One of the great debates in any sport surrounds the selection of the league’s most valuable player and the NFL is no different. Despite football’s position as the ultimate team sport, there’s no more valuable position in sports than that of quarterback, therefore MVP voting always skews heavily toward the men under center.
While, some years, the league’s best – and most valuable – player may be an obvious choice, other years provide a much cloudier race that often breaks out into dissertations on the true meaning of the word “value.” The MVP discussion often poses the question “where would this team be without Player X?” but a more logical approach would be to focus on “what did this team do with Player X?” What better way to truly determine how well a player performed than with our own PFF grading that takes into account every snap of the season.
The 2013 race certainly fits the bill as an obvious choice, after last year’s vote brought us a split decision.
Here’s a look at the 2013 PFF MVP candidates.
3rd Runner Up
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
With the New Orleans Saints flying under the radar after a disappointing 2012, Brees led them back to the playoffs behind another stellar season that saw him rank second among quarterbacks at +26.5.
It wasn’t always pretty as the Saints struggled at times on the road with Brees picking up all four of his negatively-graded games away from the Superdome, but he still posted 5,162 passing yards and 39 touchdowns. Those gaudy numbers no longer look like a misprint — they’ve become the norm for Brees over the last three seasons as he continues to sit in the top echelon of the league’s signal callers.
He continues to get the ball down the field as well as any quarterback in the leagues as he ranked second with 1128 yards on deep passes and led the league with 15 deep-ball touchdowns. Brees helped turn fifth round wide receiver Kenny Stills into a viable big play receiver as the rookie caught 35 passes for 676 yards, good for a healthy 19.3 yards per reception. He also made good use of his playmakers, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles, whose versatility make them nice chess pieces with Brees the chess master every week.
2nd Runner Up
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
After a disappointing 2012 season, many around the league wrote Rivers off, perhaps forgetting that he, too, has sat among the league’s finest quarterbacks for a number of years. While he doesn’t have the championships or postseason track record of some of his colleagues, he’s always graded near the top of the league and he bounced back to that status with a +25.5 grade to rank third this season.
A year removed from looking tentative and afraid to make mistakes, Rivers looked extremely comfortable in Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s new offense that featured a lot more quick passes than Rivers had been accustomed to in the past.
The ball came out of his hand quicker than ever, and he threw fewer deep passes than he was used to, but it was Rivers’ ability to re-establish the intermediate range of the field that brought him back to becoming a top player again. He graded at +38.5 on throws in the 10 to 20-yard range after grading at +21.5 on such throws a year ago.
Perhaps the biggest improvement for Rivers was his game-to-game consistency as he avoided the clunkers that plagued his 2012. His worst grade of the season was only a -0.8, so San Diego found themselves in a number of close games.
While their run to the playoffs was improbable, it was spear-headed by Rivers’ steady hand this season as he re-established himself among the league’s best quarterbacks.
1st Runner Up
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The only non-quarterback to make this group, it takes a special season to crack the Top 4, and Charles more than answered the bell. The Kansas City offense started and ended with getting the ball in his hands as he rushed for 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 70 receptions for 693 yards and seven scores as a receiver.
It wasn’t a typical Charles season in the running game as he’s usually a bit top-heavy statistically with a number of big runs skewing his stats, but he posted the top run grade of his career at +12.7 while doing his work behind an offensive line that wasn’t always up to its previous levels.
As for the passing game, Charles led the league in receiving yards among running backs while his +8.4 grade ranked fourth. His big play ability was never more evident than his Week 15 performance against the Oakland Raiders as he put the Chiefs’ offense on his back with eight receptions for 195 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
Charles accomplished the rare feat of leading his team in both rushing and receiving yards as his 1,973 yards from scrimmage accounted for 35.1 percent of Kansas City’s offensive output.
When you add it all up, Charles finished second among running backs at +22.4 overall and given his role in the Chiefs’ offense, it was more than enough for him to earn runner-up status in the MVP race.
2013 PFF Most Valuable Player
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
In a year that featured subpar quarterback play, Manning stood above the rest, both statistically and on a play-to-play basis. His +43.3 grade led the league and he raised the bar on “video game numbers” with his 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on his way to leading the Broncos to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. He was fairly consistent throughout the year, with one short stretch of average play in the middle of the season sandwiched by a number of games in the green.
As the rest of the league becomes enamored with mobile quarterbacks who provide dual-threat versatility to challenge the defense, Manning possesses a versatility of his own within the passing game. Whether it’s attacking the short, medium, or deep levels of the field; working off play action; or using the no-huddle, Manning has every tool in the toolbox with which to keep defenses off balance.
Since returning from injury last year, Manning continues to adjust to his slowly declining physical skills. He’s proven that an effective deep ball is about more than just arm strength as he always seems to find a way to put the ball in a place where his receivers can catch it and his 48.2 percent Accuracy Percentage on deep throws backs this up. In the short and intermediate game, he took advantage of perhaps the best collection of skill players of his career by playing to each player’s strength and utilizing their unique skill sets.
It’s scary to think that Manning is still playing at such a high level in his 16th year in the league, but as long as he stays one step ahead of NFL defenses, there’s little reason to think he’s going to slow down any time soon. Manning’s start-to-finish consistency made him the clear-cut choice for both Offensive Player of the Year and MVP this season.
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