The nine best arguments for why Patrick Mahomes is the NFL MVP of 2022
The Chiefs' quarterback is the obvious choice. Let's talk about all the reasons why.
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Sometimes I think that the reason people really loves sports is that they actually love to argue about stuff.
The most successful shows about sports center around debate. Most of the content that’s churned out is explaining why X is better than Y (whether X/Y are players, teams, methodologies of winning, or whatever). And 90% of sports talk between friends consists of some form of argument about some version of “Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor?”
One of the places we see those debates most often is the area of individual awards. More specifically, “Most Valuable Player.” The most coveted award the NFL has to offer has become, as the years have moved along, some version of “the best quarterback on a really good team” award given that position’s all-encompassing importance in the NFL. But every year it’s a source of furious debate as to what player deserves it the most.
This year, that player is Patrick Lavon Mahomes II.
There are a lot of reasons for the above statement, but Mahomes being the obvious choice is as close as it gets to a clear fact at this point in the season (with, admittedly, 3 games remaining to go). There’s Mahomes, and then there’s everyone else.
Of course, there are a number of great quarterbacks on good teams this year, and some guys in particular (Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen etc) are going to be argued for because… well, that’s just how this works. Consensus almost never exists in this sort of conversation.
With that in mind, this seems like as good a time as any to make a thorough list of reasons as to why Mahomes is deserving of the MVP. These reasons range from statistical to team context to film, and all of them should be taken together as a total argument for him being the obvious choice. Why do it? Because it’s fun to talk about greatness, and also to provide you, dear reader, with as many talking points as possible when you (inevitably) get into debates about the MVP race in the coming weeks.
Argument #1: Let’s talk about Expected Points Added
Start off your argument with a bang by saying “no one is close to Mahomes statistically.” And that’s not really an opinion. It’s just a fact. Let’s start with a more “in-depth” stat in EPA (expected points added) per play (thanks to rbsdm.com, a fantastic resource we’ll be utilizing several times today).
What expected points per play means is (briefly) how much more likely a team is to score after a given play (by moving the ball towards the goal line and moving the chains). What this chart tells us is that Mahomes is significantly higher in this area than any other quarterback. In other words, when Mahomes drops back, no one in the league is remotely as good at making it more likely his team scores.
And just in case you’re wondering whether this is due to garbage time stats, here’s what it looks like when adjusted for win probability (or in other words, only looking at snaps where the game is still relatively in doubt):
That only extends the distance between Mahomes and everyone else. That seems relevant for the most valuable player, no? But we’re not done to statistical arguments, or even close.
Argument #2: How about yards above replacement?
Football Outsiders has a marvelous stat they utilize called “defense adjusted yards above replacement.” What that measures is, in their own words, is “the value of the quarterback's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.” In other words, how valuable was the quarterback compared to others? The higher the number, the better.
Guess who is miles ahead of anyone else?
Argument #3: ESPN’s QBR
Years ago, ESPN set out to improve on quarterback rating by taking into account game situation (yards/TD’s in a close game matter more than garbage time stats, 3rd down matters more than 1st down, etc) and every dropback (as opposed to just throws). They came up with a stat they call QBR, which is explained in great detail here. The expected QBR for an “average” quarterback over the course of a year is 50.
Mahomes’ QBR, as of right now, is 79.8. For frame of reference, one else in the league cracks 72, there are only two other quarterbacks who are above 70, and the 10th-ranked QB in the league has a QBR of 58.4.
We’ve got a few more stats to go, by the way, because this is just insane stuff.
Argument #4: Stop with the nerd stats, tell me counting numbers
In case you’re arguing with someone who doesn’t understand how much better EPA per play and DYAR are at gauging statistical output than traditional stats, one can see why Mahomes sits atop those more detailed stats when looking at the “classic” stats. Here’s where Mahomes ranks in yards and touchdowns.
Passing Touchdowns- 1st
Hey, that was easy!
Argument #5: Mahomes is the best passing QB as well as one of the best 5 rushing QB’s in the league
Mahomes is on pace to shatter the single-season record for total yards (passing and rushing) from a quarterback.
Of course, some of that is the extra game added, BUT… we also happen to have some numbers to help back up Mahomes’ value as a runner, as ESPN tracks “expected points added” on their own for both passing and running for quarterbacks.
Mahomes is, as one might expect, 1st in passing EPA with 94.1 expected points added on pass attempt. The next-highest player in that stat, Justin Herbert, is at 75 expected points added. The gap between Mahomes and Herbert is as large as the gap between Herbert and the 10th-ranked QB in the league. Let that sink in.
But wait, there’s more! In expected points added (with extra weight on “clutch” situations where games are close) as a RUNNER, Mahomes ranks 4th in the league at 23.9 expected points added (fun fact, that’s more expected points added than Russ Wilson has managed AS A PASSER, which is so hilarious I had to use all-caps twice in one paragraph).
In sum, Mahomes is the best passing QB in the league by a wide margin as well as a one of the very best rushing quarterbacks. Which limits coverages opponents can utilize, for fear that against too much man he’ll just take off.
