2014 Dwight Stephenson Award

Not awarding an MVP, the PFF staff instead offers the third year of the Dwight Stephenson Award for the league's best player, regardless of position.

| 2 years ago
2014-stephenson

2014 Dwight Stephenson Award


2014-stephensonIn case you hadn’t noticed, PFF isn’t awarding an MVP this season. In most sports the most valuable player is inherently also the best player. In football the most valuable players are all quarterbacks, such has been the development of the game. The award has lost all meaning. It has become a quarterback only award that an occasional running back can squeeze his way into if his quarterback is bad enough. The best players, though, can play in any position.

Instead of handing an award to a quarterback or running back when other players at less glamorous positions enjoyed far superior seasons, we decided to simply recognize the best overall performance of the NFL season each year – the best player in football – and bestow the Dwight Stephenson Award to that player.

The award is named after a player who pre-dates Pro Football Focus but does not pre-date the site’s ethos. Dwight Stephenson played only eight NFL seasons for the Miami Dolphins, but was a five-time All-Pro and was selected to the All-Decade team of the 1980s. More importantly, you only need to throw on a couple of minutes of tape to see that he was something special.

This award comes with no positional bias whatsoever. A guard has every bit as much chance to win it as a cornerback, pass-rusher, quarterback or any other position. All they need to do is dominate and perform during the regular season.

Let’s take a look at the candidates this year.

4th Runner Up

Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens

2014-steph-inset-YANDAEvan Mathis missed half the season with an injury, leaving a void at the top of the guard rankings and the feeling that we wouldn’t be seeing any guard celebrated in any of the end of season awards. Marshal Yanda had other ideas. He dominated from Day 1 and is the only guard we have seen grade at a comparable rate to Mathis over the past few seasons. He finished the season with a +43.4 grade and surrendered just 16 total pressures on the season.

The next best grade from a guard came from Mathis on just nine games at +25.8, and then T.J. Lang was third at +23.1 with a full 16-game season. Injuries along the Baltimore line late in the year also forced Yanda to play the final game of the regular season (and subsequently the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh) at right tackle. That is normally a big ask for an interior player to kick out and hold up on the edge, but Yanda surrendered just two total pressures there against Cleveland and earned a +1.4 grade for his pass protection in that game.

Yanda’s season was consistent enough to earn just one negative grade all year – a -0.1 (i.e. almost exactly average) against the Jaguars in Week 15. He graded in the green in 14 of his 16 games.

3rd Runner Up

Chris Harris, CB, Denver Broncos

2014-steph-inset-HARRISIf I told you before the season that a cornerback was going to post a +28.4 grade for the regular season – the closest thing we have seen to Darrelle Revis’ superhuman 2009 – you would have guessed it would be Richard Sherman, or maybe even a rejuvenated Revis himself. You would not have guessed it would be a guy coming off a torn ACL in January, but that’s exactly what Chris Harris has just done, parlaying his play into a richly deserved new contract in Denver.

Harris was the best corner in football this season and displayed the versatility to play outside as well as in the slot, something few defensive backs do. He finished the season beaten for not a single touchdown on 89 targets. He allowed a catch on 51.7% of the passes sent his way and quarterbacks throwing into his coverage earned a passer rating of just 47.8, a mark trailing only Vontae Davis among starters.

Perhaps my favorite stat about Harris this season though is that he surrendered just 7.7 yards per catch, better than any other corner with a significant number of snaps, and half a yard clear at the top of that list. He surrendered 46 catches, but those went for just 356 yards total in the season despite 1,004 snaps of play.

Chris Harris was the best corner in the league this year, and wasn’t far off the best year by a corner PFF has seen.

2nd Runner Up

Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs

2014-steph-inset-HOUSTONYou won’t find a guy notch over twenty sacks more quietly than Houston did this season. He finished the year with a four-sack performance against the Chargers to give him 23 by our count (we award split sacks as full-credit sacks for the defender).

Houston was one of the most consistent and devastating pass-rushers in the league this season, earning 12 green-graded games and failing to register a sack in just three games. Only once was he shut out in terms of pressure – back in Week 2 against Peyton Manning’s Broncos.

He finished the year with a +51.1 grade, almost twice as much as the next best 3-4 outside linebacker (Pernell McPhee at +26.0) and graded positively in every facet of play PFF measures. Houston has quietly become one of the league’s most dominant players, and has consistently improved since entering the league. In a testament to his drive and ability, he also played more snaps than anybody else at his position, notching 1,057 plays this season without showing any slowdown. In many years Houston would have been the league’s best defensive player and had a good case for any number of awards.

1st Runner Up

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

2014-steph-inset-RODGERSThe man who would most likely win any conventional MVP award by virtue of being a quarterback, Rodgers can’t manage better than a runner up spot in the Stephenson Award this year. That’s not to say Rodgers wasn’t good – to get as close as he did to this award means he was, in fact, scintillating – but it wasn’t quite good enough when all positions are viewed with equal weight.

Rodgers cemented his spot as the best quarterback in football, making himself the new prototype for the position with his blend of intelligence, arm talent, athleticism and uncanny ability to make plays when they count.

Rodgers threw just five picks all season to 38 touchdowns as he remained one of the league’s most careful quarterbacks at the same time as carving up opposing defenses for big gains. His ability to avoid the crucial turnover is just one of the things separating him from the pack, as is his physics-defying ability to flick passes downfield on the run to his receivers.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are both capable of fantastic play on their day, but nobody is playing as consistently as Rodgers at the pinnacle of elite quarterback play. He would be a worthy MVP, and is a worthy runner up in the 2014 Stephenson Award.

2014 Stephenson Award Winner

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

When all is said and done the Dwight Stephenson Award may end up being renamed in J.J. Watt’s honor. This is the award’s third season in existence and the third straight year it has been won by Watt. If anything, this season was even more convincing a victory than each of the past two.

