NFL MVP - The Case for Aaron Donald

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D.S. Williamson

January 23rd, 2019

The NFL announces winners of its awards on Feb. 2, the night before Super Bowl 53 and the NFL MVP has basically come down to three candidates. The first two are quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. There should be a viable third candidate as well.

NFL MVP Odds (prior to playoffs) Patrick Mahomes -250 Drew Brees +170

Mahomes took over for Alex Smith in what was a pretty controversial call that slightly polarized fans. Smith was efficient and a worthy starter, but had never enjoyed a heap of success in the playoffs. After Week 1, however, the Chief and their fans never looked back. Mahomes was easily the most electrifying player in the NFL this season. Every time Kansas City needed a bailout, Mahomes provided one. He even orchestrated the field goal ending drive that sent the AFC Championship into overtime. If Mahomes and the Chiefs had gotten the ball first, who knows? They might have beaten New England.
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Drew Brees, the other quarterback in the NFL MVP race, owns 21 league passing records. Some believe he’s one of the Top 5 quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. He’s going strong at the age of 40, which is also a major accomplishment.

The non-quarterback with a shot is Rams’ defensive lineman Aaron Donald. As a defensive linemen, Donald almost requires excellent camera work to appreciate him in full. Most of the things Aaron Donald does won’t show up on a stat sheet. He’s a major contrast to both Mahomes and Brees. Not only that, but Donald’s the only one in the running who’s team will play in the Super Bowl.

This year’s NFL MVP race is one of the tightest in recent memory. Not surprisingly, whom voters prefer comes down to point-of-view. 

If Stats are All That:  Patrick Mahomes is a Lock

If choosing a winner was just based primarily on stats, Mahomes would take it. He’s had one of the most amazing seasons in NFL history. He threw for 5,097 yards, becoming one of only 7 players in history to do that.

He also threw for 50 TD passes. Only 3 players have ever accomplished that feat: Mahomes, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. The KC signal-caller is the only quarterback in history to throw 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards in the same season.

Going with stats makes the NFL MVP choice easy, it’s Patrick Mahomes.

If Lifetime Accomplishments Mean More, Brees Wins

While the NFL MVP award isn't a lifetime achievement, it's important to recognize that Drew Brees has thrown for 5,000+ yards five times during his career. That’s an NFL record.

Some of the other records Brees owns are: most games with 300+ passing yards, 114, most games with 400+ passing yards, 7, most consecutive games with at least one TD pass, 54, all-time leader in career passing percentage, 64.3%, and all-time leader in passing yards, 73,580.

This season, Brees only threw 5 interceptions while tossing 32 touchdowns, almost throwing for 4,000 yards, and completing 74.4% of his passes.

Those are great stats, but any voter who puts the checkmark next to Drew Brees’ name will do so because of what he’s done throughout his career. They’ll vote for Brees because they believe he deserves it for being one of the greatest players in NFL history, not because he had a better 2018 NFL Regular Season than Patrick Mahomes.

If You Look Deeper, Donald Deserves The Award

At around Week 14, Aaron Donald appeared on the NFL futures market at +5000 to win the NFL MVP. Those odds don't reflect how impactful he is as a player, but merely how the so-called committee preferences offensive players and quarterbacks more than anyone else. Only Hall of Famer Lawerence Taylor has won the award as a defensive player. Donald's easily the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but there's a strong case there that he should also win NFL MVP.

Defensive players never get as much press as offensive players. They’re always overlooked, but what Donald accomplished this season actually outweighs what both Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees accomplished.

Yes, Brees deserves some recognition for those 21 records. That recognition is called the NFL Hall of Fame. Brees will get his bust 5 seasons after he retires.

Mahomes deserves some recognition as well for the season he’s had. He should win NFL Offensive Player of the Year. However, defensive coordinators adjusted some to Mahomes after the first month of the season. That’s why he threw 14 touchdowns to no interceptions in the first month and 12 interceptions the rest of the way.

Not only that, but neither Mahomes nor Brees got their team to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Donald had 40 solo tackles and 20 ½ sacks this season. He’s the main reason, maybe the only real reason, the Rams are playing on Feb. 3. Donald changes a play every time he’s on the field. He does that by forcing opponents to change their before game strategy and inside game strategy.

Only a few positions on the field allow players to do that. Because Aaron Donald plays along the defensive line, he can take away both a team’s rushing game and collapse the pocket. Donald accomplishes this on most plays. Once a team can’t run the ball up the middle, defenses can start sending their strong safeties and outside linebackers to the edges. They can also blitz safeties and linebackers on the edges because they know quarterbacks can’t scramble through the line.

Many will say Donald’s great season was the result of the Rams signing Ndmaukong Suh. That has something do with it for sure, but Suh is not the force of nature he once was while in Detroit. Unlike quarterbacks, defensive lineman still spend a lot of time on an island. Quarterbacks are only successful if they’re surrounded by other good players.

Donald won’t be this season's NFL MVP. He definitely deserves it but voters almost always side with the offensive player. That’s just the way it is. Not that Aaron Donald cares all that much. As long as the Rams lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3, he’ll be happy.