For the last three or four weeks, the race for MVP has come down to two people: QB Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos, and our very own Terminator-Cyborg, Adrian Peterson.
So, who should it be?
Topher Doll, one of the writers over at the SB Nation Broncos blog Mile High Report, was kind enough to debate me via email over the more worthy MVP candidate.
So kids, read on as Topher and I make our cases for our guy, and then decide.
DN: Hi Topher, thanks for doing this. Let's just say you've won the toss and can either kick or receive to decide who goes first.
MHR: Since I won the toss, you lead off, ha ha.
DN: I think this is a pretty simple case for Adrian Peterson. Last Christmas Eve, AP tore his ACL and MCL, and Dr. James Andrews, the famed 'surgeon to the athletes', said it was one of the more devastating injuries he's seen when he opened up the knee to operate. That operation was on January 30th of last year. Every rehabilitation protocol that I've ever read said that it takes about one full year to get the knee back to 100%, and very few knees that have that kind of damage get back to the pre-injury level.
Exactly one year later, Adrian Peterson came within 9 yards of the all-time single season NFL rushing record held by Eric Dickerson, and was almost solely responsible for the Vikings going from 3-13 to 10-6, a win over Green Bay, and the second wildcard slot in the NFC playoffs. Keep in mind, it was almost a given that he would be put on the PUP list to start the season, yet he wasn't. He had difficulty cutting left or right the fist five or 6 games of the year, and once that cutback ability returned, he ran for 1,598 yards over the last 10 games. In other words, had he not played the the first six games, he still would've finished second in the NFL in rushing, behind only Alfred Morris of Washington.
And let's look at where the Vikings were last year, and contrast it to this year. Last year, this team was a mess, and went 3-13. Coming in to 2012, no one expected them to even get close to .500, much less be in the playoff hunt. They are in the playoffs, and the play of Peterson is largely responsible for that. Take Peterson away from the Vikings, and they're a 5 win team, maybe. Take Manning away from Denver, and Denver is still a playoff team. Heck, you guys even won a playoff game last year.
I just don't see how Manning is more valuable to Denver than Peterson is to the Vikings.
MHR: You bring up the two big parts of what makes a good MVP candidate. Now the first part of the conversation you talk about his recovery, which would be a great topic to discuss if this were about who was the Comeback Player of the Year, but since this is MVP, I'm don't think the severity of his injury or the speed of his recovery matter.
But his recovery does bring up the first part of what makes a good MVP candidate, the story. This is does tie closely to the Comeback Player of the Year award since both Peyton and Adrian have equally awesome tales of recovery. Now we could get into the CPOY award and who came back faster or more impressively, but from the outside, the two stories are at similar levels. Both players have overcome so much to get to their current level of play.
This leads us to the second big discussion about what makes a real MVP candidate, is it the more VALUABLE player or the BETTER player? Just because a player is incredibly talented doesn't mean he's valuable. Take Tom Brady, he's a top 3 quarterback but the Pats still won 11 games without him. He's talented but because of the talent and coaching on the Patriots, he's not as valuable as other quarterbacks. So we have to separate production and value. When looking at this season it's clear Adrian was incredible successful, you laid that case out well, and helped me decide that AP should receive the Offensive Player of the Year. He had one of the great seasons by a running back and deserves recognition for such a great offensive season. And while Peyton had such a good seasons as well, a top 3 quarterback this season for sure, it's hard to compete with 2,000 yards rushing.
