Could a Running Back win the 2017 MVP

Could a Running Back win the 2017 MVP

As it stands Tom Brady should win the MVP race at a canter. Quarterbacks have won nine times our of the last ten years – Adrian Peterson in 2012 the only other player to pick up the award – and Brady is the lone star left in the at the summit. The Quarterback position makes or breaks an NFL Franchise – just look at the Cleveland Browns constantly whiffing on franchise QB’s year upon year.

So, does that make the MVP award a quarterback only race? It shouldn’t, but with the emphasis on the passing game over the last couple of decades, it’s getting harder and harder for non-QB’s to win the award.

I take a look at three of the leading rushers in the NFL this year to see if any of them should be considered as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.


Le’Veon Bell

Overall Statistics

Rushing: 307 carries – 1,222 yards – 4.0 YPC – 8 TD’s – 2 Fumbles

Receptions: 80 receptions – 627 yards – 7.8 YPC – 2 TD’s

Yards from Scrimmage – 387 touches – 1,849 yards – 4.77 YPC – 10 TD’s – 2 Turnovers

The current rushing leader Le’Veon Bell has already achieved his third 1,000-yard season in his five-year career. However, this will only be the second time he’s played in all 16 games in a season, if he appears in the final two games.

He may be the rushing leader at this point in time, but his stats are currently worse than last year when he only played 12 games – so off the bat it’s difficult to consider him a viable MVP candidate when he isn’t putting up the other worldly numbers he is capable of.

His yards per carry will also be held against him – a full yard per carry less than Kareem Hunt and 0.6 yards per carry less than Todd Gurley – who’ll I discuss in a minute.

It’s quantity more than quality with Bell this season, although I’m not going to deny he’s a premier back in the NFL, he has carried the ball 48 more times than anyone else and has already breached the 300-carry mark with two games remaining this season.

Yards from Scrimmage Per Game

In wins: 28.4 touches – 135.7 yards – 4.77 YPT – 0.73 TD’s – 0.2 TO’s

In losses: 25 touches – 118.7 yards – 4.78 YPT – 0.66 TD’s – 0 TO’s


Le’Veon Bell is a true three down back, and is rarely not on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers – he deserves credit for the endurance he has shown in 2017, and even though he is the rushing leader his stats are underwhelming when compared to his number last year.

We also must add that he shares the offense with another MVP-calibre player in WR Antonio Brown, which goes against Bell in consideration. Brown has already caught 101 passes for 1,533 yards, but will likely not play again this regular season.

It’s also poignant to point out that Bell’s number stay steady whether the Steelers win or lose, which could also be held against him in the MVP race – he isn’t the defining factor in Pittsburgh winning matchups. Of course, he does help though.


Todd Gurley

Overall Statistics

Rushing: 257 carries – 1,187 yards – 4.6 YPC – 13 TD’s – 2 Fumbles

Receptions: 54 receptions – 630 yards – 11.7 YPC – 4 TD’s

Yards from Scrimmage – 311 touches – 1,817 yards – 5.8 YPC – 17 TD’s – 2 Turnover

Todd Gurley is having a breakout year in his third season with the Rams. By breakout season I don’t mean he was sub-par to this point in his career – he’s been a solid running back since getting drafted 10th overall in the 2015 draft – but now he’s showing himself as one of the game’s elite backs – who can do it on the ground and in the passing game. In fact, he is projected to gain the 47th most yards from scrimmage in a season of all-time, and the 8th in the past since the start of the 2008 season – one of those was 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson.

In the running game Gurley is 3rd in the NFL behind Kareem Hunt and Le’Veon Bell in term of yardage, but is 1st in touchdowns. Receiving the ball from the backfield, Gurley has the second most yards in the NFL, making him a truly multi-purpose running back.

In the four games the Los Angeles Rams have lost in 2017 he has carried the ball less than 16 times. When he carries the ball 17 or more times, the Rams are 9-0.

In the defeats to Philadelphia and Washington Gurley was average 7.4 YPC (the most in any game for him this season) and 5.5 YPC. Had Sean McVay relied on Gurley more in those two matchups the Rams could conceivably be 12-2 and have the best record in football.

