Six players in NFL history have finished with more than 2,000 rushing yards in a season. With Vikings running back Adrian Peterson knocking on the door only 12 months after tearing his ACL and MCL, discussion is starting about whether he’s capable of winning the NFL MVP award.
The Vikings recently launched a campaign for Peterson’s candidacy, similar to what you might see from colleges and the Heisman Trophy. Running backs haven’t received much love in the hashtag era, however, so #MVPeterson faces an uphill battle.
Voters are wowed by the massively inflated passing numbers in the NFL, and only quarterbacks have received votes the last three seasons. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers are most likely to win even though Peterson, Calvin Johnson and a quartet of defenders (J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Aldon Smith and Geno Atkins) have legitimate arguments.
But MVP voters disagree whether Peterson is worthy of the honor.
Pete Prisco thinks Peterson has no chance.
Adrian Peterson: Amazing. He has 212 yards against the Rams and is closing in on the single-season rushing record. Even so, no MVP talk. That has to be Peyton Manning orTom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. It has to be.
Tony Dungy can envision a scenario where Peterson wins.
But the question is, can he lead the Vikings into the playoffs? Two tough games — at Houston, and home against Green Bay. If Adrian Peterson does lead them into the playoffs and breaks the record, I think he has to be the MVP of the league.
That debate won’t be settled for a few weeks, but let’s get some historical perspective by looking at the MVP fates of the running backs who broke the 2,000-yard barrier. (I added Earl Campbell because he’s the only other player to rush for 1,900 yards and did so in 15 games.)
Eric Dickerson, 1984
2,105 rushing yards, 14 TD, 5.6 avg; 139 receiving yards, 0 TD, 6.6 avg
Rams finished 10-6, earned wild-card spot
Second place (18 votes) to Dan Marino (52)
Jamal Lewis, 2003
2,066 rushing yards, 14 TD, 5.3 avg.; 205 receiving yards, 0 TD, 7.9 avg.
Ravens finished 10-6, won division
Fourth place (5 votes) to Peyton Manning/Steve McNair (16 each)
Barry Sanders, 1997
2,053 rushing yards, 11 TD, 6.1 avg.; 305 receiving yards, 3 TD, 9.2 avg.
Lions finished 9-7, earned wild-card spot
T-First place (18 votes) with Brett Favre
Terrell Davis, 1998
2,008 rushing yards, 21 TD, 5.1 avg.; 217 receiving yards, 2 TD, 8.7 avg.
Broncos finished 14-2, won division
First place (25 votes)
Chris Johnson, 2009
2,006 rushing yards, 14 TD, 5.6 avg.; 503 receiving yards, 2 TD, 10.1 avg.
Titans finished 8-8, missed playoffs
T-Seventh place (1 vote) to Peyton Manning (32)
O.J. Simpson, 1973
2,003 rushing yards, 12 TD, 6.0 avg.; 70 receiving yards, 0 TD, 11.7 avg.
Bills finished 9-5, missed playoffs
First place (74 out of 78 votes)
Earl Campbell, 1980
1,934 rushing yards, 13 TD, 5.2 avg.; 47 receiving yards, 0 TD, 4.3 avg.
Oilers finished 11-5, won division
Second place (22 votes) to Brian Sipe (47)
So what have we learned other than that running backs weren’t expected to catch the ball in the 1970s and 1980s? Here’s some quick trivia:
- Three players were named MVP and two were runner-up. Every player received at least one vote, a trend I expect to continue because it’s an open race this season. Chris Johnson barely kept that streak alive in 2009 when the Titans finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
- O.J. Simpson dominated in a 14-game season and was rewarded with the MVP even though the 9-5 Bills missed the playoffs. He’s one of only two players to accomplish that feat, joining Johnny Unitas and the 11-1-2 Baltimore Colts in 1964. It’s worth noting Buffalo would have qualified for the postseason under the NFL’s current rules.
- Eric Dickerson had the unfortunate timing to break Simpson’s NFL record the same season that Dan Marino obliterated the league’s passing marks. Dickerson finished second in MVP voting three times without winning.
- Barry Sanders wouldn’t have had to share his MVP with Brett Favre under current voting rules. Sanders rushed for 184 yards in the regular-season finale to help the Lions sneak into the playoffs at 9-7. But voting then happened before Week 17, an unfortunate quirk that was quickly fixed.
For what it’s worth, Peterson agrees with me that the deck is stacked against him.
The MVP, man, that’s something that I’ve always wanted to grab. I work hard. I want to be the best player to play this game, so with that, MVP awards come. But I know this league and how it is, man. They’re kind of biased to the quarterback, which is unfortunate. They make it hard for other players to win it, but I will.