It’s beginning to get difficult to explain just how much better than his peers Watt is. Zero is designed to be the ‘average’ PFF grade. There were 20 3-4 DEs with a grade lower than zero this season. Only 27, including Watt, graded above zero. The second-best of those was Sheldon Richardson with a +39.9 grade, nine sacks, 54 total pressures and 32 defensive stops. Watt posted an insane +107.5 grade, 21 sacks, 119 total pressures and 61 defensive stops. He also had 10 batted passes, four forced fumbles, an interception, a defensive touchdown, a safety… oh, and he scored three receiving touchdowns moonlighting as a tight end in goal-line packages.

2014-insets-WATT-2

Watt is so far out on his own in terms of play that he breaks every graph we create to try and illustrate it, extending axes and generally sitting off on a data point all to himself. He is completely redefining what we thought a defensive player was capable of, and is only getting better.

This season Watt moved around more than ever before, becoming a true edge-rusher more than an interior presence. His highlight reel is mind-blowing, and reminds you of watching NFL players when they were back in high school – he is just bigger, faster or stronger than everybody that is being tasked with stopping him, often all three at once.

We are truly privileged to be watching one of the best players to ever lace up cleats in action.

J.J. Watt is the now three-time winner of the Dwight Stephenson Award. He is the best player in football, period.

 

See the other awards we’ve handed out this week:

2014 PFF All-Pro Team
2014 PFF All-Pro Special Teams
2014 PFF Stephenson Award (Best Player)
2014 PFF Offensive Player of the Year
2014 PFF Defensive Player of the Year
2014 PFF Matthews Award (Best Offensive Lineman)
2014 PFF O-Line Rankings
2014 PFF Rookie of the Year
2014 PFF Offensive Rookie of the Year
2014 PFF Defensive Rookie of the Year

 

Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Chris
    • Jay

      Not at all he is deserving of any and all accolades he receives. Now the media and Goodell on the other hand…

      • Chris

        The top two NFL career sack leaders are Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Here are their sack totals after their first 4 years:

        White: 70 (17 per year)
        Watt: 57 (14 per year)
        Smith 44.5 (11 per year)

        White averaged almost 3 sacks more per year than Smith. Smith just played a ridiculous 19 seasons in order to beat him overall.

        But that puts Watt in between Smith and White, the two best ever, over a 4 year stretch.

        If he keeps up that pace for another 10 or so years, he will end his career as the best pass rusher ever….and he’s an interior lineman….The guy is off the charts good.

        • Richard Light

          While I agree with your comment overall, it’s important to note when looking at sack numbers that QBs 20 years ago threw fewer passes, on average, than QBs today.

          White was averaging 17 sacks per year back when most offenses were more run-heavy, so his sack numbers relative to the number of pass attempts by the opposing QBs (“sacks per pass rush attempt”) must have been frankly insane.

          That’s not to detract from what stars like Watt and Houston are doing today. Just saying it’s not surprising we’re seeing more pass rushers approach 20 sacks today since offenses are giving them more “opportunities” to sack QBs because of pass-heavy playcalling by offenses.

          • Chris

            That’s a good point. Although Houston is a standard edge rusher though – he’s expected to get those type of sack numbers. Watt doing it from an interior position is equally as impressive as White doing it as an edge rusher during a more run-heavy time.

          • Football

            Uhh… JJ Watt is a 3-4 DE. That’s an edge rusher. Also, you clearly never watched Lawrence Taylor or Reggie White play

          • Chris

            A 3-4 DE typically lines up between the guard and the tackle or face-up across from the tackle.

            4-3 DEs and 3-4 OLBs, or edge defenders, typically line up outside the tackle or across/outside the TE if there is one.

          • PFFSamMonson

            On the other hand sack rates per pass have fallen as the passing game has become ever more quick/short focused. They may have played fewer pass snaps, but the numbers suggest their sack ‘opportunities’ may actually have been more.

          • Ken

            This would make a good research project. Only way to know for sure, would be to watch the tape.

          • Chris

            Does anybody but NFL Films have access to tape that old?

            I think the easier way of doing this would just be to compare White to his competitors year by year to judge how far ahead of his competition he was. And then do the same with Watt.

          • Ken

            Of course they do. They have really good tape from the 60’s lol. Pretty sure they have of the 80’s.

          • Brandon

            Would sack numbers compared to league average that year be a good measuring stick?

          • Steve

            It would also be important to look at the rule differences. Back then DBs were allowed to manhandle receivers more than todays DBs.

        • Jeff

          Also note that offensive line play has changed dramatically since Reggie White first entered the league, With pass blocking schemes designed to stop edge-rushers (LT). Not to mention that quarterbacks overall throw the ball away much quicker now and on average take less sacks per pass attempt than before. So what Watt is doing is very impressive.

          Of course you also have to take into account that quarterbacks throw the ball much more now, so his pressures will definitely go down. Still, never thought I’d see a DL maul and abuse an OL like Reggie White did. So it is a real joy to see Watt play.

          Would be really cool if PFF charted some of the All-Time great seasons for players like White in their prime.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            yea, i wanna know what champ bailey’s 2006 season would’ve graded out as

          • Chris

            The issue is getting tape for seasons that far back. Game Rewind only goes to 2009 now.

        • Jim

          You can’t compare JJ Watt to historical players using only sacks. What makes him special is the way he impacts the game in multiple ways on a large percentage of plays. I was looking at White’s record, and he never recorded a pass defensed or forced fumble in his career. Smith had 2 pass defenses and 6 forced fumbles in his 19 year career. Watt has 37 pass defenses and 12 forced fumbles. That is 49 more plays impacted in his first 4 years than White (though some of the fumbles were also sacks). Stats that weren’t tracked back then, like pressures and hits, have a huge impact on the ability of an offense to execute. When you look at the number of plays that Watt impacts in a game, his impact is much greater than someone who simply gets one extra sack every fifth game. I would love to see a play-by-play analysis of White’s and Smith’s overall impact compared to Watt’s, but picking one stat for a comparison simply doesn’t come close to recognizing Watt’s impact.