But let's look at value. It's true the Vikings were only 3-13 last season, that's a rise of 7 games this off-season. The Broncos saw an increase of 5 games as well. Both saw massive growth in terms of wins. But there have been some huge changes this past off-season. Adrian Peterson was already with the Vikings, he's always been productive on this team but never warranted MVP talk. I'd say some of the bigger reasons for the Vikings success (though it's clear AP was one of the reasons) include:
- Christian Ponder's progression (He's not great but he's leaps and bounds better than in 2011)
- A great Viking draft (A starting tackle in Kalil, solid safety in Smith and a Pro Bowler in Walsh)
- Kyle Rudolph's growth (A great season by an underrated TE)
The only real change the Broncos had was the addition of Peyton. The Broncos draft was largely role players or backups. Peterson has been the Vikings for years, he isn't a new addition and it's not like some of his of past seasons were bad either, take 2007, 2008, or 2009. Peterson had a career year, but he wasn't anything new, he's been part of bad, average and good teams. Peyton on the other hand is really the only major change by the Broncos. So while the Vikings may have improved 2 more games than the Broncos, they added more talent and had more youth progression compared to the Broncos.
So to me Peterson deserves OPOY without question and I would like it if he and Peyton could share CPOY, but in terms of value, I'm going Peyton.
DN: Okay, let's stick to the value of the player relative to the team, that seems fair. Good stories aside, that really is the crux of the argument.
You mention Tom Brady, and how well the Pats did without him, and you mentioned that the Broncos were really missing nothing more than a QB, because the Broncos draft was essentially backup players. So basically, the Broncos were set, with the only missing piece being a stand out quarterback. In other words, the team wasn't built around Peyton Manning's strength, it was built around the premise of needing a good quarterback. So in theory, replace Manning with any other top flight quarterback that could have become available--Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and the result would have been the same for your team.
But I don't think there's anyone that could have done what Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings this year. Take all the other parameters you mentioned earlier about Minnesota--Ponder's progression, the 2012 draft, and Kyle Rudolph becoming a great tight end, and substitute any back you like, and you won't get the same numbers, the same win total, and the Vikings wouldn't be in the playoffs. So although Peyton Manning provided a boost to the Broncos, his contributions fall short of what Adrian Peterson's value is to the Vikings.
MHR: I understand where you are coming from and you make a good point about replacing Peyton with any top tier quarterback, but I think the same holds true for AP. Heck Peterson's 2008 or 2009 seasons were of similar value as his 2012 season, did the 300-400 extra yards truly make that much of a difference in terms of value? I believe that while Adrian is a future Hall of Famer that another back could have had a similar year on that team, say Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster or Marshawn Lynch. As you said:
"In other words, the team wasn't built around (Adrian Peterson)'s strength, it was built around the premise of needing a good running back. So in theory, replace (Peterson) with any other top flight running back that could have become available--(Lynch, Charles, or Foster), and the result would have been the same for your team."
So I think we've come to the agreement we can replace our All-Pro players with players of similar value, but I guess that makes sense. Both players are the focal point of the offense. Both teams have tools that compliment that player and since we are going to disagree about what each team would be without their player, I'm going to get all statistical up in here.
Let's break this down by statistics per position, I've included the statistic and it's ranking among their peers:
Yards per attempt (rush or pass) rank:
- Peyton: 8.0, 2nd
- Adrian: 6.0, 1st
Touchdown percent (chance of scoring per attempt):
- Peyton: 6.3%, 4th
- Adrian: 3.4%, 2nd
Turnover percent (chance of turning the ball over per attempt):
- Peyton: 1.9%, 7th
- Adrian: 1.1%, 8th
Attempts as a percentage of total team plays (to determine percentage of offensive plays):
- Peyton: 53.5%, 6th
- Adrian: 38.8%, 4th
Yards as a percentage of total team yards:
- Peyton: 71.0%, 2nd
- Adrian: 43.0% 2nd
Touchdowns as a percentage of total team scores:
- Peyton: 75.5%, 2nd
- Adrian: 54.2%, 1st
Pro Football Focus' Rankings:
- Peyton: 53.2, 1st
- Adrian: 30.1, 1st
DVOA (From Football Outsiders):
- Peyton: 32.7%, 2nd
- Adrian: 24.9%, 1st
Win Probability Added per Game (From Advanced NFL Stats):
- Peyton: .23, 6th
- Adrian: .08, 2nd
Expected Points Added per Game (From Advanced NFL Stats):
- Peyton: .27, 2nd
- Adrian: .08, 5th
Fantasy football is a terrible way to measure a players value, but hey, why not:
- Peyton: 304, 5th overall, 5th QB
- Adrian: 297, 7th overall, 1st RB
Man... Okay well that didn't settle anything, and comparing across positions is hard unless you lean on the ranks and it's still very even, back and forth there. Even when we look at value to the team in terms of percentage of the production, both are near the top of the league. At this point is seems equal to me, they are equally valuable, but as a Broncos writer and fan, and you being a Vikings fan, our biases will be the tie breaker.
