Indianapolis and Jonathan Taylor had a very good Saturday night. The Colts defeated New England 27-17 to knock the Patriots out of the #1 seed in the AFC. Taylor had 170 rushing yards in the game, including a 67-yard run with just over two minutes to play that sealed the Colts’ victory.
However, there are a few things about a potential MVP win by a running back to examine in order to see how strong Taylor’s case might be.
Let’s bust some myths NFL fans might have about how a running back can win MVP.
Myth #1: The running back’s team needs to be a top seed in the conference
It would be natural to assume the MVP’s team is one of the league’s best. The award goes to literally the most valuable player and if that player is in fact that valuable, then the team needs to be pretty good.
Taylor’s Colts are 8-6 and currently the 5th seed in the AFC. Losing both matchups vs. the division rival Titans likely cost them a chance to rise any higher in the standings. This might not adversely affect Taylor’s chances though, if we look back over a few decades.
Adrian Peterson (2012 MVP), Marshall Faulk (2000 MVP) and Barry Sanders (1997 MVP) all won the award while their team didn’t win their division. Peterson’s Vikings and Faulk’s Rams finished 10-6 (both were 6th in the NFC) and Sanders’ Lions finished 9-7 (5th in the NFC).
Myth #2: If the running back gets 20+ rushing TDs they should win
Scoring over 20 rushing TDs is pretty rare. In all of NFL history this has only been done 10 times by eight different running backs. If a player can achieve something so rare it should heavily increase their odds of winning MVP, but that’s not always the case.
Priest Holmes (27 in 2003 & 21 in 2002), Emmitt Smith (25 in 1995 & 21 in 1994), John Riggins (24 in 1983), Terry Allen (21 in 1996) and Joe Morris (21 in 1985) all had the TD numbers but didn’t win MVP.
Fun fact: Smith did win the award in 1993 despite only rushing for nine TDs that season.
Taylor has 17 rushing TDs with three games left. The 2021 season being the first to include a 17th game will allow Taylor an opportunity that other RBs didn’t have to get to 20+, but even if he achieves that milestone he could still come up empty-handed MVP-wise.
Myth #3: The running back needs to be a first-round draft pick
Obviously, the MVP is an award based on current performance and not a player’s draft pedigree. However, history shows there is a very high corollary between being a running back who wins the MVP and also having been drafted in the first round.
Since 1957, 16 running backs have won the award. Only four of those backs were drafted outside of the first round, like 2020 second-round pick Jonathan Taylor.
Having something in common with only 25% of past RB winners isn’t a great barometer for Taylor’s chances, but an MVP win is still possible.
Myth #4: If the running back gets 2,000+ rushing yards, they should win
Rushing for over 2,000 yards in a season is even more rare than scoring 20+ rushing TDs. Only eight running backs in history have accomplished this feat.
Getting over 2,000 yards secures your place in the NFL record books, but it sadly does not guarantee anything for end of year hardware. Only four of the eight running backs who went over 2,000 yards secured the MVP trophy.
OJ Simpson (2,003 yards, 1973), Barry Sanders (2,053, 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008, 1998) and Adrian Peterson (2,097, 2012) all won the award in their special seasons.
This one might not relate to Taylor though, as he still needs nearly 500 yards to surpass 2,000. He’s been outstanding the last six games while averaging 145 yards per game, but he’d need over 160 yards per game to break 2,000.
Taylor only needs a little over 127 yards per game to break 1,900 yards and earn the 10th highest season in NFL history. Remaining games against Arizona (14th worst rushing defense), Las Vegas (Taylor ran for 120 vs. LVR in 2020) and Jacksonville (Taylor has averaged 130 yards vs. JAX in 3 games) make this seem like a much more attainable goal.
Jonathan Taylor is having a great season and looks to be the best running back in the NFL (at least until Derrick Henry is healthy). It’s important to remember that NFL history is telling us he has some things working in his favor to win MVP, and others that might keep him from taking home the trophy.
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