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The Brandt Report

Ranking the past 10 MVP seasons: Lamar Jackson, Peyton Manning stand out

NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2020" wrapped up Wednesday, revealing the past two winners of the MVP award -- Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (2019) and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (2018) -- at Nos. 1 and 4, respectively. With these two superstars top of mind, Gil Brandt ranked the 10 MVP seasons of the past decade below:

Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · 2016

Stats: 11-5 record, 69.9% completion rate, 4,944 passing yards, 38:7 TD-to-INT ratio, 117.1 passer rating.

Maybe this is a good spot to clarify that, as with the MVP award, postseason play is not factoring into these rankings. So Ryan ranks last here not because of the Falcons' Super Bowl collapse. Rather, there are two reasons he's 10th. First, he only received 24 first-place votes, indicating that he never really separated himself from a pack led by Tom Brady, who had 20 (and might have won the award if he'd started more than 12 games). And second, Ryan posted the lowest personal win total (11) of the QBs on this list. None of this is to disparage what Ryan accomplished. The key to his success in 2016 was consistency: He never threw more than one pick in a single game and notched a passer rating of 100-plus in all but four contests. The completion percentage and passer rating remain career highs for him.

Tom Brady
New England Patriots · 2017

Stats: 13-3 record, 66.3% completion rate, 4,577 passing yards, 32:8 TD-to-INT ratio, 102.8 passer rating.

Brady became the oldest player ever to win the MVP, capturing the award at 40 years and 184 days. But he performed like a much younger player, leading the league in total attempts and finishing with his fourth-best personal yardage total. Who knew he'd someday go on to have a potential chance at a fourth MVP as the 43-year-old signal-caller of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? A caveat: It's worth considering if Brady would have still won the award had Eagles QB Carson Wentz not suffered a season-ending injury in Week 14.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · 2014

Stats: 12-4 record, 65.6% completion rate, 4,381 passing yards, 38:5 TD-to-INT ratio, 112.2 passer rating.

This was Rodgers' famous R-E-L-A-X season, so-named after the quarterback's admonishment to Packers fans feeling skittish over the team's 1-2 start. The QB did his part to ease their worries, piloting Green Bay to an 11-2 record the rest of the way and a fourth straight NFC North title. Among the highlights: Rodgers calling a fake spike against Miami, the team that popularized the play behind Dan Marino in 1994, to secure a road win against the Dolphins in Week 6.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · 2018

Stats: 12-4 record, 66% completion rate, 5,097 passing yards, 50:12 TD-to-INT ratio, 113.8 passer rating.

Four of the five QBs on this list (Brady, Rodgers, Ryan, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, who collectively accounted for seven MVP awards) were veterans when they won, while last year's winner, Lamar Jackson, had the benefit of starting eight games (including the playoffs) in the season before he was named MVP. Mahomes' stunning 2018, meanwhile, was prefaced by a lone rookie start in the final week of 2017. Mahomes' second-year passing numbers were even more impressive than Dan Marino's historic 1984 sophomore campaign in Miami, while the Chiefs scored at least 26 points in every game. It's a shame it took Kansas City another season to assemble a complementary defense capable of helping the explosive offense capture a Lombardi Trophy.

Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers · 2015

Stats: 15-1 record, 59.8% completion rate, 3,837 passing yards, 35:10 TD-to-INT ratio, 99.4 passer rating, 132 carries, 636 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry.

Newton truly lived up to his Superman nickname in 2015, overcoming the preseason loss of No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin and powering Carolina to a 15-1 mark, spoiled only by a 20-13 road loss in Atlanta in Week 16. Newton accounted for 45 total touchdowns, keeping opposing defenses in a tizzy as an ever-present run-pass threat. Unfortunately for him, Newton hasn't come close to hitting those heights since, following a poor performance in the Panthers' loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50 with a 23-23 record and 65:44 TD-to-INT ratio in the intervening four seasons. Injuries ruined the end of his time with that franchise, but the 31-year-old now enters 2020 as a strong candidate to win Comeback Player of the Year as Brady's potential replacement with the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady
New England Patriots · 2010

Stats: 14-2 record, 65.9% completion rate, 3,900 passing yards, 36:4 TD-to-INT ratio, 111.0 passer rating.