        • jay

          “White averaged almost 3 sacks more per year than Smith. Smith just played a ridiculous 19 seasons in order to beat him overall.”

          White didn’t enter the league until he was 24, while Smith was 22… but Smith missed 1 season with injury and only had 6.5 sacks as a rookie. Both guys played until they were 39 years old. Smith had 29 sacks after turning 37 years old. White had 21.5.

          When you consider that Smith got 90% of his sacks rushing out of a 3-4 end position with more restrictive run defense responsibilities, it’s perhaps more impressive than what White did, despite fewer sacks per game.

          • Chris

            I agree with all of this.

        • Jay

          Chris if you do embark on this project then please don’t forget about Cortez Kennedy

          • eYeDEF

            Chris would need to have someone hook him up with access to the saber machine at NFL Films. Otherwise the task of gathering all the appropriate TV footage alone might not be feasible and even if it were, the lack of All 22 footage would make it a bitch to compile and be confident of an accurate conclusion.

        • Scott Gilmore

          They are not only basing this choice off of his sacks. It’s based off of the overall performance of the players.

          • Chris

            And? Are you trying to convince me of something? I think Watt deserves the MVP. He’s the best 3-4 end to ever play

        • Kirk Vollmer

          Is there any way of finding out the total # of pressures White produced?

  • Pulyx

    I love PFF. And i get it. We are witnessing one of the great ones at his peak.
    But this is getting silly. Maybe change the site name to PJJWF. Pure JJ Watt Focus.

    • Chris

      I fully support this. JJ Watt is so good he deserves his own website.

      • Football

        JJ Watt does not deserve her own website. She isn’t even a top-10 player in the NFL

        • TRH86

          Sounds like someone is upset his team didn’t draft Watt like Houston did.

          • Chris

            No it sounds like Football, one of the resident PFF trolls, decided to fling more of his poop around the room.

        • Futbol

          Ahhhh, I see what you did there. You rascal.

    • eddysamson

      Okay picture this: you’re a statistician. You love patterns in numbers, stats, percentages, probability, etc. You create a unique system of metrics to measure and grade NFL players, combining two loves. Numbers and football.

      Every year you’re crunching numbers on every player in the game. You see trends, patterns, highs, lows, outliers, averages, medians, etc. Then, after you’ve been doing this for awhile, a guy comes in at a position known for low numbers in your metrics. And yet his numbers are popping out of the paper at you because they aren’t low like his position usually is. They’re not even just higher than everyone else at his position, they’re top of the league.

      You think “okay, this can’t keep happening” and yet it does keep happening. 3 years in a row those numbers pop out at you from the same guy playing that low-scoring position. You love numbers, you know them intimately and you know from looking at these numbers that this kid is unbelievable. He is worth writing about because of it. He deserves the awards because those numbers are just jumping out at you so obviously.

      Damn that was longer than I intended…

    • Arif Hasan

      And to think this was said about PFF and Evan Mathis earlier.

    • Eric Parker

      The crazy thing is JJ Watt is 25. He’s on the incline for sure, but peak? I think there are greater things still to come and his peak still around the corner.

      • DrAWNiloc

        Imagine if Jadeveon Clowney had been 1/10th the player he was expected to be. JJ Watt would have even better stats!

      • Pulyx

        I know. It’s insane. He completely shattered what we are to expect from 3-4 DEs. Maybe changed DL play forever.

    • texas_suzie

      Watt is not at his peak, he’s only in his 4th year. DEs peak later than 4th year.

  • Sid

    Nice write, Sam. What did Rodgers grade out at for the season? Seem to have missed that out in the description.

    • SeattleSteve

      Something like +40 or something ridiculous, guy is a beast.

      • victoria_29

        wonder what you will say when Romo beats him this weekend

        • Diknuts

          Because losing a game certifies that a QB cannot be, nor is, a beast?

        • topaggie

          Rodgers is hurt and not moving very well at all. Whether the Packers or the Cowboys win this weekend is dependent upon how badly Rodgers is hurt and THAT alone.

        • eYeDEF

          wonder what you will say now that Romo got beat down by a cripple last weekend.

  • Justin

    Hey Sam, sorry to post this here, but I mistakenly signed up for a year’s subscription of PFF (thought I could get trial version but got charged…my mistake…) and I am trying to cancel it. I emailed PFF several times through the website and directly to [email protected] but there has been no reply.

    Any way to put me in touch with the right people? Sorry to post this here, but it’s been several days and no one is getting back to me!

  • Football

    Did JJ Watt lead his team to the playoffs? Did he not battle teams such as the Redskins, Raiders, Titans (twice), Browns, and Jaguars (twice). I would take Aaron Rodgers or Justin Houston over JJ Watt any day. I would take Eli Manning or Joe Flacco over JJ Watt

    • Chris

      LAWL

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      go home

    • Tim Edell

      You my friend are the Browns of trollers

    • etaonish

      I agree. What we need in this game are winners. JJ Watt doesn’t win games. He’s not a proven winner like Trent Dilfer. That man won football games. You put him on your team and you get a known winner. With JJ Watt you don’t get that kind of winning guy who wins football games. He couldn’t even lead his team into the playoffs. He doesn’t have what it takes to be a winner and a winner is what you need in the National Football League. Winners.

      • Chris

        This post is full of win

      • Joey Ruesewald

        He won 9 games for his team… He played with 4 different quarterbacks who, on any other team, would be suspect at best. He had to deal with a hurt Arian foster for three games and he still singlehandedly won them 9 games, which, oh ya that’s a WINNING record. So don’t come in here and act like the man doesn’t win, he has more playoff wins in his first four years than romo or any of the coy boys do in the last 20.

        • Shake

          /watching great sarcasm fly right over Joey’s head

          • DrAWNiloc

            The whooshing noise overhead is so constant he thinks he lives in a helicopter.

    • victoria_29

      You do realize MVP is not about the playoffs right….oh wait you have to be a football fan to grasp that MVP is suppose to be about REGULAR season.

