Once more unto the breach, dear friends, on NFL Thursday to pinpoint the real MVP of the league, and for the first time ever, both the Associated Press and the Professional Football Writers of America chose the same player in back-to-back years for their respective awards. Now, we had to revise the first year of this phenomenon, but how will the second year turn out? That’s why we’re here, folks.
Read on to find out how this analysis went down … and why, because it surprised us, for sure!
1996 MVP: Brett Favre (original AP & PFWA), Steve Young (revised)
New York Jets strong safety Victor Green put together a fine defensive season as the only player in the league to average more than 10 tackles a game (165 total), and he also registered 3 forced fumbles, 2 recovered fumbles, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions. It seems like he was everywhere on the defensive side of the field. But that is not enough to get into the MVP conversation for this season. Plus, the Jets went 1-15, so they were literally the worst team in the league, and there is no value there, anyway.
Two quarterbacks topped the charts: San Francisco 49ers star Steve Young (97.2 QB rating) and Green Bay Packers gunslinger Brett Favre (95.8). The latter led his team to an NFC-best 13 wins, while the former played in 12 games (9-3 record) and helped the 49ers to a wild-card spot. Favre won both MVP votes on account of his 39 touchdown passes—the second-highest total in NFL history to this point. Both players remain in our analytical conversation at this point, as no other QB topped 90.0 on the QB rating scale.
No running backs topped 100 yards per game on average, but two RBs did stand out nonetheless: Detroit Lions wizard Barry Sanders (1,553 yards and 11 TDs) and Denver Broncos stud Terrell Davis (1,538 yards and 13 TDs). Overall, 13 RBs topped 1,000 yards on the season, although Sanders and Davis were the two best ones of the bunch, and we will see how others add up in the scrimmage-yards screening (below). But the Lions went 5-11, while the Broncos topped the AFC with 13 victories.
Receivers regressed a bit from their dominant 1995 efforts: St. Louis Rams star Isaac Bruce topped the NFL in receiving yardage, with “only” 1,338 yards. Overall, 21 players topped 1,000 yards receiving, though, and 8 players caught double-digit TDs. 49ers legend Jerry Rice led the league with 108 receptions, while Lions star Herman Moore was right behind with 106 catches. Overall, however, no WR was a real standout this season, so they won’t get MVP consideration this time around.
We have a serious lack of dominant candidates here, as we turn to scrimmage yards to sort out the issue, maybe: The three best players here were Philadelphia Eagles RB Ricky Watters (1,855 total yards and 13 TDs), Davis (1,848 total yards and 15 TDs), and Sanders (1,700 total yards and 11 TDs). The Eagles won 10 games to reach the NFC playoffs as a wild-card team. This certainly puts Davis and Watters in the conversation, overall, with Young and Favre.
So this is where we are at: four players with good-to-great seasons, but no single player truly standing out. Time to examine the teammates: Young had Rice but no RB this time around (Terry Kirby led the 49ers with just 559 yards on the ground), while Favre had WR Antonio Freeman (933 yards) and RB Edgar Bennett (899 yards)—not great, but good enough. For the Eagles, it was solid QB Ty Detmer (80.8 QB rating) and WR Irving Fryar (1,195 yards), and for Denver, there was QB John Elway (89.2 QB rating) and tight end Shannon Sharpe (1,062 yards).
The Denver set of triplets may have been the best ones, followed by both Green Bay and Philadelphia in whatever order you choose. In the end, San Francisco really had the worst of this comparison, surprisingly—and here is something interesting: Young’s replacement at QB was Elvis Grbac, who posted a 3-1 record as a starter despite just a 72.2 QB rating while throwing 8 TDs and 10 interceptions. The 49ers defense and Rice deserve more credit for those three victories than Grbac, perhaps, and if Young went 9-3 as a starter, he is in a similar position as our choice for last year’s MVP.
Young topped the league in QB rating, and without him, there is no way the 49ers even come close to winning 12 games like they did, losing the NFC West Division title tiebreaker to the Carolina Panthers. While Rice had a little something to do with San Francisco’s success, his numbers weren’t outstanding—and the team clearly had no running attack all year. Young actually ran for 310 yards and 4 TDs himself, in addition to his NFL-best QB efficiency.