Brady's 2007 MVP season, in which he averaged 300.4 yards per game with a 50:8 TD-to-INT ratio, set the bar staggeringly high for the rest of his career -- but he didn't earn unanimous MVP honors until 2010. Brady's efficiency is what stood out about this season, as illustrated by his four picks on 492 attempts, despite leading an offense that was being overhauled with younger talent in the form of rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski and the late Aaron Hernandez, who combined to catch 16 touchdown passes. Kudos to Rex Ryan and the Jets for finding a way to stymie Brady and Co. in a Divisional Round upset.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · 2011

Stats: 14-1 record, 68.3% completion rate, 4,643 passing yards, 45:6 TD-to-INT ratio, 122.5 passer rating.

Rodgers carried the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV, then picked up right where he left off in 2011, helping the Packers become the first team in NFL history to score 42 points or more in six games in the same season. What impressed me most about Rodgers' best statistical year to date is that he didn't enjoy the benefits of a typical offseason program, thanks to the player lockout that preceded the season. Unfortunately, with the Packers grieving the tragic death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son, the campaign ended with a home playoff loss to the Giants.

Peyton Manning
Denver Broncos · 2013

Stats: 13-3 record, 68.3% completion rate, 5,477 passing yards, 55:10 TD-to-INT ratio, 115.1 passer rating.

It became obvious in Manning's 2012 Comeback Player of the Year effort with the Broncos that he'd regained his elite form after missing the 2011 season with a career-threatening neck injury. It wasn't quite so apparent that he was on the verge of doing something unprecedented in 2013, even after all he'd accomplished in Indianapolis. At the age of 37, Manning set single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns that still stand today, while the Broncos ended up with more points (606), passing first downs (293) and players with 10-plus TDs (five) than any other team in NFL history.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · 2019

Stats: 13-2 record, 66.1% completion rate, 3,127 passing yards, 36:6 TD-to-INT ratio, 113.3 passer rating, 1,206 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 6.9 yards per carry.

Other mobile quarterbacks have thrived in today's NFL -- see Newton above. What Jackson achieved in 2019 was on another level altogether, prompting voters to make him the second unanimous choice for MVP in the history of the award, along with Brady in 2010 (again, see above). In his first full season as the Ravens' starter, Jackson set the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. But it’s not like Jackson's legs are his only claim to fame -- he also made dazzling plays with his arm in coordinator Greg Roman's offense, improving his accuracy by nearly eight percentage points (jumping from the 58.2% he posted after replacing Joe Flacco midway through 2018) and pacing the NFL in touchdown throws despite playing for a team that did not have a single wide receiver break the 800-yard threshold. Jackson also took excellent care of the football, logging just six picks on 401 attempts. The next step for him will be to win his first playoff game after going 0-2 in the postseason thus far. 

Adrian Peterson
Minnesota Vikings · 2012

Stats: 348 carries, 2,097 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs, 6.0 yards per carry, 131.1 rushing yards per game.

Conventional wisdom holds that it usually takes two seasons to fully recover from ligament injuries in the knee. In 2012, Peterson proved conventional wisdom doesn't apply to him. Less than nine months after tearing his ACL and MCL in 2011, the running back opened 2012 by racking up 84 yards and two scores on the ground in a Week 1 win over the Jaguars. It was just the beginning of the second-greatest rushing season in NFL history. In the end, Peterson fell 8 yards short of Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season record. What made this season even more remarkable was the fact that Peterson thrived while operating with second-year pro Christian Ponder under center. Not to knock Ponder, but this meant every opponent knew Peterson was going to get the football early and often, and they still couldn't stop him. Peterson became the only non-QB to win MVP in the 2010s, and while playing time lost to injuries and suspension might keep the 35-year-old Washington veteran from breaking Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing record, he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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