      • djtrainor

        The MVP award does not measure statistics taken from playoff teams, but that isn’t to say that the award ignores one’s ability to get his team into the playoffs altogether.

        Two extremely different things.

    • Mike Dewey

      LOL!!!!!

    • http://teacherwall.blogspot.com David Duez

      Where would the Texans have been without Watt? How I look at it is – IT ISN’T A TEAM AWARD. (Which incidentally is why Watt & O’Brien could give a rat’s ass about this) If the entire defense was JJ Watt at all positions, the Texans would have the #1 defense. No player brings it like he does. However, at the end of this season, the Texans beat the Ravens and Joe Flacco. 25-13. So your Joe Flacco pick is silly, especially during the regular season.

      Watt doesn’t win? He was on a team that won TWO Division Crowns and TWO playoff games. The entire media/league/fans are so Cowboy crazy. Since 2002, the birth of the Texans organization, the Texans are 2-2 in the playoffs. The Cowboys are 2-5. Yet one would think ‘Merica’s team has won 3 super bowls in that span. Hardly.

      When I think of a WINNER. I think of Watt. Hands down. (Or should I say hands up? For another swatted pass!)

  • Steve

    Put Watt on GB with an average QB and GB wins maybe 6 games. Put Rodgers on HOU with an average DE and the Texans make the playoffs.

    Watt was an absolute monster, he’s just not MVP.

    • Bleyd

      Green Bay has just as much or more talent on its roster as Houston does, while Houston’s QB situation was well below average through the season. Houston, however, still managed 9 wins. I think it’s just as likely that Houston would have been a 3 win team without Watt as it is that Green Bay would have been a 6 win team without Rodgers.

      • procrastinating prognosticator

        Why don’t they just give QBs only the yardage they throw to the receiver and not the yards the receivers gain after the catch. Some quarterbacks yards passing are better than others simply because they have better receivers just as some receivers have better receiving yards because they have a better QB throwing to them. And give the receivers only the yards after they catch the ball.

        • eYeDEF

          Because the stats the NFL compiles are somewhat antiquated and not at all that sophisticated, which is the point of sites like this that they DO keep track of such things.

    • Kevin Bohorquez

      This is not the MVP award.

    • M.O.E

      I don’t think you understand the meaning of MVP, by your logic put anyone of the 12 playoff QB in Houston and the Texans makes the playoffs. The best player in the world couldn’t win by himself but he did everything he can at his position and more.

    • Ross

      Remove Rodgers from Green Bay. Insert Manning, Brady, Luck or even this year’s Romo. Green Bay ends up with an identical or better record. Remove Watt from the Texans this season and insert Houston or any other top D-lineman. Numbers don’t lie. The Texans would have lost at least 2-3 more games.

      • Diknuts

        Identical or better? Not quite.

        It’s about the same. Green Bay with Manning would have won fewer games. Definitely fewer with Luck.

        • hunter

          But they easily would have made the playoffs. If you put Manning, Brady, Luck, Romo, Wilson, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Brees and MAYBE even Stafford, Eli, or Kaepernick on the Packers, they STILL get in the playoffs.

          • eYeDEF

            Not this year’s Kaepernick and without the strong leash Caldwell kept Stafford on, I don’t think Stafford with a green light to sling it makes it either. He throws way to many picks in such conditions. I agree with your other choices though.

          • Dohkay

            Aw, come on, his INT rate for his career is like 2.4%. Not Rodgers level at 1.5% but also not worse than Romo, Eli, etc.

          • eYeDEF

            Yeah and you take out this year where he had the benefit of Caldwell’s leash and what’s his INT rate?

            It’s not even just picks. He’s just not very accurate or efficient. A career 5.95 ANY/A isn’t impressive. Eli’s ANY/A might be about the same, but at least he’s got a higher variance. Stafford wasn’t close to replicating his 2011 form this year in spite of having two top tier targets, so it’s hard not to see that year as an outlier. And I saw no improvement in his game that made me think that if he was allowed to go full gunslinger again he wouldn’t put up numbers a lot like 2012. Green Bay’s defense is nowhere near Detroit’s so he’d be depended upon to go gunslinger to get them to the playoffs. That’s when Stafford’s at his worst.

          • Dohkay

            From 2011 to 2013 it was 2.6%. In 2014 it was 2.0%. He certainly had an improved 2nd WR (thanks again for Golden) but he had injuries to all three TEs and all but one member of the OL. Towards the end of the season they were starting their 3rd string RG and 3rd string RT which contributed to taking 45 sacks.

            His career numbers are weighed down by his rookie season (5.3% INT rate, 4.3 AY/A) which I don’t think is very fair given he was put in the worst position of any rookie QB in NFL history. Let’s also not forget this year was a complete change in coaching and philosophy. With the injuries and the new system in place I think he deserves another year to show whether 2011 was a fluke or not. I’m not sure how you can write it off as a fluke though as it was one of the best seasons for a QB over the past decade.

          • eYeDEF

            Because he hasn’t come anywhere even close to 2011 in the three seasons since I’m not sure how it can’t be viewed as anything but a fluke until he has a season closer to it. After 2011 his AY/A has been 6.7 without much variance.

            It’s hard to see how TE injuries matter much when it’s not like any of them went by the name of Gronk or anything similar. And injuries along the OL had happened for Rodgers earlier this year too. He had to deal with Derrick Sherrod as his starting tackle for awhile which had to be painful. That’s part of the problem with Stafford, he’s already got a bottom half QB rating and is bottom quartet in accuracy, and he’s also terrible under pressure. So when his accuracy takes a 15 percent nosedive under pressure he’s just a terrible QB. He doesn’t have the mobility of Aaron Rodgers that can help him in such situations, so his performance suffers accordingly.

          • Dohkay

            It’s pretty hard to have a fluke season that is that good without having the talent to replicate it. That season Stafford had his RBs average 4.3 YPC and his TEs caught 100+ passes for 1,100+ yards and 11 TDs. Since that year those numbers have decreased each year with the low-point this past season at 3.6 YPC and his TEs accounting for a league-worst 41 catches for 392 yards and 2 TDs.