So as a Broncos fan in the case of a tie I'm going to go Peyton, but I would gladly accept a tie, but at this point, I can't see any evidence where Adrian is more valuable than Peyton.
DN: Good stuff, but I think these statistics give AP a slight edge. And although I understand your point of view about swapping Peterson out with another high caliber back, the fact remains that Peterson is head and shoulders above the guys you mentioned before. Because I'm going to disagree with you when you make the case that the Vikings offense wasn't built around Peterson--in fact, it is built around Peterson, and because of his ability, the Vikings have been able to draft and develop a young quarterback, as opposed to going out and getting a street free agent, like they did last year.
2008 and 2009 were good years for AP, and the Vikings went to the playoffs those years, but the offense didn't run through him, like it does today. In 2008 the Vikings tried to be a West Coast Offense, short controlled passing unit, but couldn't get it done with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. In 2009, Brett Favre was the MVP of the Vikings, hands down, as the offense came to life with a competent quarterback that could make plays. Peterson, while still an incredible weapon, was used more to set up the pass in those offenses. In 2012, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave uses Peterson to set up the rest of the offense, which in this era of the NFL, is rare. Other teams have great backs, as you mentioned, but just about every other team in the NFL is a pass first, use the run to set up the pass offense.
Please don't take any of this as a shot at Manning--he's been a great player for years, has taken the Broncos to the #1 seed in the AFC, and he has a real chance to bring Denver another Super Bowl championship. But I'm going to maintain that Peterson is more important to the Vikings success than any other player on their respective team in the NFL.
Since I kicked this debate off, I'll let you have the last word. Happy New Year to you and everyone at Mile High Report, and good luck in the playoffs!
MHR: Actually I did say that I think the Vikings are built around and through Adrian Peterson, but I will disagree about AP being head and shoulders above the backs I listed, especially Foster, Lynch and Charles, whom all had fantastic season, I'd actually put Foster's season just below Peterson's since he had more touchdowns and fewer turnovers. Peterson was the best back in terms of production and value this season, but I disagree he was the most talented and I honestly believe that any of those three backs could have reached similar numbers (maybe not as high, but similar) in that system.
You make good points about Peterson's past seasons, but a good example of another back in a similar system is Arian Foster or Marshawn Lynch, both of whom are the focal points of their teams, who rely heavily on the play action. Just look at how Matt Schaub plays when Foster struggles.
And don't worry, obviously none of this is a slight to either player, both are All-Pro players, but to me, Peyton just makes everyone better, not just the team as a whole. Look at the massive rise in play by the Broncos wide receivers, that's because of Peyton. Look at the improved offensive line play, all Peyton. The run game's improvement? Peyton. Adrian's play has been fantastic, worthy of Offensive Player of the Year, and makes his team much better, but a true MVP makes his team great year in and year out, Adrian obviously has been great for years but he didn't carry his team and make them all better like Peyton does.
This is a great debate, and in other years Adrian would have won this award easily, but Peyton on a new team, new system and new coaching, I've got to with Peyton. His four previous MVP awards also say something. Adrian is a Hall of Famer if he can keep pace for a few more years, he deserves OPOY and possibly Comeback Player of the Year, but not MVP.
Thanks for this great discussion and I honestly have so much respect for Adrian Peterson. Good luck in the playoffs and Happy New Year!
Again, thanks to Topher at Mile High Report. Happy New Year everybody!