If I had a vote, I’d vote for Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (1600 yards, 10 TDs, 6.0 ypc rushing; 211 yards, 5.6 ypr receiving). His performance is absolutely unrivaled in the sheer volume of impact plays.
While playing running back isn’t as mentally strenuous as quarterback, there’s no quarterback that’s accomplished the number of big plays Adrian Peterson has, all by himself. When you think about how bad the passing game’s been for the Vikings (27th in TD passes, 30th in net yards-per-attempt, no active WR with over 360 yards), it’s incredible that Adrian Peterson could – game after game – run for first down after first down to keep drives alive, and ultimately score enough to win 7 games.
My second choice would be Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (66.9% comp., 3297 yards, 7.5 ypa, 29 TDs, 8 INTs passing; 234 yards rushing, 5.1 ypc, 1 TD). Simply put, Aaron Rodgers has had more key throws and has been asked to make more higher-degree-of-difficulty throws than Tom Brady has. He doesn’t have the O-line that Brady has. He has had more key injuries to his weapons than Brady has had. He’s also had to overcome the adversity of being on a team more unfairly hurt by replacement refs (uncalled holding vs. 49ers, INT-turned-TD vs. Seahawks). His leadership has been huge for a team missing many of its finest players in CB Charles Woodson, WR Greg Jennings, OLB Clay Matthews and WR Jordy Nelson. He also plays in a division where their three divisional foes have all made the postseason at least once since 2009. The Jets are the only divisional opponent that the Patriots face that has made the postseason in that period, and their O-line, WR’s, and quarterbacking have been awful.
My third choice would be Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (66.4% comp., 2902 yards, 8.3 ypa, 18 TD, 4 INT passing; 748 yards, 6.7 ypa, 6 TDs rushing). Context is the key here. Griffin doesn’t have one future Hall of Fame tight end coming in when another one gets hurt. He hasn’t had 6 years of chemistry built up with his top target like Tom Brady has with Wes Welker. Griffin has bailed out a mediocre Redskins defense all year, making dazzling plays to put his team in the postseason hunt, all while missing his most explosive weapon, Pierre Garçon, for most of the year. His leadership has been great, though I never let that be a determining factor. It’s also an interesting discussion as to whether their 3-6 start took pressure off the team to play loose or if you give Griffin credit for performing with every game possibly being an elimination game.
I put Patriots QB Tom Brady (64.4% comp., 3833 yards, 7.7 ypa, 28 TDs, 4 INTs passing; 21 yards, 3 TDs rushing) in there at 4th. It’s not a knock against him at all. He’s doing an A+ job of what New England asks him to do. He executes his safe, high-percentage passes very quickly and accurately. In past years, he was asked to make deep throws and throws on the run. I’m impressed that he’s having the 4th best season of anyone in the league in what is year 13 for him. Unfortunately, a lot of quarterbacks would succeed in his situation. A lot of players with far worse offensive lines have similar or better yards-per-attempt and completion % numbers. It’s – again – the offensive line, continuity of the uptempo attack, and the emergence of the run game that keep him throwing TDs and keep him from throwing INTs.
You don’t give the NBA MVP to the power forward who’s only asked to get rebounds or to the NHL Player of the Year to a defenseman who only rarely shoots the puck. Let’s not forget that Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton both nearly brought their teams to the playoffs in the McDaniels offense.
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