Dare we say it? Three of the last four MVP picks here on NFL Thursday have been quarterbacks and a wide receiver—the aerial game has taken over the NFL in the 1990s! Every season is different, of course, as we see this year below, but maybe this is the beginning of that promised trend. Or maybe not? Professional football in America is a fickle chess match of reaction and adaptation.

On with the show!

1993 MVP: Emmitt Smith (original AP & PFWA), Sterling Sharpe (revised)

To start, two quarterbacks posted QB ratings of 99.0 and above: San Francisco’s Steve Young (101.5) and Dallas’ Troy Aikman (99.0). Denver’s John Elway was a distant third (92.8). All three teams made the postseason, with the Cowboys posting a league-best 12 victories. But none of these seasons screams “MVP!” at us right now.

Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith won both the MVP award votes by rushing for 1,486 yards in just 14 games. He held out in a contract dispute for the first two games, which Dallas lost as the defending champs. Then, he came back and the Cowboys went on a 12-1 run to clinch the best record in the NFC. He scored 9 rushing TDs and fumbled four times, and the voters were swayed by that early absence and its results.

The receiving corps were led by our pick for the 1992 MVP, Green Bay’s Sterling Sharpe, who led the NFL in receptions (112), while San Francisco’s Jerry Rice led the league in receiving yards (1,503) and receiving TDs (15)—but also fumbled three times. Sharpe had 1,274 yards with 11 TDs and only one fumble, for comparison’s sake, with a QB who posted a 72.2 QB rating (Brett Favre). It’s clear which season was more impressive there.

Six defensive players averaged more than 10 tackles a game: The best of the bunch, in terms of overall performance, was Cleveland Browns linebacker Mike Johnson with 181 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. No defensive player notched a sack a game or intercepted more than 9 passes. It was not a year for defensive standouts, really.

Scrimmage yards may determine this MVP analysis: Smith ended up with 1,900 total yards, 10 total TDs, and the 4 fumbles. He caught a whopping 57 passes in 14 games, which was impressive—and just the third-highest mark of his distinguished career. Buffalo Bills RB Thurman Thomas was next with 1,702 total yards, but he only scored 6 times total while fumbling 6 times, too. Rice’s totals ended up being 1,572 total yards with 16 total TDs and the 3 fumbles.

In the end, we have two candidates who played on division-winning teams with great teammates: Young and Rice were aided by RB Ricky Watters (1,276 total yards, 11 total TDs), while Aikman and Smith augmented by WR Michael Irvin (1,336 total yards, 7 total TDs).

And then we have Sharpe again, who played with fullback Edgar Bennett (1,007 total yards, 10 total TDs) and Favre. The Packers claimed a NFC playoff spot, despite having a less-than-mediocre QB performance and a middling running game (Bennett was 27th in the league for total yards from scrimmage). Sharpe once again carried a huge load for an average—at best—offense. He led the league in receptions nonetheless and scored double-digit TDs while probably being double teamed on every route he ran during the season.

We respect what Smith and Young did, but again, they were playing on All-Star offenses. Sharpe was not, and he still helped the Packers get to the postseason almost single-handedly. Smith and Young may have been “better” players, but Sharpe once again displayed the most value.

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