The non-quarterbacks, non-running backs who have received MVP votes

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There’s been quite a bit of discussion about J.J. Watt‘s statement that the NFL’s Most Valuable Player honor has “always been an offensive award,” so we thought we’d take a look at some of the few players who have bucked that trend.

Watt’s statement isn’t scrupulously accurate: Two defensive players, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986 and Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971, have won the award. And Washington kicker Mark Moseley won it in 1982.

But Watt could actually expand his comment to say that MVP has almost always been a quarterback or running back award. No wide receiver, tight end or offensive lineman has ever won it. So we’ll compile here, as best we’re able to with the vote totals that are available, a list of all the non-quarterbacks, non-running backs who have received National Football League MVP votes.

These are Associated Press vote totals. The AP has had 50 voters every year since 1999 but previously had anywhere from 40 to 100 voters per year.

2014: Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt received 13 votes. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner received one vote.

2008: Steelers linebacker James Harrison received three votes.

2003: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis received two votes.

2002: Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks received one vote.

2001: Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher received two votes.

2000: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis received one vote.

1998: Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss received four votes.

1997: 49ers defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield received two votes. Steelers safety Carnell Lake received one vote.

1995: 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice received 10 votes.

1994: 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice received one vote. 49ers cornerback Deion Sanders received one vote.

1993: 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice received 15 votes. Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe received one vote.

1992: Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe received two votes. Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy received one vote.

1991: Eagles linebacker Seth Joyner received one vote.

1990: Bills defensive end Bruce Smith received 11 votes. 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice received one vote.

1989: Vikings defensive tackle Keith Millard received two votes.

1987: 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice received 30 votes.

1986: Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor won with 41 votes. Giants tight end Mark Bavaro received one vote. 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice received one vote.

1983: Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White received one vote.

1982: Washington kicker Mark Moseley won with 35 votes.

1981: Chargers/49ers defensive end Fred Dean received two votes (Dean was traded during the season and played three games with the Chargers and 11 games with the 49ers). Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow received one vote. 49ers safety Ronnie Lott received one vote.

1979: Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent received two votes. Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael received two votes.

1977: Broncos defensive end Lyle Alzado, Broncos linebacker Tom Jackson and Raiders punter Ray Guy all received and unknown number of votes.

1976: Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert received 19 votes.

1972: Packers kicker Chester Marcol received two votes. Dolphins guard Larry Little received one vote. Rams defensive tackle Merlin Olsen received one vote. Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier received one vote.

1971: Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page won with 16 votes. Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly received one vote. Vikings defensive end Carl Eller received one vote.

1970: Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page received three votes. Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, Lions tight end Charlie Sanders, Vikings defensive end Carl Eller, Lions linebacker Mike Lucci, Bills wide receiver Marlin Briscoe, Rams defensive tackle Merlin Olsen and Dolphins defensive tackle Manny Fernandez all received an unknown number of votes.

1969: Vikings defensive end Carl Eller received seven votes. Rams defensive end Deacon Jones received one vote. Bears linebacker Dick Butkus received one vote. Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras received one vote.

1968: Colts tight end John Mackey received one vote. Bears linebacker Dick Butkus received one vote. Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly received one vote.

1967: Rams defensive end Deacon Jones received three votes.

1966: Cardinals safety Larry Wilson received six votes. Packers cornerback Willie Davis received two votes. Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly received one vote. Colts tight end John Mackey received one vote.

1965: Eagles tight end Pete Retzlaff received one vote.

1961: Giants wide receiver Del Shoftner received and unknown number of votes.

1960: Lions linebacker Joe Schmidt received an unknown number of votes.

1959: Giants linebacker Sam Huff received an unknown number of votes. Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry received one vote.

1958: Giants linebacker Sam Huff received one vote. Giants defensive tackle Roosevelt Grier received one vote.

1957: Lions linebacker Joe Schmidt received three votes. Rams guard Duane Putnam received one vote. 49ers wide receiver Billy Wilson received one vote.

27 responses to “The non-quarterbacks, non-running backs who have received MVP votes

  1. For his era, Lawrence Taylor was as dominant as any player on either side of the ball, and he was as dominant as he ever was in 1986. He was a very reasonable choice as MVP that year.

    For his era, JJ Watt has been as dominant as any player on either side of the ball, and it would have been a well justified MVP award had Watt won in 2014 over Aaron Rodgers.

    For his era, Aaron Donald has been as dominant as any player on either side of the ball, and it would be entirely justified if he were to win the MVP award for 2018. During his career, Donald has been like Taylor in being at the vanguard of a change in coaching philosophy. Donald has led to a new focus on the pass rush from the inside. The trend started a few years before Donald came into the league. The first modern prominent example was probably Justin Tuck in 2007 from the 3 technique position. But Donald has taken the inside pass rush to a new level.