            In 2011 he had Calvin + a reliable number 2 in Burleson (before age/injuries caught up with him) not to mention a legitimate number 3 in Titus Young (shudder) to go with 2 pass catching TEs in Pettigrew and Scheffler. Last year they finally replaced Burleson with Tate (massive upgrade) but they don’t have a reliable number 3 (Corey Fuller is awful) nor did they have a consistent TE this season (injuries + rookie TE).

            Rodgers has a very good RB, a very good OL (rewatch week 17 against the Lions in case you have any doubts and then recall that the Lions pressured Romo and his #1 ranked OL at will the following week), and has had several weapons at his disposal (Jordy, Cobb, Jennings, James Jones, Adams, Finley). I’m not arguing that Stafford is on par with Rodgers but the supporting cast has almost always tilted in Rodgers’ favor.

          • eYeDEF

            I’m not talking about the offensive line now. I’m talking about the offensive line at the beginning of the year when Bulaga went out went injury so they had to start Sherrod at LT in his place and the guy was so bad he’s not even on the roster anymore after he was unceremoniously dumped on Bulaga’s return. This came at the same time Rodgers was trying to break in a rookie center and the line was absolutely terrible. After Barclay tore his ACL before the season started there was no depth. Those are the breaks and if Stafford can’t handle the pressure whenever there are injuries on the offensive line then he’s at a handicap to take GB to the playoffs. He would have doubled Rodgers sack totals those first three games and last year when GB’s line was especially terrible who knows what kind of injury he might have suffered like Rodgers did when he had his collarbone fractured on a sack.

            Rodgers has nothing special at tight end, and it’s not like Stafford was completely bereft of other targets. His RBs served as reliable receiving options by accounting for over 900 yards and 14 TDs and you take out Riddick’s paltry 20 carries and the backs averaged a solid 3.9 YPC. So if your argument boils down to him never coming close to replicating 2011 because he had weak tight ends that had slightly worse production than Green Bay, I’m sorry but that is really weak argument. Bush was a better runner in years past. And until Adams starting making some noise midseason, Rodgers never had a reliable #3 either this year or years past. There’s really no escaping the fact that good playoff quarterbacks make do with what they have to make all the players around him better. If Stafford has to have a defense, a pristine offensive line, 3 legit wideouts, and a stud tight end to throw to in order to make the playoffs … well I’m sorry he’s really not a playoff caliber QB if he were playing on Green Bay because they don’t have all those things.

          • Dohkay

            Except… he did handle the breaks. Despite all the injuries to his OL and TEs the Lions won 11 games and were a picked-up flag from advancing in the playoffs. He’s taken plenty of hits over the past 4 seasons and hasn’t missed a start, not to mention he didn’t miss a snap all of 2014 so the injury comments are off base. Rodgers is the injury-prone QB, not Stafford.

            Stafford’s RBs were utilized in the passing game because they had no other options outside of Johnson and Tate. At one point they were starting Kellen Davis at TE and former Packers castaway Jeremy Ross at WR2. I don’t think Stafford needs 3 legit WRs, a stud TE, and a healthy OL to make the playoffs. He did it without any of those things and has now made the playoffs in 2 of his 4 full seasons.

            In order to put up good stats I think he needs at least one of them, however. Find me a QB who put up great numbers with RBs averaging under 4 YPC, no production out of the TE position, and taking a career-high in sacks, not to mention having their first year in an entirely new offense.

          • eYeDEF

            Which brings us full circle back to my original point. He got to the playoffs this year chained to Caldwell’s leash and with a defense so he didn’t have to carry the team. That’s an entirely different circumstance than having no defense in Green Bay where he’s relied upon to carry them to the playoffs on his arm. Night and day are not the same thing. And you can’t argue that he handles injury well while just ignoring that he missed 70% of his first two seasons from injury. It’s pretty ironic to hear you describe Rodgers as “injury prone” when he misses the first 7 games of his seven year starting career while Stafford’s missed 19 games so far in 6 seasons. And again, I really fail to see why you’re placing so much emphasis on tight end when Stafford got above replacement value out of the running back position. How many of the top tier QBs enjoy 900+ yards receiving and 14 receiving touchdowns from the running back spot? I would bet not one. There’s a point when adding additional weapons to throw to suffers from diminished marginal returns because you can only check down so far before getting sacked. Stafford could have gotten more out of Ebron if had thrown him more balls, but chose to throw to someone else. It’s called ‘opportunity cost’. And as bad as Ebron was, I’m sure he still didn’t have as high a drop rate as Luke Willson who Russell had to use as his #1 tight end for most of this year for better or worse.

            I’m just leveling the reality to you man. As it stands right now, Stafford’s 2011 was an outlier. That’s just a simple statistical fact that’s not really subject to debate. His career ANY/A+ of 101 demonstrates he’s just a hair above an average quarterback. Even in his fluke 2011 season, which you seem to think is one of the greatest of all time, his ANY/A+ was still only 115, which is a decent standard deviation better than average, but it’s hardly GOAT anything. A GOAT-like season would be Tom Brady in 2007 and his ANY/A+ of 142 making him astoundingly close to 3 standard deviations above the mean. The closest Stafford’s come to his career year is last year’s ANY/A+ of 106. He didn’t even meet that threshold this season with his dead average ANY/A+ of 100. His advanced stats aren’t trending in any direction but appear to have flatlined at about league average. So at this point it might be time accept that Stafford is ideally suited to play the game manager role and is someone who needs a lot of weapons around him to succeed. He is what he is and I don’t believe Green Bay has the defense right now to allow a game manager to
            get to the playoffs. You compare him to all the other names on the OP’s list of the quarterbacks that could get to the playoffs surrounded with Green Bay’s team and Stafford is the obvious outlier. This season the rest of that list sports ANY/A+ of 113 (Brady), 121 (Manning), 127 (Romo), 116 (Luck), 109 (Wilson), 123 (Rothlisberger), 110 (Brees), 106 (Rivers), Stafford (100). And his career ANY/A+ or 101 also lags far behind that top tier group. Nor can it be said those top tier QBs have on average more weapons than Stafford either.

