It is a special week for NFL Thursday as we have a fun Thanksgiving Day slate of football ahead. We have also hit the midpoint of the 1980s, and the MVP battle rages on: quarterbacks or running backs? Perhaps, just maybe, this is the year a defensive player sneaks in, however.

Read on to find out who gets the hardware in 1985 …

1985 MVP: Marcus Allen (original AP & PFWA, confirmed)

Let’s start with defense again: New York Jets inside linebacker Kyle Clifton totaled 160 tackles on the year while also intercepting three passes and recovering two fumbles. That’s an impressive season, and his team even won 11 games to make the playoffs. He’s a contender.

Anyone else on defense to consider? Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent (17.5 sacks, two INTs, and two fumble recoveries) and New England Patriots outside linebacker Andre Tippett (16.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries) are right there as well. These two teams met in the Super Bowl, so that gives us three potential MVP candidates on defense alone.

It was a “down” year for QBs, though, as only three of them posted QB ratings in the 90s, led by Jets signal caller Ken O’Brien (96.2): No one came within 3 points of his mark, and of course, we know New York reached the postseason, too. O’Brien advances for now.

Two RBs averaged well over 100 yards per game: Los Angeles Raiders tailback Marcus Allen (1,759 yards and 11 TDs with 3 fumbles) and Atlanta RB Gerald Riggs (1,719 yards with 10 TDs and zero fumbles). The Raiders won the AFC West, but the Falcons tallied just 4 victories in the NFC West, so Riggs didn’t have MVP value.

There were a lot of good receivers—11 players topped the 1,000-yard mark—but none of them stood out in an MVP way, which takes us to the scrimmage-yards category, where we do have some additional contenders to look at for this season’s MVP analysis.

Allen topped all players with a then-record 2,366 yards from scrimmage, and he ended up with a plus-11 margin for his scoring/turnover ratio. Behind him were San Francisco 49ers fullback Roger Craig, who posted the first 1,000-yard double in NFL history: 1,016 receiving and 1,050 rushing. He also registered a plus-10 margin in the scoring/turnover category.

Lastly, Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton put up 2,034 yards total and a plus-5 margin. He won three straight MVP awards to close out the 1970s in our estimation, but he trails both Allen and Craig in this year’s analysis.

So, we have a hefty list to consider this time out … sort of. While certainly stellar, none of the defensive players can match what Allen and Craig did, and O’Brien falls in the same also-ran classification for this season. So it comes down to the two California backfield players in the final comparison, and here is the clincher:

  • Allen: His QB, Marc Wilson, posted a 62.7 QB rating in 13 games
  • Craig: His QB, Joe Montana, posted a 91.3 QB rating in 16 games

While Craig obviously carried a huge load for the 49ers, with 306 touches overall, his QB’s relative quality meant that the defense couldn’t key on him every down. Down the coastline, the same cannot be said for Allen: His 447 touches basically were the Raiders’ entire offensive game plan.

Allen’s total-yards mark would not be broken for 12 years, and it took a 2,000-yard rushing season from all-time great Barry Sanders to do that. He gets to keep his 1985 MVP awards.

Check in every Thursday for our NFL awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!