Earlier this week we unveiled our latest NFL quarterback rankings. And it’s no surprise that the top four — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck — are also headlining the league’s MVP race through 11 weeks.
Often the MVP discussion includes players who don’t play quarterback. Through the first month or so of the year, J.J. Watt and DeMarco Murray were considered legitimate candidates as well. But Watt’s stock has dwindled a bit. After all, he’s a defensive player, and everybody knows that it would take a season for the ages for a defensive player to take home the annual award.
Murray’s case for MVP has also fallen off. Despite being in the midst of a career year that includes some historical milestones, the Cowboys’ season has somewhat been tossed aside as other storylines have jumped to the forefront. But the running back has still eclipsed 100 yards rushing in nine of the team’s 10 games thus far. But the driving force of the 7-3 Cowboys isn’t a “sexy” candidate, right? If Tony Romo was lighting it up while leading the team to its best start since 2009, the quarterback would undoubtedly have his name among Rodgers and Brady in the MVP discussion. But because their success is dependent on a solid running game, Murray is merely a name added to the discussion late.
In addition to Murray, there are two other running backs that tend to be absent from the MVP conversation. Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch are worthy of consideration, given the fact that both of those running backs — like Murray — are the No. 1 reason why their teams remain in the hunt for the postseason and possibly division crowns.
Quietly, Kansas City reeled off five consecutive wins, including a rout of those Patriots in primetime. During that span, Charles has only topped the 100-yard rushing mark once but has totaled 10 touchdowns. Keep in mind those 10 trips to the end zone count for more than one-third of the Chiefs’ total number of touchdowns on the season (29).
Like the Chiefs of last year, these Chiefs are boring. It’s why we’d rather pay attention to what Brady and New England or Rodgers and Green Bay are doing, lighting up the scoreboard with video-game-like numbers. But the Chiefs can’t win that way. They’ve somehow reverted back to the football of the 1990s and rely on solid running games and defense to win football games. And isn’t Andy Reid the coach?
Regardless, Charles has been the only reliable offensive weapon on the team, which through 11 weeks of the season has yet to have a wide receiver haul in a touchdown pass. And his Week 11 effort against the defending Super Bowl champions — 159 yards and two touchdowns — was a signature performance on his MVP-caliber resume.
Sticking with the theme of the Seahawks, they haven’t been as dominating in 2014 as many had imagined after their championship run last January. Injuries have taken their toll on the Legion of Boom, which has not performed nearly as well as it did in last year’s playoffs. Russell Wilson was putting his name in the MVP discussion early on in the year, but the departure of Golden Tate in free agency and then the trade of Percy Harvin to the Jets has truly left Seattle with no semblance of a passing game.
There is one consistency, though: Beast Mode.
Despite all of the hoopla about his future in the Pacific Northwest after this year or the holdout that occurred during minicamps, Lynch has been Seattle’s best offensive player this year, again. Lynch has rushed for more than 120 yards each of the past two weeks and has accounted for 12 touchdowns on the year. At 6-4, the Seahawks remain in the hunt for the NFC West, though this upcoming showdown with Arizona will be the major indicator as to how realistic that notion is.
Lynch has accounted for nearly half of Seattle’s offensive touchdowns this season and is the obvious reason why the team ranks first in rushing. Quietly, he ranks fourth in the NFL with 813 rushing yards on the season. On a team with a lagging passing game and a very mediocre defense, Lynch is — excuse me for this — the lynchpin. He’s the main reason the ‘Hawks remain in the playoff hunt. And he’s proven time and time again that when the team makes a concerted effort to get him the rock, they wind up in the win column more often than not.
If Rodgers can lift the Packers to a division title or Brady can continue to post big-time statistics en route to the top seed in the AFC, it’ll be difficult for voters not to hand them the award at season’s end. However, in the cases of the three running backs mentioned, it’s hard to argue they aren’t as critical to their teams’ success as those quarterbacks are to theirs.