  2. Eliminate or rename the award as most players are, for practical purposes, ineligible to compete for the award.

    If you total up the number of votes given to defensive players since 1990, 25 were cast to defensive players. That is less than winning total in a typical year.

    I believe there are 50 total votes per year. 25 votes of the 1350 votes cast in 27 years is only 1.8 %. I’d say the results are biased towards one side of the game.

  3. It’s kind of nuts that Jerry Rice never won MVP considering that there’s a pretty plausible case he’s the all-time NFL MVP. Despite rules opening up the passing game greatly since his retirement and therefore giving more recent players an upper hand in catching up, Rice still is the all-time leader in receiving yards and receiving TDs by a no-one-is-even-close margin. If you took second-place Larry Fitzgerald’s yards and added 40 percent, Rice would still be ahead. That’s how dominant Rice was.

  4. Defense use to be a biggest part of the game. The NFL has gone out of its way to promote offense and skew the game towards that side of the ball. Naturally, offensive players are valued more than defensive players.

  5. I had no idea a kicker ever won the MVP. That’s ridiculous! I now have to look up his stats for the year and who else received votes.

  6. It’s hard for a defensive player to have the kind of impact an elite QB has on a team. If you took Aaron Donald and put him on the Cardinals do they get into the playoffs? Probably not. If you added Drew Brees to the Cardinals do they get to the playoffs? I say yes. Jerry Rice was amazing but he couldn’t have accomplished what he did without a QB throwing it. Objectively, no other position has that kind of impact on wins and losses.

    Real confused about that kicker though. Was that just a bad year for talent or what?

  7. hagemeisterpark920 says:
    January 4, 2019 at 9:36 am
    Man – how good was that kicker in ’82?

    ***

    I remember reading about Mark Moseley’s MVP and basically there were a few things going on. For one, he set the record for consecutive makes that season. Two, it was a strike shortened year which made each game more important. Three, he kept getting important kicks in those extra important games because Washington was stalling in the red zone. Four, Washington had a good record (8-1). He finished 20-21 on field goals with the only miss being in a 28-0 win in the regular season finale.

    As one writer put it, despite missing three extra points, “Moseley had an uncanny knack for getting chances to be a hero at the end of games, and he came through each time.” Plus, he “had a slew of sportswriter fetishes on his side: He had been an ace in the clutch, he had a record-breaking streak, and his team had been successful.”

    So it was just a weird NFL season that amplified Moseley’s very good season.

  8. I don’t get what this article is trying prove. Watt is 100% correct. Since 1957 (over 60 years) when the very first MVP award was given, only THREE non-offensive players have won MVP. Who cares if non-offensive players received a few votes. That just proves majority of the voters think offensive players are more “valuable” than defensive.

    The same year Watt was a MVP candidate, Demarco Murray was also considered MVP material behind an awesome O-line. Put Watt on any team and I bet he’ll still generate similar stats. Look at what Murray has done since.

  9. Real confused about that kicker though. Was that just a bad year for talent or what?

    ____

    1982 was a strike year. Most of the players missed significant time. Put a big giant * next to it…..

  10. The only way to fix this is to have a Defensive MVP and an Offensive MVP. When playoff time comes, Defense is always the variable that tilts the scale to other teams. With all the rule changes, any team can have a prolific Offense.

  11. You can tell just looking at the vote totals that when the NFL decided to change the rules in favor of the offense for the start of the 2007 season it essentially ended any chance that a defensive player would win the MVP. So unless the NFL wants to make defenses relevant again get used to seeing offensive MVP from here on out

  12. John Elway won the 1987 MVP award, leading Denver to a 10-4-1 record on the back of good production numbers that didn’t really stand out from other top QBs from that year. Meanwhile, Jerry Rice scored a record 22 receiving TDs, a full 71% of passing TD leader Joe Montana’s total. The next closest WR had 11 TDs, and third was just 8. SF also went a terrific 13-2 and needed every bit of Rice’s production to edge out the 12-3 Saints.

    So, yeah, MVP voters can be pretty stupid sometimes. It’s a pretty weak award, at least on the basis of the way the voters operate.

  13. Kicker! Really?!! A KICKER!!! But never jerry rice or Reggie or really any other non-qb or rb. But a KICKER!!!
    All positions not QB or RB combined have only 1 more than the kickers!!!
    Kicker……

  14. The moment a starting QB is named for a team he is automatically by default the most valuable player on the team. The best QB is therefore by default the league MVP. I say this, rename the award to most dominant player and give it to the player most dominant at his position. That opens it up to everyone. Offensive linemen, safeties, punters, everyone.

  15. Ok I’m a little confused and too lazy to do research but you say no wide receiver has won it but it says in 1987 that Jerry rice got 30 votes. Doesn’t that equal the majority of 50 or was there more voters back then? Or I could just be extremely not sober.

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