Yards from Scrimmage Per Game

In wins: 24.2 touches – 144 yards – 5.95 YPC – 1.2 TD’s – 0 TO’s

In losses: 17.25 touches – 94.25 yards – 5.4 YPC – 1.25 TD’s – 0.5 TO’s


Gurley is a sure-fire MVP candidate in every sense of the word. He is the focal point of an offense that leads the league in scoring (31.3 PPG) and doesn’t have the supporting cast the likes of Kareem Hunt and Le’Veon Bell have. Yes, Jared Goff is blossoming in his second year, and yes Sammy Watkins and specifically Robert Woods have been key in the league leading offense, but Gurley does it in every facet of the game, take him out of the equation and the Rams are a middle of the road team.

He’s No.1 on the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns (obviously), but is also 2nd in receptions and third in receiving yards. It’s a one back team, the backup Malcom Brown has only touched the ball 53 times this season for 234 yards and one touchdown. Gurley has also only turned the ball over twice this season, both in defeats.

Arguably the No.1 MVP contender from the running back position.


Kareem Hunt

Overall Statistics

Rushing: 242 carries – 1,201 yards – 5.0 YPC – 6 TD’s – 1 Fumble

Receptions: 49 receptions – 440 yards – 9.0 YPC – 3 TD’s

Yards from Scrimmage – 291 touches – 1,641 yards – 5.6 YPC – 9 TD’s – 1 Turnover

Kareem Hunt hit the ground running in the early weeks of the season, rushing for 609 yards and four touchdowns in the Kansas City Chiefs 5-0 start to the 2017 campaign – adding 166 yards and two scores receiving. This included four 100-yard performance games before going on a barren run seven straight games without a one, without scoring a touchdown either.

He’s picked up again in the last two weeks, but it could be too little too late for the rookie running back drafted 86th overall in this year’s NFL draft – but statistically speaking Hunt’s performances have been vital to the success of the Chiefs this term.

Yard from Scrimmage Per Game

In wins: 24.6 touches – 148.3 yards – 6.0 YPC – 1.1 TD’s – 0.1 TO’s

In losses: 15.6 touches – 75.6 yards – 4.8 YPC – 0 TD’s – 0 – TO’s


If you define the Most Valuable Player as a player whose contribution to the side is vital if they are to win ball games, Hunt is a viable candidate. When he performs the Chiefs win, when he doesn’t they more often then not lose. Unfortunately for Hunt, the NFL MVP goes to the player who consistently performs week on week, not just when the team wins.

The surrounding cast on the offense also detracts from his argument. WR Tyreek Hill is 7th in the league in receiving yards, with Travis Kelce 9th – second amongst tight ends. The pair have also combined for 14 touchdowns between them.

Saying that, the statistics back up the fact that if Kareem Hunt plays well, the Chiefs win, and that makes him valuable.


So, there are your three front running candidates for NFL MVP this season – but in a twist, I’ve added a fourth contender. The fourth example is arguably the reason why running back’s in the NFL will find it more and more difficult to put up the numbers to challenge for the MVP race, the emergence of the running game by committee.

Why roll with one stud running back when you can use two backs to devastating effect.


Mark Ingram & Alvin Kamara

Overall Statistics

Rushing: 303 carries – 1,697 yards – 5.6 YPC – 18 TD’s – 4 Fumbles

Receptions: 119 receptions – 1,059 yards – 8.8 YPC – 5 TD’s

Yards from Scrimmage – 422 touches – 2,756 yards – 6.5 YPC – 23 TD’s – 4 Turnovers

I’ve added the Saints running back duo into the mix for Co-MVP as an example of how far you can get with a running back by committee. It’s highly unlikely either will be considered for the award – with Kamara possibly battling Kareem Hunt for Offensive Rookie of the Year – but their sublime partnership deserves some recognition.

Seventh-year pro Mark Ingram has got better with each passing year since he was drafted 22nd overall in 2011, and has somewhat always been part of a running back by committee in the Big Easy. With two games to play he has set career highs in yards, yards per carry, receptions and touchdowns – although he has also set a career high in fumbles – with two games remaining on the schedule.