            When you keep thinking he’s always one weapon away from becoming elite, it’s more likely than not he is what he is.

          • Dohkay

            He led the Lions to the playoffs in 2011 with a bad defense. He led them there in 2014 with a good one. Seems like he can do it either way. Stafford’s injuries were to the same shoulder and he has since started 66 straight games. Rodgers has had two different injuries and is on the wrong side of 30. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call him more injury prone.

            Stafford had to rely on his RBs because he didn’t have TE production and he didn’t have consistent TEs to throw to. Pettigrew was used as a blocker this year (despite being paid to do more… Thanks Lombardi) while Fauria played 3 games. Ebron missed time throughout the season and preseason and looked clueless at times. He also drops passes, something he was noted for in college so while I can’t speak to his rate compared to Willson I can assure you he doesn’t have good hands. He seemed to run the wrong route at least a handful of times a game.

            The Lions utilized the screen game a lot this year and in many ways it was their running game. Those OL injuries can impact more than just a QB. I love Joique and he came on strong late in the year but their running game was awful. Reggie missed several games not to mention he rarely made it a full game when he did play. If you want to call their performance stellar you are in the minority. Catching passes doesn’t make up for sub-4 YPC.

            I don’t consider his season a GOAT season but I also don’t consider it something a QB could luck his way into which is what you’re implying. It takes talent to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 TDs and there’s a reason only a handful of QBs have done it. I’m also not arguing that Stafford is ahead of many of the QBs on that list. He’s behind most but I don’t think they’re head and shoulders above him. Most of those QBs also have several more seasons under their belts and most of those QBs play on better teams. I don’t think it’s asking too much to say a QB needs multiple options in the passing game along with say a running game or a solid and healthy OL. Can you provide an example of a great season by those QBs with RBs averaging under 4 YPC and either injuries to their WRs or TEs or poor OL play? Stafford had all three but I guess EVERY one of those QBs have overcome that?

          • eYeDEF

            Sure. Look at Luck. Trent Richardson sucks ass and averaged 3.3 YPC. Reggie Wayne was not Reggie Wayne. His only big time wideout is TY Hilton and so he has had elevate the play of the rest of the marginal receivers on his team. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen both have hands of stone, no way they put up the numbers they do without Luck throwing to them because they both are utterly unreliable. Or look at Luck last year when his OL sucked ass too. Luck doesn’t have two big time receivers like Stafford, but he elevates the play of the mediocre talent to make it work and spread the ball around.

            When I go through All 22 this is a major problem I see in Stafford and part of why he’s so balls out inefficient is he’ll often get tunnel vision and try to force it to megatron at the expense of other wideouts that are wide fucking open. When the Lions lost to Green Bay in the season finale, he had Ebron wide open in the flat yet ended up forcing it by overthrowing a double covered Megatron over the top on second and short. What the fuck is up with shit like that? He’s just not a good quarterback, even though he’ll gift Tate and Megatron big time numbers Detroit is 17th in offensive DVOA in spite of having two top 5 receiving talents. Why? I’ll tell you why. He doesn’t spread the ball around, which is why I’m telling you it’s really not your tight ends or number 3 guy. It’s Stafford. He sucks. But I can understand why Golden Tate absolutely loves him and probably wishes he could spend more time as Stafford’s sole crush. He’ll literally throw the ball to him the whole game if he has to. In that Packers game his tunnel vision on Megatron allowed him to throw for 3 touchdowns but at a less than 50% completion rate. TBH, I think having Megatron might have been bad for Stafford’s development. If he had mediocre receivers he might have not developed such bad habits to just keep force feeding his first read.

            Ebron was a first round pick and widely considered a tall receiving target who was a solid receiver. Stafford’s job is to develop his receiving targets at tight end, not ignore them. He was willing to spread the ball around in 2011. No longer, he’s permanently regressed and fixated on megatron and tate and the exclusion of everyone else and he doesn’t seem to have anyone coaching him capable of getting the messsage through that it’s better to take what a defense gives you and if he wants better tight end targets he’s got to give them chances to develop their game. Dude I’m really surprised you can’t see this about him and just keep making excuse after excuse that the fault lies with the entire team around him and lack of weapons when he’s the one directing the offensive regression. After a 63.5 completion rate in 2011 he’s been 59.6 since and has never rebounded. It’s not about the talent at tight end at all. This is all on Stafford.

          • Dohkay

            Luck is my second favorite QB so I’m glad you mentioned him. Very few QBs can do what he does and I have Luck ahead of Stafford anyways. Stafford definitely misses open guys and will lock onto CJ at times… Though I’d take CJ in triple coverage over everyone not named Tate in single coverage. Ebron for all we know ran the wrong route on that play, by the way (sadly only half kidding).

            I’m looking forward to seeing Stafford in year 2 of the new offense. Lombardi claims he put a lot on him this year (took Brees 4 years to get comfortable with the checks and schemes Lombardi put Stafford in charge of according to Lombardi) so another year and hopefully healthy OL or TEs at the very least. This year was definitely a disappointment offensively and that’s for everyone, not just Stafford.

            By the way, congrats on Super Bowl number 2. Your defense might go down as the best ever. The offense spots Rodgers 4 turnovers plus a ST fumble and great field position and the D holds him to 22 points. Unreal. Hopefully they feed Lynch in the SB and run the read option instead of letting Wilson chuck it. NE has a pretty damn good secondary.