Argument #6: Mahomes is even more dominant on 3rd down than he is every other down
Remember that “EPA per play” chart that Mahomes was so comfortably at the top of? Here’s a look at it if you narrow it down to 3rd down only (again, h/t to rbsdm.com).
Of all the quarterbacks in the league, over half them have a NEGATIVE EPA per play on 3rd down (due to taking sacks, incomplete passes, interceptions, or just failing to convert at all). Mahomes just gets better, now a full 0.2 EPA per play better than his closest competition.
In other words, on the “money” down where yards are toughest to come by, Mahomes is easily the best in the league. Much like when we isolated away garbage time stats, there’s demonstrable evidence that no one in the league is doing what Mahomes does.
Argument #7: The “how much help does Mahomes need” theory doesn’t apply this year.
With a mountain of statistical evidence on your side, your opponent (who is arguing for someone else to be MVP) will invariably say some version of “yeah, well, Mahomes has the best situation in the league.” It’s a good way to ignore the numbers. The thing is, it’s not really accurate.
The idea that Mahomes might have similar or less support than other MVP candidates would have seemed absurd a year ago. But the Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill (whose presence along with Mike McDaniel helped vault Tua well beyond anywhere he’d ever been before) and the offensive line (particularly the tackles) have taken a step back in pass blocking this season. In fact, Kansas City’s tackles lead the league in pressures allowed.
Mahomes also has a new #1 and #2 wide receiver in Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and a receiver corps that is decent but certainly didn’t come into the season with the hype of the Bills/Bengals/Dolphins/Eagles.
And that “come into the season” part is crucial. The Chiefs’ WR group is more highly regarded now than it was to start the season. But I’d argue that’s directly due to the influence of Mahomes, who has been the rising tide to lift all ships. Try to remember what preseason coverage of the Chiefs’ offense looked like, particularly predictions regarding how Kansas City’s weapons would hold up after losing Hill (before every weapon on the Chiefs’ roster got the Mahomes Bump).
Here’s what some of the other top MVP candidates are working with on the offensive side of the ball.
Hurts: One of the best 1-2 WR duos in the NFL, Dallas Goedert (for most of the season), Miles Sanders, and the best OL in the NFL by a fairly wide swath.
Allen: A WR/TE group (Diggs, Davis, McKenzie, Knox) that prior to the season was being heralded as one of the best in the league.
Tua: Maybe THE best 1-2 punch in the league in Hill/Waddle.
Burrow: Perhaps the best receiving group in the league in Chase/Higgins/Boyd/Hurst, along with Mixon at RB (to Burrow’s credit, Chase missed some time this season).
One can argue for one position group over another, but the idea that Mahomes has a cushy situation compared to other MVP candidates, even on the offensive side of the ball, is just not accurate.
If you’ve read this far, you’re someone who likes to go beyond the box score. And I bet you’d enjoy the content here multiple times per week. Hey, look, it’s that button to subscribe for 12 dollars a year again!
Argument #8: Mahomes has done more than any other player to drag his team to wins
As much as the NFL is a team sport, wins and losses are going to be taken into account when determining an MVP. And while this isn’t entirely fair, it’s also somewhat intuitive; Can a player REALLY be the most valuable in the league if his team isn’t winning many games?
The Chiefs, at 11-3, are tied with the Bills and Vikings for the second best record in the league behind the Eagles (who are an impressive 13-1). No one is seriously considering Kirk Cousins (or any Viking) for MVP given the bizarre nature of their season, so the “team success” argument could be held up for Hurts and Allen. Let’s throw Burrow in the mix as well given the Bengals are 10-4 and beat the Chiefs.
Here’s what the defensive success of every team in the league looks like.
Note that the Eagles, Bills, and Bengals all boast SIGNIFICANTLY better pass defenses than the Chiefs, by far the most vital stat in a defense being successful.
The Chiefs defense, while being slightly above average against the run, is below average against the pass. Look at the teams who are similarly situated to the Chiefs defensively. None of them (besides, again, the VERY weird Vikings) have had remotely the same team success as Kansas City. In other words, the Chiefs have been reliant on the offense (and Mahomes) to do more to lift them to a top record. And he’s answered the call.
An easy example of this was the near-disaster Kansas City had against Houston on Sunday. The Chiefs did almost everything in their power to lose that game, exposing some of their worst flaws and making multiple mistakes on both sides of the ball at utterly crucial moments. They also were facing (coughs) less than favorable officiating. It was a game they 100% should have lost to an inferior team, but Mahomes simply would not let them do so.
This is the sort of thing Most Valuable Players do. On a day their team stinks, they drag them kicking and screaming to a win. And it’s something Mahomes has done several times in 2022. That’s been the difference between him and other MVP candidates, and the gap is quite wide.
Argument #9: Just watch the games
This one is pretty simple. Turn on your TV and watch Mahomes play the game. Then watch any other potential MVP candidate.
There are plenty of great players in the league. But no one is playing like Mahomes right now. No one. It’s one of those things that’s obvious on its face. And in this case, the numbers and team context all back up what your eyes are so clearly telling you.
I will be using any and all of these in the coming weeks, a great synthesis of the facts!
Seth out here doing the Lord's work. Thank you for this bounty of goodness.