Will the revolution ever come on NFL Thursday? We were promised quarterbacking dominance, and yet we still get a lot of position players—mostly running backs, admittedly—stealing the thunder of the aerial wonders that put so many fans in the seats during the 1980s and the 1990s in the NFL. What will this entry in the series bring?

Read on to find out …

1992 MVP: Steve Young (original AP & PFWA), Sterling Sharpe (revised)

Let’s start with the defensive guys this time: Seven players notched more than 10 tackles a game, but few of them made an impact with forced turnovers, too. Four players registered at least one sack a game, but they were one-dimensional players, in terms of not standing out in any other statistical way. And perhaps the biggest testament to the dominance of the passing game, no player in the league reached double digits in interceptions. What we have here is a lot of good defensive players without a real MVP candidate in there.

One player dominated the passing game in 1992: San Francisco 49ers QB Steve Young, who managed to start 16 games for the first time in his career, finally at age 30. His 107.0 QB rating stood out a country mile, when only one other player—Atlanta’s Chris Miller—even cracked 90.0 on the rating scale, and just barely at that (90.7).

Young led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown passes, TD percentage, INT percentage, and yards per attempt. Keep in mind that the four percentages listed above make up the entirety of QB rating. Young won both MVP Award votes, so it will be hard to beat that kind of season, even if it wasn’t necessarily historic. The 49ers won 14 games to post the best record in the NFL, to boot.

On to the RBs: Dallas Cowboys rising star Emmitt Smith led the NFL in rushing yards (1,713) and rushing TDs (18), while only fumbling four times. That was by far the best season by a runner in 1992, as most other leading rushers had middling TD numbers and/or high fumble totals. The Cowboys won 13 games to finish just a game behind the 49ers in the NFC hierarchy, leaving Smith atop our MVP candidate list with Young.

Receivers? Green Bay wide receiver Sterling Sharpe posted 108 receptions for 1,461 receiving yards and 13 receiving TDs—all those numbers topped the NFL, giving Sharpe the receiving Triple Crown. No other receiver in the league even came close, really, to besting Sharpe’s season, obviously. The Packers only won 9 games, though, to miss out on the postseason via tiebreaker against the defending champs from Washington. Was that Sharpe’s fault? Stay tuned.

Three players topped 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage, but only one of them posted a double-digit, positive margin in TD:TO ratio—Smith (2,048 yards with 19 total TDs and just 4 fumbles). The other players fumbled too much, in essence, and their overall performance paled in comparison to Smith’s efforts, anyway.

That leaves us with Young, Smith, and Sharpe. It’s amazing the Packers were even in playoff contention, as the team posted a negative point differential on the season (minus-20). Let’s look at how each of our MVP candidates was helped by teammates here, with the caveat that Green Bay’s woes were not Sharpe’s “fault” …

  • Dallas: Troy Aikman (89.5 QB rating), Michael Irvin (78 catches for 1,396 yards and 7 TDs)
  • Green Bay: Brett Favre (85.3 QB rating), Vince Workman (631 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 4 fumbles)
  • San Francisco: Ricky Watters (1,013 rushing yards, 9 TDs, 2 fumbles), Jerry Rice (84 catches for 1,204 yards and 10 TDs)

It’s clear here that Smith and Young had serious quality support on offense: Aikman’s QB rating was third best in the NFL, for example. In essence, the Packers had the worst overall offense of the bunch, making Sharpe’s contributions quite impressive. Favre wasn’t a bad QB, of course, but he started just 13 games. Sharpe carried that team, as evidenced by his numbers in games that Favre didn’t start: 20 catches for 270 yards and 2 TDs.

Green Bay’s starter in those three games was former Pro Bowl QB Don Majkowski, who posted a 77.7 QB rating in those contests before being replaced by Favre by the fourth game. In the end, Favre ended up finishing sixth overall in QB rating, but Sharpe was getting it done with no RB all season as well.

What about defense? Green Bay had the “worst” defense of the three teams here (296 points allowed), as the 49ers (236) and the Cowboys (243) gave up considerably fewer points to the opposition. Again, what we see here is Sharpe carrying the offensive load for a team with a slightly above-average defense.

With Smith and Young, we see great players looking even greater due to the teammates around them, on both sides of the ball. While we argue firmly that Smith and Young had “better” seasons than Sharpe, we see Sharpe with the most value: The Packers had no business even competing for the playoffs, and even though they didn’t make it, they lost out on a tiebreak—and Sharpe was the dominant force behind the near miracle.

This is a surprise to us, too, as we have not had a WR win our MVP Award since 1969, when our AFL MVP Award went to Oakland Raiders receiver Warren Wells. The last NFL MVP Award to go to a receiver? That was back in 1954 with Chicago Bears rookie WR Harlon Hill.

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