          • eYeDEF

            Hm. If that’s what Lombardi claims I’m highly skeptical seeing how he didn’t become an offensive assistant with the Saints until 2009, the previous two years he was on the defensive side the ball. And of course Brees was already elite by the time Lombardi even got there in ’07. If it did take him 4 years to get acclimated to Lombardi’s system it didn’t appear to have any bearing on his performance seeing how 2009 was his Super Bowl year when he had a passer rating of 109.2 and AY/A of 8.9. I wouldn’t get your hopes too much about seeing a great leap forward from Stafford seeing how this is his 3rd year in a row he’s underperformed and he’ll be 27 next year. Plus, just a cursory assessment of this season he took 40 of his 45 sacks after holding the ball 2.6 seconds and above. Non play action passes should not take more than 2.5 seconds. Since about 20.6% of his pass plays are play action that’s approximately 30 sacks he took with no play action when he’s holding the ball too long. So really, around 30 of those 45 sacks he took are on him. He’s not being decisive enough in his decision making and this goes back to what I’ve seen is that he just locks into his first or second reads instead of checking down or looking for the mismatch on his single covered receivers and exploiting them if his initial reads are covered like he should be doing. The only difference this year is that his INT rate is down so instead of throwing picks he’s taking sacks instead, which is somewhat of an improvement over throwing picks but hardly something you can take consolation over since his completion % and accuracy rate have remained flat.

            As far as the nfccg, yeah that was emotionally annihilating watching that game. Going from a 3.9% win probability with five minutes left in the NFCCG to a victory had to have been the most mind blowing chemical free rush I’ve ever had. I used to wonder about guys like Bret Favre when he would break down and cry after rallying to an amazing come from behind playoff victory, now I totally understand why. It’s pretty fucking intense. As far as Wilson chucking it I agree only because I don’t trust his receivers to come down with the ball, not because I don’t trust him to make good throws. Specifically Kearse who was directly responsible for at least two of Wilson’s picks and was the intended target on all four of the picks thrown. He’s made plenty of clutch catches the last couple years, but he’s still too inconsistent and his catch radius is not impressive so he requires a dime to be dropped on him like that last pass for him to reliably come down with the ball. Yet Wilson still favors throwing to him as his second read, mostly due to familiarity with him and lack of other options. With Richardson’s promising rookie season destroyed along with his ACL last game just as he was finally developing a decent rapport with Wilson it’s unfortunately come down to having to depend on Kearse more often than I’m comfortable with and it almost cost them the game. He’s got no one that can consistently create separation unfortunately, and they lack a true vertical threat that can stretch McCourty and Revis. WR remains a top offseason priority as a tall and dependable target is what’s really missing for Wilson to take this offense to the next level though I’m still hopeful Kevin Norwood can become that option for him as they continue to develop rapport. I just don’t expect to happen by the SB.

            Unfortunately, this defense has taken a big time hit with the loss of Jordan Hill to IR in the season finale. The lack of interior pressure he provided really showed against Rodgers as he had way too much time to climb the pocket to make throws and that’s going to be a similar problem against Brady as well. Otherwise I’d expect a blowout like last year, but I can’t be as optimistic about this year’s defense. I don’t think it’s as strong.

          • Dohkay

            Here’s the article with Lombardi’s comments: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000455748/article/lions-oc-stafford-given-more-early-on-than-brees

            Also, here’s a breakdown of Stafford’s sacks:
            http://www.mlive.com/lions/index.ssf/2015/01/detroit_lions_second_look_offe.html

            The vast majority of his sacks were under 3 seconds (maybe just over 2.5 seconds?). Quick pressure with an unfamiliar offense makes it harder to get the ball out to the right receiver prior to the sack. Hopefully that improves next year with a healthy OL and Stafford having more experience with the offense. That’s all I’ve got.

            I disagree about your defense by the way. Rodgers was clearly not himself but you still shut him down despite being in terrible field position, especially early on. That being said, if Sherman and Thomas aren’t themselves it could be a rough day. I’m excited for the game, though. I think you guys have a good shot at winning.

          • eYeDEF

            I expect Sherman and Thomas to be fine. From everything I’ve read, two weeks should be ample time for them to get well. I just don’t think the DL looked great at all when they could only get one sack. The fact they got 9 hurries and 5 hits but only 1 sack confirms what I feared is happening. The lack of interior pressure, just like at the beginning of the season, isn’t there to contain the QB for Avril and Bennett to be able to wrap up their pressure with a sack. The DT has not been able to apply pressure or even straight contain Rodgers at the top of the pocket, which is why a valet parker off the street was used for 12 snaps to see if he could get the job done. This defense is not near as good as last year and the injuries have affected its pressure. I didn’t think they looked good at all.

            Interesting, so based on that numbers provided in that article and some quick calculations Stafford had 8 sacks he took between 2.5 and 3.0 seconds of holding the ball on non play action drop backs that should be ascribed to him. He also took 5 coverage sacks, gotta throw that ball away sooner. What is mlive? Do they compile their own Lions stats? I didn’t see a citation.

          • Dohkay

            Keep in mind the Lions defense hardly pressured Rodgers in week 17 (when he was likely more injured and immobile). Green Bay’s OL is one of the best. I agree that you are lacking the interior pass rush (and run defense with Mebane) but I wouldn’t be too concerned over one game.

            Mlive is a Detroit online paper and the two Lions beat writers are pretty good. The author just used the All-22 to do that and he typically does one or two similar articles throughout the season breaking down what went wrong or right in the game. I wish the Lions had an equivalent to Field Gulls as Pride of Detroit is very lacking in All-22 type analysis.

          • eYeDEF

            Yeah that’s a good point about Detroit’s DL not even being able to pressure Rodgers much. I think back to last year’s Super Bowl and the key for me as to why the defense was able to dominate was the pressure generated on Manning, specifically Avril’s ability to get to him. NE’s OL is not as strong as Green Bay’s no doubt, so there’s hope there. I was also glad to learn that Seattle has a strong plan in place to counter New England’s switcheroo of eligible receivers that worked so well against Indy and the Ravens.

            Man just looking at the advanced stats of the raw numbers of New England’s ball security the picture that emerges seems pretty cut and dried to me that they’ve been cheating with deflated balls over the course of Belichick’s tenure with Brady. Have you seen this article?

            http://www.advancedfootballanalytics.com/index.php/home/research/general/224-the-patriots-have-great-ball-security?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

          • Dohkay

            That appears to be pretty damning.

