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Making the Case for Justin Jefferson MVP

A wide receiver has never won the award

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

A wide receiver has never won the NFL MVP award. In 1998, Randy Moss’ signature year, he got just four votes for MVP. Last year, wide receiver triple crown winner (most yards, TDs, receptions) Cooper Kupp got just one vote. The closest a wide receiver has ever gotten to being named MVP was Jerry Rice with thirty votes in 1987. John Elway won that year with thirty-six votes. Running backs have won MVP seven times in the Super Bowl era, with more wins prior to that.

However, in a passing league it’s not just quarterbacks that deserve credit for top offenses. One need only look to two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers’ performance this season without Davante Adams. That should make it crystal clear how valuable wide receivers are in a quarterback’s and a team’s success. In Miami, the addition of Tyreek Hill has suddenly thrust Tua Tagovailoa, who struggled last season, into the MVP conversation.

Central to MVP voting is the idea that the quarterback is a more complex and demanding position- the most in professional sports. There’s no doubt about that. But having a top wide receiver makes a quarterback’s job much easier. Central to the misvaluing of the wide receiver position in MVP voting is the notion that it’s the QB that gets most of the credit for delivering an accurate pass. All the receiver has to do is catch it. But the reality is that all of the top quarterbacks rely on go-to receivers to come down with a pass when the chips are down. They’re so good, and the quarterback has so much trust in them, that they’ll simply throw a jump ball to that receiver in hopes they come down with it. Kirk Cousins does that with Justin Jefferson. Aaron Rodgers used to do that with Davante Adams. Patrick Mahomes with Travis Kelce. And so on. And most of the time they’re rewarded as those receptions are often the difference between winning and losing.

But the only other non-QB position to win NFL MVP this century has been running back- which has won it four times.

Clearly teams and general managers are placing an increasingly high value on wide receivers, as veteran contracts for top receivers (and even not so top receivers) are now topping all other positions except quarterback. Tyreek Hill’s latest contract has an average annual value of $30 million- more than all but 13 quarterbacks. And when Justin Jefferson is extended, he’ll undoubtedly become the highest paid wide receiver in league history.

Justin Jefferson Not Fully Appreciated

And while you can make a case based on numbers and past performance that Tyreek Hill is the best wide receiver in the league, a more qualitative review would clearly put Justin Jefferson at the top of the list. Jefferson’s contested catch ability stands out above Hill’s.

In the Buffalo game, Jefferson had 10 catches for 193 yards. Eight were 1st downs and one was a touchdown. According to NextGenStats, nine of Jefferson’s ten catches had an expected catch rate of under 50%. No other receiver has had more than six under 50% catches since NextGenStats started collecting that data several years ago. I’m not sure how that compares with Jefferson’s other games this season (although I’m sure it’s better than normal), but Jefferson has made a lot of tough and probably less than 50% expected catch-rate catches this season. Since Jefferson entered the league in 2020, he has 54 under-50% catch rate receptions- leading all receivers.

One can also make the argument that with another 1,000-yard receiver in Jaylen Waddle opposite him, Hill isn’t subject to as much double coverage as Justin Jefferson is either. Jefferson currently leads all receivers with an average of 117.8 receiving yards per game- on pace to break the single-season receiving yards record after nine games and eclipse the 2,000 receiving yards barrier.

And yet even after a spectacular game against the Bills with nearly 200 receiving yards and the catch of the year, if not the century so far, Jefferson’s odds to win the MVP award stand at a distant +10000 or 100/1- equal with Daniel Jones. Tyreek Hill is 75/1 and Kirk Cousins is 25/1. Josh Allen is at +550 despite leading the league in giveaways.

MVP Voters May Give Jefferson More Credit

Peter King, one of the deans among national NFL sportswriters and an MVP and HOF voter, listed Jefferson 4th on his MVP list today after Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, which is about fair at this point. One can’t object to Mahomes, who continues to make plays despite the loss of Hill, although his receivers room including Kelce is hardly barren. Hurts has also done well- the addition of AJ Brown has been key- along with a top offensive line and defense.

But if Jefferson continues and breaks the single season receiving yards record (albeit in 17 games), while the top QBs have good but not outstanding seasons by recent MVP QB comparisons, Jefferson could- and should- move up the list.

Jefferson has broken all the key receiving records over his first three seasons, and if this proves to be his best yet, what better receiver to give credit to the position (and help correct previous neglect) with an MVP award than Justin Jefferson?


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