Due to having three games on Thanksgiving Day and this article publishing Friday this week, the RB Index is taking a one-week break from the top-15 running back rankings. Don't worry, I'll get back to my usual pattern next week. Until then, enjoy my case for why we could see a running back win the MVP award for the first time in years.
The NFL Most Valuable Player award has been a quarterback-dominated honor for the past two decades. But could we see a non-QB take home the hardware for the first time in nine years this season? It certainly feels that way.
We might not see a quarterback run away from the pack and become the consensus choice like we have in past years. Players like Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott (among others) have all been in the conversation this season, but they've each suffered setbacks to their candidacy over the last month. That opens the door for a running back to really be considered.
A month ago, it looked like Titans running back Derrick Henry could be the guy. He was performing at a record-setting pace, but a foot injury, and subsequent surgery, has sidelined him for the past three games and there's no timetable for his return. Henry planted the seed for the possibility of a running back emerging as an MVP favorite but the baton has been passed to the Colts' Jonathan Taylor, who's smack dab in the NFL spotlight coming off a five-touchdown performance in a Week 11 win over the Bills.
The last non-quarterback to win the MVP award was Adrian Peterson back in 2012, but Taylor has a legitimate chance to end the drought given the run he's put together over the last month-plus. After the Colts' disappointing 0-3 start, they have won six of their last eight games behind a superhero-like effort from Taylor, along with a defense that's accepting the challenge week after week. Taylor has posted 100-plus scrimmage yards and one-plus rush TD in each of the last eight games, tying him for the longest such streak within a season since 1950 with Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, who did it in -- you guessed it -- his 2006 MVP campaign.
Taylor had his best performance of the season in the aforementioned victory over Buffalo, rushing 32 times for 185 yards and scoring five scrimmage TDs (career highs in carries, TDs) against a team that had allowed five total TDs to running backs coming into that game. He moved ahead of Henry for the league lead in rushing with the sensational performance and enters Sunday's game against the Buccaneers with 1,122 yards on the ground. In addition, Taylor leads the NFL 13 rush TDs, 1,444 scrimmage yards and 15 scrimmage TDs this season. If that doesn't impress you, maybe this will: Those 15 TDs (all scored from Week 4 to Week 11) are more than the total offensive TDs scored by nine NFL teams during that span (Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, New York Giants and Seattle).
Credit head coach Frank Reich and OC Marcus Brady for finding ways to maximize Taylor's talents. It takes a special player and scheme to produce when every single person on the field, sidelines and stands knows he's getting the ball. In addition to his numbers, his no-nonsense approach and ability to get the job done week in and week out gives me a lot of confidence in his MVP chances. I don't see the attention he's garnered the last few weeks becoming a distraction for the young rusher.
But back to those numbers: Taylor's production this season is in line with that of the last six running backs to win MVP when you look at their average stats in the first 11 games of their MVP campaigns. That exclusive club consists of Barry Sanders (1997, co-MVP with Brett Favre), Terrell Davis (1998), Marshall Faulk (2000), Shaun Alexander (2005), Tomlinson (2006) and Peterson (2012). Four of those six backs have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
|Team's first 11 games of season
|Last six RB MVPs (average)
|Yards per carry
What's scary is he has already shown he can get stronger as the season enters its final stretch. Just look at what he did from Week 13 on last season: In five games, he averaged 19.4 carries and 130.2 rush yards per game (6.7 rush yards per carry) and had eight total TDs (seven rushing).
Taylor and the Colts have faced every challenge head on, and Sunday will present another tough foe when Tampa Bay visits Indianapolis. Todd Bowles' defense won't make life easy for Taylor, as it's allowed just 78.4 rush yards per game (first in the NFL), 3.8 yards per carry (second) and six rush TDs (tied for third-fewest).
If Taylor leads Indy past the defending champs for its fourth straight win and seventh in its last nine games, I believe he will become a true MVP front-runner with just over a month remaining in the regular season.