Since 1987, 19 of the 25 NFL Most Valuable Players (or co-MVPs), as awarded by the Associated Press have been quarterbacks. The other six years? Running backs. One year – 1997 – the award was split between a quarterback (Brett Favre) and a running back (Barry Sanders). The last player who wasn’t a quarterback or a running back to win the league’s MVP award was Giants LB Lawrence Taylor in 1986.
So, yeah, say hello to your 2012 NFL MVP – almost certainly Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster.
The QB-RB MVP bias is what it is. Fortunately, NFL rookies enjoy a more open playing field when it comes to their big awards, because the AP awards both an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year award. That’s good news for Buccaneers LB Lavonte David.
Earlier this season, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin built up strong buzz for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, though that was always an uphill battle when the top two draft picks were quarterbacks who have started all season for teams in the thick of playoff races. As Martin found in a variety of midseason Rookie of the Week votes on NFL.com, the QB bias is pretty strong for that particular award, and Martin is probably a long shot at this point. That does nothing to diminish how incredible his NFL debut has begun; Martin is still third in the entire league with 1,766 yards from scrimmage, a remarkable achievement.
Martin may be up against steep odds, but it’s easier to envision David taking home the defensive crown. The number-crunchers at Pro Football Focus surely would not be surprised.
In this case, the award bias – or perhaps, more charitably, the recent trend – could work in David’s favor. Ten of the last 12 Defensive Rookies of the Year have been linebackers. That includes some pass-rushers in 3-4 defenses, such as 2011 winner Von Miller of the Broncos, but plenty of more conventional linebackers, without huge sack totals, have won recently as well. Examples include Houston’s DeMeco Ryans in 2006, San Francisco’s Patrick Willis in 2007 and New England’s Jerod Mayo in 2008.
David has one more game to build on his resume, but his numbers are already extremely impressive. Unofficial league totals have Carolina rookie LB Luke Kuechly leading the NFL in tackles with 152 and David ranking seventh at 133. PFF disagrees, however; their own review of game tape has David leading the way by six over Kuechly.
Everyone agrees that David has been the league’s best at getting stops behind the line of scrimmage. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt has a shot at the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award with his 20.5 sacks, but PFF has David one better than Watt and in the NFL lead in total tackles for loss.
The article linked above on PFF is a list of the site’s leading candidates for Rookie of the Year, their own analysis of the best newcomers, not split between offensive and defensive players. Not surprisingly, quarterbacks hold the top three spots. However, David is one of four players in the PFF top 10 who play defense. If their analysis matches up with AP voting, the Buccaneer rookie’s top contenders for the Defensive ROTY award are Kuechly, Seattle LB Bobby Wagner and Green Bay CB Casey Hayward.
That would seem to be a tight race. Perhaps one more dominant performance by the outstanding Buccaneer rookie could win him the award. No Tampa Bay player has ever won that particular AP honor, by the way.