should be easy, considering the fact that every season there are invariably a handful of players who excel beyond everybody else. The result really shouldn't be too questionable, considering the mounds of statistics that are available to mull over when picking the recipient of the award.
However, sometimes the selections are just downright odd. It doesn't occur every season, but there are definitely MVP names who are misplaced, ones who had one-off seasons, and some that didn't have elite seasons at all. It's bound to happen, just like in every sport, but in the NFL's case especially, there should exist some kind of parity between the selections. For example, a Redskins' kicker from the early 80s, probably doesn't have the same value or importance as Tom Brady. The only similarity between them? They've both won NFL MVP awards. That should tell you all you need to know.
Ranked below are the 15 least deserving MVP award winners in NFL history.
15 Shaun Alexander, 2005
Okay, so Alexander's 2005 season with the Seahawks was pretty unbelievable, especially the fact that he found the end zone a whopping 27 times that year. Still, he was the lone effective player in an offense that was highly conservative to begin with. He may have racked up over 1,800 yards on the ground that year, but he also carried the ball almost 400 times. This would also be the last relevant year in Alexander's entire career, as his production would soon fall off massively, beginning the next season. The numbers probably do hold up, but there's denying the fact that he was given every opportunity to win an MVP, and was aided by the fact that Seattle was able to reach the Super Bowl during that season.
14 Joe Montana, 1990
There's no doubt that Montana had plenty of MVP-worthy seasons that he was recognized for as well, but his 1990 campaign wasn't one of his best. On the whole of it, he posted pretty "decent" numbers, without looking like the elite player he had in years past. Of course, the 49ers as a team had another great season, making the Conference Championship, and Montana was at the helm, so its not necessarily a surprise that he was able to take home the honors. Still, in 1990 he was never able to post a career-best statistic in any category, making it questionable whether he deserved the MVP award. Most people are bound to look over it, given Montana's stature, but it's still worth mentioning all things considered.
13 Boomer Esiason, 1988
Esiason had a decent career, but was never able to turn into the all-time great talent that many thought he would develop into. His 1988 season wasn't anything spectacular, except for the fact that he was under center for a Bengals team that won 12 games and was considered to be one of the best in the league at the time. By today's standard especially, his numbers were fairly middling (an MVP with a 57% completion? OK...), yet he was able to capture the MVP award, the only one he received in his career, and by far the highlight of it as a whole. This is one the NFL would probably like to have back, as Esiason never became a household name after his retirement, and his presence on the MVP list looks somewhat out of place today.
12 Terrell Davis, 1998
While you could certainly make the the case that Davis deserved the MVP award during the Broncos' Super Bowl-winning 1998 campaign, it did come at kind of a bad time. After the '98 season, Davis was never the same again due to injury, and never rushed for more than 700 yards in a season during his last three years. This selection is more unfortunate than anything, as he was beginning to establish himself as a household name, and one of the best RBs in the league during this time. Perhaps the Super Bowl victory was his consolation prize, but Davis was never really relevant from a production standpoint ever again. He could have been one of the league's stars for several more years, but it just wasn't in the cards.
11 Steve Young, 1992
Young was Joe Montana's backup for several years before getting the call to the starting QB spot after he left. He was certainly a high quality talent, but his 1992 MVP campaign was a little more than questionable. The stat line reads like one from Alex Smith today, which certainly wouldn't be enough to take home the honors. It doesn't hurt that the Niners made the NFC Championship game and won 14 games during the regular season, but with the surplus of talent around him, Young didn't really have to excel for the team to win big. Aided by the presence of Hall Of Fame WR Jerry Rice, Young just had to be good, not great, and that's exactly what he did in 1992. Overall however, "good" doesn't cut it for MVP honors, and the award should have been given to another elite player during that season.
10 Steve McNair, 2003
For some reason, people seem to remember McNair's career in a higher quality light than what he actually produced. He was certainly a good QB, and his story, coming from Alcorn State to the NFL is quite remarkable, but he was never really an elite player. His numbers in 2003 weren't MVP worthy, and you could make the argument that it wasn't even the best season his career had to offer. There's no question that he was a relevant QB at the time, with his combination of pocket passing and entertaining scrambling, but not quite at the MVP level. He shared the honors that year along with Peyton Manning, and looking at it objectively, Manning should have received the award solo. Sadly, McNair passed away in 2009.
9 Thurman Thomas, 1991
Thomas was integral part of the Bills Super Bowl-appearing teams of the late 80s and early 90s, but the 1991 season wasn't even his best year, despite racking up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. In fact, the year that proceeded it was just as good, but the '91 season was the only year he would receive the award. It's still a bit of a curious choice, considering Thomas was never as much of a household name as other players of his era, however dominant on the field he may have been. He definitely deserved MVP honors in one season, but it probably should have came in 1992. Regardless, not the most egregious decision for an MVP, but the timing is somewhat curious.