Rookie Alvin Kamara has been a revelation in the Saints offense, what Reggie Bush could have been. Drafted 67th overall in April, the rookie is first amongst all-NFL running backs in receiving yards, first in receiving touchdowns and third in receptions. He also averages 6.6 yards per rush, the most of any running back with over 50 carries this season.

Yards from Scrimmage Per Game

In wins:

Ingram – 20.3 touches – 114.5 yards – 5.6 YPC – 1.1 TD’s – 0.3 TO’s

Kamara – 13 touches – 102.9 yards – 7.9 YPC – 1.0 TD’s – 0.1 TO’s

Total – 33.3 touches – 217.4 yards – 6.5 YPC – 2.1 TD’s – 0.2 TO’s

In losses:

Ingram – 13 touches – 67.5 yards – 5.1 YPC – 0 TD’s – 0 TO’s

Kamara – 7.5 touches – 76.75 yards – 10.1 YPC – 0.5 TD’s – 0 TO’s

Total – 20.5 touches – 144.5 yards – 7.0 YPC – 0.25 TD’s – 0 TO’s


Together, Ingram and Kamara would arguably run away with the MVP race amassing 49% of the Saints’ offensive output this year in terms of yardage. Compare that to Kareem Hunt (31.4%) and Todd Gurley (35.4%) it is huge – but then again, it’s two players contributing to it while the other backs on this list have done it by themselves (well, offensive lines help.

Alvin Kamara is the first back on the list to not see a major drop in production when his team loses, with his yards per touch increasing from an astronomical (for a running back) 7.9 yards to 10.1 yards.

The most noticeable difference between the duos stats when the Saints win, and when they lose is the touchdowns per game. Both frequent the endzone at an average of at least once per game when New Orleans is victorious, while Ingram has failed to find the endzone in any of the Saints defeats – and Kamara scoring just twice.

They are in the mix to show the strength of a running back by committee system, but neither will end up anywhere near the MVP discussion at the end of the year as a solo artist, but you’ve can’t help but wonder, if these backs were running solo, would they be in the MVP race?


Scrimmage Yards Yard Per Touch Touchdowns Turnovers
Le’Veon Bell 1,849 4.8 10 2
Todd Gurley 1,817 5.8 17 2
Kareem Hunt 1,641 5.6 9 1
Mark Ingram 1,420 5.5 11 3
Alvin Kamara 1,336 8.0 12 1
Mark Ingram / Alvin Kamara 2,756 6.5 23 4
Offensive Yards of team (%) 100+ Yards from Scrimmage Games 2+ TD Games Team Record
Le’Veon Bell 34.4 9 2 11-3
Todd Gurley 35.4 11 5 10-4
Kareem Hunt 31.4 9 3 8-6
Mark Ingram 25.2 6 3 10-4
Alvin Kamara 23.8 6 3 10-4
Mark Ingram / Alvin Kamara 49.0 12 6 10-4


For me the only viable MVP contender at the running back position is Todd Gurley. He’s on course for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in the #1 scoring offense in the NFL – and although Le’Veon Bell has more scrimmage yards, it has taken him 76 less touches of the football to be just 32 yards behind.

He also leads all running backs in putting the ball in the endzone, seven more times than Bell and eight more times than Kareem Hunt. All three contending backs have turned the ball over very little this campaign.

All three have provided their franchises over 30% of their offensive yardage, with Gurley once again leading the way with 35.4% of the Rams offensive yardage, Bell second with 34.4% of the Steelers and Hunt third with 31.4% of the Chiefs.

11 times this season Gurley has surpassed 100 scrimmage yards, Hunt and Bell only managed it nine times apiece – and Gurley had the most two score games of the bunch with five.

Having said all that, the combination of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara could ruin the chances for any running back in the NFL wanting a shot at MVP. The two backs workload combined blows the three single backs out of the water. Running back by committee is becoming more and more popular, and the Saints have two fine rushers in their backfield.

Is there a MVP winning running back this year? Probably not, but if there is, it’s Todd Gurley.

This guest piece was written by Stuart Dick. Stuart is a Philadelphia Eagles fan and has followed the game since 2002. You can follow Stuart on Twitter at @StuOnSport.

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