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Should Watt have MVP consideration?

It's a tricky question because it speaks to a broader question: should any non-QB player be given consideration over a quarterback, provided there is one to choose?

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I typically hate to see an article titled with a question. Most of the time, the question offered has some supremely obvious answer and thus even asking the question feels pointless.

In this case I think it is OK because I suspect that there is probably substantial argument on either side of this question.  Jason correctly noted in an earlier article the popular notion out there that J.J. Watt should be given MVP consideration and this has been going around since early in the season.  He's not quite in his insane 2012 form batting down nearly two dozen passes or producing an even more insane 56 defeats (besting Ray Lewis who previously held the record) but he was doing crazy stuff like scoring receiving touchdowns and winning games with interception returns on top of his crazy quarterback hit and sack production.

The question of Watt's candidacy is interesting and tricky because it speaks to a broader and more challenging question:  should any player have MVP consideration over a quarterback, provided there is a reasonable quarterback to choose? In today's NFL, the rules allow for QB's to dominate. In year's past, that was not necessarily so.

History provides some useful insight.  The last defender to win MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986.  He had 20.5 sacks, which was the best in NFL history at the time (even after people went back to count sacks before 1982 when the statistic was first used).  The Giants went 14-2. They won the Super Bowl. Their quarterback, Phil Simms, had more interceptions than touchdowns so it sure as hell wasn't him. Taylor pretty obviously was the best player and carried the team more than anyone else. So far seems like a good analogy to the Texans right?

The best QB in the NFL in 1986 was Dan Marino. He threw for 44 TDs (1st), 4746 yards (1st), 7.37 AY/A (6th), was sacked only 17 times (8th) and otherwise dominated. The next closest QB had 20 (!) fewer TDs and 600 fewer yards. The Dolphins scored the most points in the NFL with 430 which is superb even in 2014 much less the 1980s where it is extraordinary. He was the J.J. Watt of his position:  no one else was even close to as dominant as Marino that year at QB.

So why didn't Marino win MVP?  Easy -- the Dolphins went 8-8 thanks to a defense giving up a near-league worst 405 points. Marino's 23 INTs were probably part of that but again, the rules greatly favored defenders back then and surely some of those were desperation plays where Marino was trying to carry his sorry team each week.

Marino probably should have been MVP because the Dolphins win maybe 2-3 games without him, if that, and his production was so incredibly better than the rest of the league. But his team sucked. So the other best player in the NFL won it on a team with a 14-2 record that cleaned up en route to a ring.

That's where the analogy fails with Watt as an MVP candidate and is further damaged by the fact that even a DOMINANT QB couldn't win it because his team was mediocre. Houston just isn't good enough this year for Watt to be in the conversation. Moreover, when an elite defender has an off-day, it's easy to either not notice or ignore it, or even blame the team around him. When a QB fails, he fails spectacularly and it is obvious to everyone and nearly impossible to overcome. Defenders almost never get that scrutiny and certainly not defensive linemen. By contrast, the QB position is far more difficult, far more important, and far more difficult to fill with a franchise player. Thus, their value is clearly higher all else being equal


There actually is a lot more I could write on the topic (it's an interesting one IMO) such as breaking down the Adrian Peterson selection, and why it's not pertinent, but in the interest of conciseness, we'll leave it at that.  Obviously I stand on the side of arguing that Watt can't really be in the MVP consideration this year. Watt is an amazing player, and I'll be the first to say I'm concerned about our ability to contain him on Sunday.  He will be a major problem for us.

But on the broader scale, I can't apply "most valuable" denomination to a guy whose value simply doesn't translate to wins like a similarly great quarterback's value does.  And unfortunately, that's the exact definition of value in the NFL context:  does he help you win more games than anyone else could for your team or theirs?  Watt helps his team win more games but not more than a quarterback of another team helps his team win, unless there simply isn't one to pick. In this day and age, there will nearly always be a QB to choose. This should not takeaway from what he's done as he's been truly impressive. It's just the nature of the beast in the modern NFL. To become MVP, he will probably have to at least break the sack record just to get in the conversation.