For almost a full year now on NFL Thursday, we have been reviewing MVP awards and righting some wrongs. We began on March 26, 2020, and now we’re coming into the 21st century finally for professional football. In the next five months or so, we will catch up in real time to the present day, and then we will shift focus in this column to other NFL awards that need retroactive analysis. Never fear, we will not abandon your fix for football.
Now, it’s time for the weekly look back at the voting process … Let’s go!
2000 MVP: Marshall Faulk (original AP & PFWA, confirmed)
Seven quarterbacks finished with QB ratings above 90 on the year, including two guys that topped the 100-point mark: Denver Broncos starter Brian Griese (102.9) and St. Louis Rams backup Trent Green (101.8). They were followed closely by Rams starter Kurt Warner (98.3), Minnesota Vikings newcomer Daunte Culpepper (98.0), San Francisco 49ers veteran Jeff Garcia (97.6), Indianapolis Colts youngster Peyton Manning (94.7), and Oakland Raiders stalwart Rich Gannon (92.4).
In this group, though, only Culpepper, Manning, and Gannon started all 16 games while posting winning records as starters; all three teams made the postseason. The Broncos also made the postseason (11-5), as Griese went 7-3 as a starter, while St. Louis made the playoffs, too, behind Green (2-3 as a starter) and Warner (8-3). Only the 49ers (6-10) missed the playoffs, as Garcia started all 16 games for San Francisco.
Of these QBs, it seems like Warner was the most valuable, followed by Griese. Yet none of the seasons stand out firmly in ways we want from an MVP: Warner posted an incredible 9.9 yards-per-attempt mark, for example, but he also was terrible in throwing 18 interceptions for a 5.2-percent rate there.
And clearly, it didn’t matter who the Rams QB was: The offense clicked just fine with Green, too, so we have to move elsewhere to look for our MVP candidates. Likewise, the Broncos went 4-2 in games that Griese did not start, so the team was playing well regardless of who was at quarterback. We have to move on to other candidates.
Colts running back Edgerrin James topped the league in rushing yards (1,709), while Rams star Marshall Faulk scored 18 rushing touchdowns to lead the NFL there. Faulk also posted a league-best 5.4 yards-per-carry average while not fumbling once during the season, while James coughed it up 5 times. Oh, and Faulk did win the MVP vote from both award-granting bodies.
The receivers were a mixed bag again, with three different players coming out atop the three major categories: Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison (102 receptions), Vikings WR Randy Moss (15 TD catches), and Rams wideout Torry Holt (1,635 yards) all made their impact during the season, without one of them dominating the positional statistics. But we can see that some offenses were thriving with major sets of “triplets” during the 2000 season.
What did that mean for defenses? Only one player registered at least 10 tackles a game—Colts linebacker Mike Peterson (160 combined tackles)—while three players did notch at least one sack a game: New Orleans Saints defensive tackle La’Roi Glover (17.0), Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Warren Sapp (16.5), and Miami Dolphins pass-rush specialist Trace Armstrong (16)—who also forced a whopping 7 fumbles.
No player intercepted more than 9 passes, although Arizona Cardinals strong safety Pat Tillman had an amazing season with 155 combined tackles, 9 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks, and 1 interception. He was all over the field for the Cards, who won just 3 games. For the record, the Saints and the Bucs both made the playoffs, as did the Dolphins, so almost all these guys made an impact for their teams. But who is the MVP? Tillman can’t be it playing for such a bad team.
We shift to scrimmage yards for one last glance: James topped the NFL with 2,303 total yards, while Faulk was second with 2,189 yards. James scored 18 times, yet those 5 fumbles stand out. Meanwhile, while Faulk did not gain as many yards as he did in 1999 when we gave him the MVP over Warner, he set a different all-time record in 2000 by scoring 26 combined TDs—and he didn’t fumble once. That plus-26 differential is just stunning.
We really don’t have an MVP candidate who carried his team to the postseason alone, as even Griese got help from RB Mike Anderson (1,487 rushing yards and 15 TDs), not to mention WRs Rod Smith (100 catches for 1,602 yards) and Ed McCaffrey (101 receptions for 1,317 yards). Everyone had triplets-plus in 2000! James had support from Manning and Harrison, while Faulk had Green, Warner, and Holt.
What about Culpepper and Gannon? The Vikings had Moss and RB Robert Smith (1,521 rushing yards), while the Raiders employed RB Tyrone Wheatley (1,046 yards) and WR Tim Brown (1,128 yards). Gannon actually ran for 529 yards himself, so he probably was the most valuable QB of the bunch.
Was Gannon more valuable than Faulk, though? One thing that stands out here is just how bad the Rams defense was in 2000. It gave up 471 points—easily the worst mark in the league. Oakland’s defense gave up a mere 299 points, showing that Gannon had a lot more full-team support than Faulk did.
The fact Faulk never fumbled once during the regular-season (Gannon fumbled 9 times) really becomes more prominent here, too, as the TD/TO ratio noted above is just stunning. Gannon was a surprise MVP candidate here, but in the end, we will confirm the MVP votes for Faulk: The Rams were so bad on defense, there is no way they would have made the postseason without Faulk’s offense heroics, consistent regardless which QB was running the Greatest Show on Turf.
Arguably, it was Faulk that made this Rams offense work, as we saw in 1999. We see the same reality in 2000. And while Faulk may be a running back, it was his unique abilities as a pass catcher out of the backfield that really represent this shift in the NFL we’ve been touting for awhile now: The pass was the thing, and Faulk was just the next step in the evolution of the RB in football.