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Fancy Stats | Analysis

Todd Gurley, not Tom Brady, should be NFL MVP for 2017

By Neil Greenberg

December 26, 2017 at 11:26 AM

Todd Gurley leads the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns from scrimmage. (Mark Zaleski/Associated Press)

The NFL’s MVP race has been in a constant state of flux this season, but it now looks to be a two-person race between New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley.

It’s rare for a non-quarterback to win the award. Quarterbacks have won nine of the past 10 MVP awards, and the six rushers who have won over the past 30 years have been historically good, either establishing a record for touchdowns or rushing for more than 2,000 yards in a season. However, that shouldn’t stop Gurley from serious consideration in 2017. After all, a player’s purpose is to help his team make and succeed in the playoffs, not set or break NFL records.

Related: [The Rams are crediting Sean McVay and not Jeff Fisher for their success this season]

Gurley is the catalyst for one of the league’s top offenses this season. The Rams are scoring 2.4 points per drive, the third-most in the NFL in 2017, and Gurley leads the league in rushing yards (1,305), rushing touchdowns (13) and total touchdowns from scrimmage (19). And that’s despite the Rams’ offensive line allowing their rushers to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage 23 percent of the time; only eight teams have been worse this season.

Just a few weeks ago I argued Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was an MVP candidate based on his usage rate and his effectiveness with the ball, but Gurley has surpassed him, and everyone else in the league, in this regard.

Gurley accounts for 38 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage and 43 percent of his team’s rushing and receiving touchdowns, both league highs in 2017.

Not even the past three running backs to be named MVP — Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) and Adrian Peterson (2012) — ranked at the top of the league for both percentage of yards and touchdowns from scrimmage in their respective seasons.

Gurley is also rated as the league’s best running back in 2017 by Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, which is adjusted for situation and opponent, and by the game charters at Pro Football Focus. In fact, among offensive skill players who aren’t quarterbacks, no player has a higher PFF rating than Gurley in 2017.

Brady is the highest-rated quarterback per PFF and Football Outsiders, but he ranks 17th for the percentage of offensive touchdowns he is responsible for (67 percent), making him barely an above-average quarterback in this regard (64 percent league average). That might be hard to hear, but consider Brady is throwing touchdown passes at a rate that is just 14 percent above average compared to 53 and 35 percent above average during his MVP years of 2007 and 2010, respectively. Plus, Brady’s stats this season, relative to the league, don’t compare favorably to other quarterbacks who have won the award over the past 18 seasons.

The chart below illustrates how past MVP QBs performed compared to the league average quarterback during that season. For example, Rich Gannon’s completion rate in 2002 was 30 percent higher than the league average, denoted by plus-30 percent in the chart. The average MVP winner since 2002 produced a completion rate that was 20 percent higher than the league average, with the median of that group 25 percent higher than the average passer in the NFL that season. Through Week 16, Brady sits below both marks in all four categories.

As noted earlier, quarterbacks have the inside track when it comes to the NFL’s MVP award, but it is clear Gurley is worth more to his team than any other player in the league this season.

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Neil Greenberg is a staff writer with The Washington Post whose beat is sports analytics. His analysis and insight can be found on the Fancy Stats blog, where he covers all pro sports, as well as college football and basketball.

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Fancy Stats | Analysis

Todd Gurley, not Tom Brady, should be NFL MVP for 2017

By Neil Greenberg

December 26, 2017 at 11:26 AM

Todd Gurley leads the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns from scrimmage. (Mark Zaleski/Associated Press)

The NFL’s MVP race has been in a constant state of flux this season, but it now looks to be a two-person race between New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley.

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