The Top 20 Most Valuable Players in the 2012 NFL Season
The NFL season is approaching the halfway point and we still have virtually no clue who the league Most Valuable Player has been, let alone which teams will represent their respective conferences in the Super Bowl. It seems like half the teams in the league are 3-3 or 3-4 or 4-3, which makes choosing the most valuable players that much more difficult.
But what really is a most valuable player in this generation? Well, for starters, it's very likely a quarterback. This is one of the highest scoring years in league history and quarterbacks just continue to take over the football world. If you have a dominant quarterback, you can win any game, or have a chance to win any game, no matter how bad your running game, wide receivers, offensive line, or defense are. There is no position in the league that is even remotely as important as quarterback, and that's why that position will be heavily dominated in my MVP rankings.
Just look at a pair of rookie quarterbacks, the top two draft picks this year. Andrew Luck has the Indianapolis Colts in contention for a playoff spot, with more wins than they had in the entire 2011 season, while Robert Griffin III has been the talk of the league for his incredible ability as both a passer and a runner. He too has his team, the Washington Redskins, beating expectations, and while I don't expect them to reach the playoffs, they definitely have a chance as long as RGIII stays healthy.
That being said, here are the 20 most valuable players in the National Football League so far in the 2012 season. Don't expect any of these rankings to stay the same over the next two and a half months though. There's still plenty of season left to be played.
20. Richard Sherman, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks
The trash-talking cornerback for the surprising Seattle Seahawks is the most valuable player on a team loaded with defensive talent. It's Sherman who has helped the Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, arguably the top two teams heading into the 2012 season. His best game came against Tom Brady and the Patriots, when he allowed two completions on seven attempts for just 32 yards, plus an interception. This season, he's allowed no touchdown passes, while intercepting three passes, and surrendering a passer rating of just 44.4. If the Seahawks make the playoffs (and I think they would have a much better chance if they benched rookie Russell Wilson for Matt Flynn), Sherman and the defense will be counted on to win games against some of the top offenses in the conference.
19. Von Miller, Linebacker, Denver Broncos
Last year, the hype for the Broncos centered around quarterback Tim Tebow, whose late game heroics overshadowed Miller's tremendous rookie season. This year, the hype for the Broncos centers around veteran Peyton Manning, whose full game heroics overshadow Miller's sensational sophomore season. It's the Broncos linebacker who rates as the second best player in the NFL this year, according to Pro Football Focus. He's been dominant as a pass rusher (six sacks and 19 hurries) and a run stopper (20 tackles).
18. Cameron Wake, Defensive End, Miami Dolphins
The relatively no-name Miami Dolphins' defense has helped the team split its first six games, a far cry above preseason expectations. Defensive end Cameron Wake has been easily the team's best player, collecting nine sacks and 27 hurries in six games. Those numbers put him on pace for 24 sacks, which would break the single-season record, and 68 hurries. Against the New York Jets in week three, he was credited with three quarterback hits and eight hurries, courtesy of PFF. He had six sacks, by PFF's standards, the next week against the Arizona Cardinals.
17. Frank Gore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
I'm pretty impressed that 29-year old Frank Gore hasn't broken down yet. Not only is he still going strong, he's the third best running back in the league this season, carrying 103 times for 601 yards and four touchdowns. That's 5.8 yards per carry, the most in the league for players with at least 100 carries. He's helped take a lot of the focus off Alex Smith, and he's helped the 49ers to a 5-2 record, good for first place in the very competitive NFC West.
16. Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
I believe that Victor Cruz is the best wide receiver in the National Football League. I really do. He's as clutch as they get, as indicated by his 77-yard game-winning touchdown last week against the Washington Redskins, a play that cancelled out the miraculous comeback led by RGIII. The Giants have been the talk of the football world over the past few days, as many consider them the best team in the league. Cruz's 50 catches, 627 yards, and league-leading seven touchdowns are a huge reason why. Those numbers put him on pace for 114 catches, 1433 yards, and 16 touchdowns, which would be one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history.
15. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
It's simply unbelievable the way 27-year old running back Adrian Peterson has been running this season. After all, this is a guy who tore both his ACL and his MCL late last December and didn't miss a single game this season. That's insane. In his first game back, he rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and he hasn't looked back. Through eight games, he's ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards (775), and he's averaging 5.1 yards per carry with four touchdowns. (Yes, he has played one or two more games than most teams, due to the Vikings playing on Thursday Night Football.) If the Vikings want to avoid fading down the stretch, they need to keep the ball away from struggling quarterback Christian Ponder and keep feeding it to AP.
14. Josh Freeman, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Following a brutal rookie season in 2009, a breakout season in 2010, and a disappointing 2011 season, Josh Freeman has rebounded to become one of the league's better quarterbacks in the 2012 season. He's thrown 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions, good for a 93.3 passer rating, and he ranks first in the league in yards per completion (14.6). He's thrown three touchdown passes in his last three games, and the Buccaneers have slowly climbed back into the postseason hunt following a dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football.
13. Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs
Just like Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL the previous season and has returned with no side effects of his injury the previous season. He's been the lone bright spot for the Kansas City offense, rushing 115 times for 598 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He scampered for a 91-yard touchdown against the Buffalo Bills and he is on track to finish the season with close to 1600 yards. The Chiefs' benching of Matt Cassel means Jamaal Charles will be more heavily counted on over the next 10 games.
12. Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver/Returner, Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb is the most underrated player in the National Football League. Fact. He's having a tremendous all-around season, and I wouldn't be too stunned to see him open the 2013 year as Aaron Rodgers' number one receiver. He might be already. Rodgers has completed 37 of his 43 passes to Cobb this season. That 86 percent completion rate is easily the best in the league from a quarterback to a receiver. Cobb has gained 435 yards and three touchdowns on those catches. He also has 15 punt returns for 165 yards (11.0 per return) and a touchdown, and he's taken back 15 kicks for 409 yards (27.3 per return). Oh, and he has 67 rushing yards on three carries. He rates with Percy Harvin as the most versatile player in the league.
11. JJ Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans
There is no defensive player in the National Football League as dominant as Houston Texans' defensive end JJ Watt. He is on track to become one of the all-time greats. This season, he's collected 9.5 sacks, 10 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, and 24 tackles. Those numbers put him on track to finish the season with 22 sacks, 23 batted passes, and 55 tackles. He's also recovered two fumbles. According to the ratings at Pro Football Focus, he is easily, EASILY, the best player in the league this season. In fact, he rates as a 44.5 through seven games, while the next best 3-4 defensive end in the game is Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals. He rates as a 15.7. Watt has played seven games this season and they've all been dominant. Not good. Not great. But dominant. He truly doesn't have a weakness. He can stop the run. He can rush the passer. And he can make plays. He is the biggest reason why the Houston Texans are 6-1 and atop the AFC. The only reason he doesn't rate higher in the MVP rankings is simply because this is such a quarterback-dominated league that no defensive player can be more valuable than the game's elite quarterbacks. But Watt appears a lock to take home the game's Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
10. Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
You look at the numbers and Andrew Luck really hasn't impressed as much as most thought he would this season. He's thrown for seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, and he has a 72.3 passer rating, one of the worst in the league. And let me tell you something. You can basically throw all of those numbers out the door because Andrew Luck has been nothing short of phenomenal. Let's look at what he's been asked to do. He is taking over a Colts team that won two games in all of 2011. They're already 3-3, and I'm sticking with them as my second wild card team in the AFC. One of those wins came against the Green Bay Packers, in which Luck led the Colts back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win 30-27 with a brilliant game-winning touchdown drive in the final few minutes. Luck also is throwing the ball farther than any quarterback in the league, averaging 10.2 yards per pass down the field. His average completion travels 8.6 yards, the highest mark in the league. He is helped the least out of any quarterback by yards after the catch and he's throwing the ball to wide receivers more than any other quarterback in the game. He also rates as the most valuable running quarterback in the league, according to ESPN, as he leads the league in first down scrambles and third down conversions by scrambles. In fact, he ranks sixth in total quarterback rating (Robert Griffin III ranks eighth). He's also found tremendous success, as expected, with veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, who ranks third in the league with 666 receiving yards. My preseason prediction was that Andrew Luck would throw 30 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, while leading the Colts to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth. He hasn't approached those numbers yet. But don't let the numbers fool you. He's been one of the best quarterbacks in the game this season, and that makes him a top 10 MVP candidate.
9. Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver/Returner, Minnesota Vikings
This is about as high as you're ever going to see a wide receiver ranked in the Most Valuable Player voting, and one of the big reasons Harvin is so high is because he's done more than just play wide receiver. Let's start there though. He has 60 catches on 75 throws, a sensational 80% completion percentage, with three touchdowns, just one dropped pass, and a ridiculous 21 missed tackles, 12 more than the next highest receiver in the league. He's also carried 18 times for 72 yards and a touchdown, and he's averaging an insane 35.7 yards per kick return, including a 105-yard return for a touchdown. He's the biggest reason why the Vikings are two games over .500 at the halfway point in the season.
8. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots
I'm not going to call this a disappointing season for Tom Brady. Not quite. But he hasn't lit it up as I've expected. Perhaps that just goes to show how high my expectations are for the greatest quarterback in the game, and perhaps ever. And yes, the loss of star tight end Aaron Hernandez has had a big effect on his passing numbers. Regardless, he's still a top quarterback in the game, and he leads the league in completions (186), attempts (285), and interception percentage (1.1 percent). He's thrown for 2104 yards and 12 touchdowns, with a passer rating of 96.9. The only thing he hasn't done is win as much as he usually does. The Patriots are still in first place in the AFC East, but they've lost three games already, which is about as many as they usually lose in a full season. Granted, their losses were a 20-18 to the Arizona Cardinals in which kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a game-winning 41-yard field goal at the end of regulation, a 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in which Ravens' kicker Justin Tucker nailed a walkoff 27-yard field goal at the end of regulation, and a 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in which rookie quarterback Russell Wilson connected with wide receiver Sidney Rice for a game-winning 46-yard touchdown with 1:27 to play (and Brady was unable to lead the Patriots into field goal territory). I still expect the Patriots to coast to the division title with 11 or 12 wins, and I think Tom Brady will finish the season as a top three MVP candiate.
7. Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants
I think the Eli Manning hype is a little overrated this season. Now let me clarify. I think he's having a great season. But I've heard guys like Skip Bayless of ESPN's First Take say that he should be the league's MVP this season, and no he should not. He's a little inconsistent. But he has been as clutch as ever, starting with a big comeback win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week two. He led a dismantling of the division-leading San Francisco 49ers in week six, and he threw a last-minute, game-winning 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz in the final two minutes against the Washington Redskins last Sunday. For the season, he's thrown for a league-leading 2109 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He has the Giants at 5-2, atop the NFC East, and a lot of experts are calling them the team to beat in the entire NFL.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
I think Ben Roethlisberger deserves a little more credit for what he's done this season with a Pittsburgh Steelers team that has seen linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu combine to play in just five games. Throw in running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, who have each been banged up, and Roethlisberger is one of the best QBs in the league in 2012. He's led the Steelers to a 3-3 record, which puts them right in the mix in the highly competitive AFC. Consistency has been an issue, as the Steelers dropped a shootout with the Oakland Raiders and an overtime Thursday Night Football contest with the Tennessee Titans. But Roethlisberger has dominated statistically, throwing for 1765 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He ranks fifth in the NFL in passer rating.
5. Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has the luxury of quarterbacking the only remaining undefeated team in the National Football League. The Atlanta Falcons are 6-0, and their four-game lead in the NFC South means they will likely have the division title wrapped up by the end of November. Ryan has cooled off in the past two games, but he still has 1756 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 98.8 passer rating this season, putting him on pace for 5268 yards, 42 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White rivals Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks as the most dangerous quarterback to wide receiver combinations in the league.
4. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
You can't even begin to understate the value and importance of quarterback Drew Brees to the New Orleans Saints, who will be without head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season following his suspension for Bountygate. It was a rough start to the season for the Saints, who lost their first four games. But they've rallied to win two in a row, and I'm hearing experts talk about them as a potential playoff team. Brees has been easily the best player, throwing for 2097 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Those numbers put him on pace for close to 4800 yards, 48 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. He's been especially hot the past couple of weeks, throwing for a combined 747 yards and 8 touchdowns in wins against the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A Sunday Night Football showdown with the first-place Denver Broncos will go a long way to determining the postseason status for both teams.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
Through the first three games of the season, Aaron Rodgers was a good but not great quarterback. Over the last four games, he's been the hottest player in the league, completing 105 of 147 passes (71.4 percent) for 1234 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. His 19 touchdowns and four interceptions this season put him on track for 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He's led the Packers to a 4-3 record. But one of those losses was in the Seattle Seahawks Monday Night Football debacle, a game where most believe the outcome was unfairly affected by the replacement refs. The other losses came in the season opener to the 5-2 San Francisco 49ers and a shootout with the Indianapolis Colts and stud rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Rodgers is in his groove right now, and I expect the Packers to coast into the postseason with 11 wins.
2. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning has done nothing this season but make a total fool of the fans, analysts, and other teams who doubted his ability to ever again play at an elite level. He's led the Denver Broncos to a 3-3 record this season, with their losses coming against three of the best teams in the NFL: the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, and New England Patriots. He's led Denver to at least 21 points in all six games, and his only blemish on the 2012 season was a fluke three-interception performance in the first quarter against Atlanta. He's beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers on prime-time football with a memorable Broncos' debut. He crushed the lowly Oakland Raiders. And he overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit against the divison rival San Diego Chargers before a national audience on Monday Night Football. The Broncos have a lot of holes on their team, which is why they're only 3-3 this season. But they're still first in the AFC West and I expect them to finish the season in the playoffs, especially with their ridiculously easy closing schedule.
1. Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Washington Redskins
There isn't a player in the league who means as much to his team as Robert Griffin III does to the Washington Redskins. This guy is revolutionizing the league one game at a time. He's seven games into his rookie season and I would rank him as the seventh best quarterback in the game (trailing Rodgers, Brady, Peyton, Brees, Eli, and Roethlisberger). You want accuracy? He leads the league in completion percentage (70.4 percent). You want efficiency? He leads the league in yards per attempt (8.5) and ranks third in passer rating (101.8). You want versatility? His 468 rushing yards and six touchdowns (including a 76-yard scamper) put him on track to finish the season with 1069 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Michael Vick never had rushing numbers like that, let alone a combination of running and passing. The Redskins are 3-4 this season, despite a porous injury-plagued defense and virtually no help in the receiving corps. It's only going to get worse with tight end Fred Davis out for the remainder of the season. In the Redskins' four losses, RGIII has led them to an average of 24.75 points per game, which includes a game against the undefeated Atlanta Falcons where he was knocked out with a concussion (and played the following week). The only hope for the rest of the NFL is that teams start to figure out his unorthodox style of offense, as they did for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was last year's rookie stud (but nowhere near RGIII's level). I don't expect the Redskins to make the playoffs this season. They'll probably finish about 7-9. But they're 3-4 with the fifth highest scoring offense in the game and there's no doubt in my mind that they'd be 0-7 with an average quarterback playing instead of RGIII.