Most Valuable Player is the most controversial award in the sports world. Should it go to the most dominant player? The one with the best statistics? The one whose team won the most games or the championship (all but one winner of Super Bowl MVP were on the winning team)? The one who plays the most important and visible position? The one whose team would hypothetically drop off the most without him?
Three letters have never been more difficult to define than MVP. But as much as I wish the award was changed to Most Outstanding Player (the award given in college basketball’s Final Four), the MVP award is here to stay, and in a couple weeks, this NFL season’s MVP will be announced at NFL Honors 2018, the night before the Super Bowl.
Without any historic single-season performances or teams with perfect records, this season’s MVP race doesn’t have a runaway favorite to win the award. In a year in which MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, David Johnson, and JJ Watt hit the injured reserve, the superstar talents across the league merely needed to continue their level of play to join the MVP conversation. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, now 40 years old, is favored to win his third MVP award, while Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Rams running back Todd Gurley and Patriots receiver Antonio Brown put their teams on their backs and racked up impressive statistical totals. While I expect Brady to win the award, I don’t think he is the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this season. That title deserves to go to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
When the Eagles traded up for the second pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and selected Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State, the hope was that he would be the franchise savior and deliver the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Wentz was thrown into the action in his rookie year and had his moments, but the team’s 8-8 record and Wentz’s league-leading 23 turnovers did little to build confidence that the trade was worth it.
In 2017, the team’s trajectory changed, and at the center of it all was Wentz. The Eagles started 10-1 and emerged as Super Bowl contenders for the first time in nearly a decade, eventually winning the top seed in the NFC by virtue of a 13-3 record. While the defense improved from 12th in points allowed to 4th and was essential to the team’s success, an offensive explosion sent the Eagles to the top of the league.
At the center of the shocking turnaround was Wentz, who took a quantum leap from frazzled rookie in Year One to franchise quarterback and superstar in Year Two. The player known as the Dutch Destroyer went from bumbling to brilliant, improving nearly every aspect of his game. Wentz was smarter, cutting his interceptions in half and not throwing multiple interceptions in any game. He improved as a passer, impressing with jaw-dropping passes every week, and used his athleticism to extend plays and defeat opposing defenses. And he was more clutch, with an incredible 123.7 passer rating on third down.
His stats don’t lie. Despite playing only 14 games, Wentz finished second in the NFL in touchdown passes (33), fourth in passer rating (101.9, up from 79.3 last season), and first in ESPN’s QBR statistic (75.7, over five points higher than the second-best player). He was also a threat on the ground, doubling last season’s rushing yardage total (300 yards, ninth among QBs).
Wentz didn’t turn around the Eagles by himself. The offensive line, led by All Pros in tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce, was among the league’s best, and the rushing combo of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi ranked third in the league in yards. The defense also made major strides forward, finishing fourth in the NFL in points and yards allowed and first in rushing yards allowed. Coach Doug Pederson and his staff can’t be discounted either.
But Wentz was the catalyst for the turnaround, and his value became obvious late in the season. When Wentz tore his ACL and was sent to the injured reserve, the Eagles weren’t the same offensive juggernaut they’d been all season. Philly struggled to beat the 6-10 Raiders, then scored zero points at home to a Dallas team with nothing to play for and an average defense. Though the Eagles are the NFC’s one seed, their opponent, the sixth seeded Falcons, who play in a dome in Atlanta, are favored to go into freezing Philly and win this Saturday. That’s the difference that Carson Wentz makes.
In all likelihood, Wentz won’t garner many MVP votes by virtue of his season-ending injury, modest yardage statistics, and the fact that he’s running against Tom Brady. But there is no more valuable player in the league than Carson Wentz. We’ve seen that almost every Sunday this fall, and unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, we’ll likely see it again when the Eagles are forced to play without him in the playoffs.