8 Joe Theismann, 1983
Under center for the Super Bowl-winning Redskins during the 1983 season, Theismann had the best year of his career, but not worthy of the highest honor. Perhaps the near-4,000 yards in the air were more impressive during that era, but his stat line hasn't aged well, and there were arguably more important members of that Washington team. Theismann is much like Boomer Esiason in that he never really reached his full level of potential, but still had an overall solid NFL career, maintaining just enough recognition to still remain relevant from a historical perspective. Still, that doesn't mean he deserved the MVP in any season, despite the fact that he had his best performance in the '83 campaign. Another dud on the all-time MVP list.
7 Cam Newton, 2015
There's no doubt that Cam was the biggest story during the 2015 season, but I have a feeling that it's not going to age well. He had a great year, but right now, there's a distinct possibility that it will be his only elite season, and that he'll be looked at as somewhat of a gimmick by future generations. His pouting when things aren't going his way doesn't help, and in general his receiving of the award leaves a bit of a bad taste. I guess you could say that statistically he deserved it, but the Panthers' struggles recently don't help his case, making it seem like the defense from 2015 is what ultimately got them to the Super Bowl. Cam still has time to turn it around, but it's becoming more and more of an uphill battle. We'll put a rain check on this one, and revisit in the next few years to see if his situation has improved any.
6 Brian Sipe, 1980
Yes, the Cleveland Browns long ago once had an MVP award winner on their roster, which seems unbelievable at this point in time. Sipe had unquestionably his best season in 1980, and you could definitely make an argument that he actually deserved the award, but it's still strange since he's one of the most anonymous players on this list. It's also one of the few good seasons he actually had, despite the fact that he played in the league for nearly a decade. No one may know who he is today, but he's still in the history books, and deserves some level of praise. It's just odd picturing a Browns QB who was actually in the starting role for more than two seasons. Alas, it happened, and Sipe is probably a top ten player in franchise history.
5 Terry Bradshaw, 1978
One of the most overrated QBs of all-time, Bradshaw did have his best season in 1978, which accounted for another Steelers Super Bowl victory. This year saw Bradshaw excel, when he actually threw more for more touchdown passes than he did interceptions, a rarity for his long career in Pittsburgh. No other QB has aped the success of his roster more than Bradshaw has, and even in his best statistical season, this has never been more clear. In all honesty, the quality of his play was always a dud, and even though he was able to capture an MVP award, there were more deserving names in the late 70s that should have taken home the honors. Bradshaw has always had the benefit of rewritten history books, and rose-colored glasses.
4 John Elway, 1987
Elway on the other hand, was a talented QB, it's just that 1987 wasn't even close to being his best season, yet it's the one where he took home the award. Throwing less than 20 TD passes, and not even completing 55% of his passes, it's curious as to why this would be the season for Elway as MVP. He's had at least a half dozen better statistical seasons, and ones that landed him more postseason success. It's not so much of a matter of quality, moreso that Elway just had far better examples of his work on his resume. Consider this MVP award somewhat premature, as Elway would only get better with time, and prove that he was capable of individual seasons that looked way better on the state.
3 Ken Anderson, 1981
Anderson falls into that "somewhat anonymous" category of names on this list, and for good reason. His 1981 campaign was certainly good, but there were much more deserving names in the league at that point, and he was able to capitalize on the Bengals' 12-win season that year. Not that he was a terrible NFL QB, but Ken Anderson on a list that has names like Manning, Brady, etc. looks out of place. Standards of play change over time, but there were still enough dynamic players in the league back then to give the award to someone else. Anderson's career was mediocre, throwing almost as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. It's tough to rip the decision completely, since this was his one quality season, but in hindsight the league probably would like to have this one back.
2 Rich Gannon, 2002
Gannon's time in Oakland was an anomaly when compared to the rest of his career, and his 2002 season was admittedly very good, despite the fact that he had a dynamic offense and great skill players to work with. It just looks questionable because this was the last complete season of Gannon's career, and is really an outlier in the grand scheme of things. Of course, the Raiders made the Super Bowl this year, and Gannon was for one year the ageless wonder of the league, but in reality, it was a fluke season in which the Raiders and Gannon took advantage of a weak AFC. It's a nice story to reminisce over, but it hardly stands the test of time, and Gannon was never really the best player in the league. It was all downhill for Oakland after this, as they toiled in mediocrity for over a decade.
1 Mark Moseley, 1982
Something must have been in the water during the NFL's MVP selections during the early 80s. In no other era would a kicker (yes, a kicker), actually win an MVP award. Now, yes, he did made 95% of his field goal attempts this year, but that's happened multiple times before, and no one at his position was ever even considered for MVP. On top of that, he still missed three extra point attempts, so his season wasn't all that impressive to begin with. To make matters even more laughable, Moseley never even came close to a field goal percentage of even 80 for the rest of his career. The 1982 season turned out to be a complete anomaly for him, and he never replicated the performance. It's by far one of the most head-scratching decisions for an MVP award in any professional sport, and one that has no chance of happening today.