          • eYeDEF

            Yeah he posted a follow up today that looked at the fumble rates of players before they joined the Patriots and after they left and it seemed to confirm the original piece. One argument of the critics of that article was the Belichick coached up some other worldly ball security capabilities, but seeing how players tended to become more fumble prone after leaving the team that theory has bit the dust. The smoking gun appears to be how the magical ball security for them started in 2007, the year in which the league began allowing the practice of each team’s offense to play with their own 12 designated balls.

    • victoria_29

      LMAO sorry I am a Texan fan but even with Rodgers who I also like no the Texans wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Most Valuable Player means just that…so let me see if the Cowboys (& everyone knows Romo is a choke artist) beat Green Bay this week then that means Rodgers obviously wasn’t MVP material-because Romo certainly isn’t.

      • Eric Parker

        You can’t call yourself a Texans fan if you don’t think the exact same team except with Rodgers at qb doesn’t make the playoffs. They finished one win away from making it and they lost a lot of close games. Better qb play would have made a difference in at least a couple of those (if not all of them)

    • hunter

      Dude.. the Texans this year ARE the packers without Rodgers, except with even fewer offensive weapons. Yet they won 9 games. Your point is totally invalid.

  • Jeff

    If you had a team full of cloned JJ Watt’s… I think the universe would
    explode. Hell, I think my head is going to explode just thinking about
    it!

  • Dave

    I can completely understand your fascination with his personal accomplishments. You seem to really rag on the MVP award though and that bothers me. You are handing out a different reward. The MVP is focused on the impact that you had as a player on your teams performance. Given, the way the game is played, quarterbacks almost always have the most impact, but that shouldn’t lessen the meaning of the MVP award. To put it bluntly, the Texans missed the playoffs. Watt is an incredible player, but not valuable enough to have his team make the playoffs. Other teams, if you switch out their qb, they would not have been close to making the playoffs. Watt is totally deserving off this award.

    • hunter

      But the question is.. how do you interpret “most valuable”? Is it most value added? For example, if you argue that Rodgers is more valuable to his team than Watt, what does that even mean? Cuz I can name at least 8 QBs you could put on the Packers and their win total would likely not change by more than 1-2 games (Manning, Brady, Luck, Romo, Wilson, Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Brees). So in light of that, how can you say Rodgers is more valuable than any of the 7 or 8 other QBs at the top of the NFL right now? I don’t think you can put 7-8 DEs in the same category as Watt. That’s the issue with this ridiculous award. It is all about how voters interpret it, so what is the award really for?

    • Eric

      “If these other teams lost their quarterback they would have not been close to the playoffs”….by this standard your own logic falls apart. The Texans lost their starting quarterback the moment Schaub broke his foot and needed Lisfranc surgery years ago. Nothing but backups played for the Texans this year and they still posted 9 wins and were still in the playoff hunt on week 17. Why? JJ Watt. PFF got it right and recognizes what an insane level he plays with on every down. The Ravens were still hunting for a playoff spot in week 16 when the Texans stomped them with a 4th-string qb. Again, Watt played a huge part in that. He may not get MVP but anyone that thinks he isn’t deserving hasn’t been watching on a weekly basis.

  • Fallschirmjager

    Perfect choices. I’m a Packers fan and I agree fully. QBs are MVPs because value = wins. JJ is the best player in the league, but his position can only get him so many wins. When the term value is thrown in, its basically a QB only award. Just the way it is.

  • Trampus Michalsky

    Watt didn’t just have a defensive touchdown, he had 2. A fumble recovery and a pick 6

    • texas_suzie

      And a safety.

  • ThenAtlasSpoke

    I have to disagree with one thing, the idea that the most valuable players are all quarterbacks. The problem with this theory is that it assumes if Aaron Rodgers (for instance) didn’t take the snap, the ball would just lay there on the ground. Let me assure you it wouldn’t. Whoever replaced Rodgers at the position would also handle the ball. Rodgers only real value is how much better he is at producing wins than his replacement would be.

    In baseball there is a statistic called WAR or “Wins Above Replacement”. What this does is takes a statistical model and produces a result of how many games a team would win if a specific starting player was replaced by a average starting player at the same position.

    Since winning is what the game is about, the most valuable player is actually the player who has the highest WAR. You know, because in the NFL, “winning” is the purpose of playing the games, not the number of TDs or passing yards.

    Now suppose we took an NFL average QB like Alex Smith or Carson Palmer and surrounded him with the talent of the Packers (Nelson, Cobb, Lacy)…how many games would the Packers win? My guess is they would still win a good 9 games at least. So Rodgers is good for about 3 extra wins. His WAR is ~3.

    Now, put an NFL average DE in Watt’s place surrounded by a sea of mediocrity or worse. How many games would the Texans have won. Three? Four? Maybe five? So Watt’s WAR is roughly 5, meaning he’s more VALUABLE than Rodgers and not by just a tiny bit.

  • tot

    Luckily I get to watch JJ every week. I have been watching football for over forty years and JJ is one of the best to ever play the game. In my opinion he is up there with Taylor and Smith. It really says something about a defensive lineman when he becomes the reason you watch the game. He definitely deserves this award and I believe (biased of course) that he should also be MVP. On a team with no real QB he has almost if not actually single handedly won some games for us. It’s great when your offense is so bad that it goes three and out but no worry because JJ and the defense that does follow him will quickly give the ball back to the offense. Incredible player and the best in the NFL right now and not by a close margin.

    • eYeDEF

      I’m sure watching Watt dominate is very satisfying, but conversely watching offensive ineptitude with three and outs really isn’t as great as you’re making it out to be.

  • Mark Crowe

    Dwight Stephenson Award?! Ethos?! I respect this establishment more and more. It’s a shame that ProFootballFocus.com has become a far superior product to the NFL. Thank you for your hard work, shared data, and insights.