The NFL MVP award is often viewed as a quarterback trophy and for good reason. Nine of the last 10 recipients have been quarterbacks. (Shout out to Adrian Peterson. You beat the odds.) Seemingly as bored as the rest of us during quarantine, many sportscasters have been giving their opinions on the potential 2020 NFL MVP. One surprising name coming up more and more often? Kyler Murray.
Currently, Murray ranges from fourth to eighth most likely to win the award through various betting odds. Big names in the sports universe such as Rich Eisen, Bucky Brooks, Daniel Jeremiah, Skip Bayless, and others have mentioned the second-year Cardinals quarterback as a “dark horse” MVP candidate.
But this brings us to a question, what does it actually take to win the NFL MVP? What have other quarterbacks had to do in order to earn the honor and is Kyler Murray a legitimate MVP contender?
What Will It Take to Make Kyler Murray MVP?
How Did Others Do It?
Take a look at the last five recipients from 2015-2019. In order they are:
Cam Newton – 2015
Matt Ryan – 2016
Tom Brady – 2017
Patrick Mahomes – 2018
Lamar Jackson – 2019
Let’s start with Cam Newton. In 2015 he threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns while racking up 636 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. In addition, Newton only threw 10 interceptions that year. The Panthers this year received a good amount of criticism for having an average to below-average receiving corps. While there is some truth to that (who is still proudly wearing a Ted Ginn jersey) Newton still made it happen with four receivers totaling over 400 yards and his tight end Greg Olsen having a monster 1,104-yard season. It is easy to make the argument that the lack of star receivers only highlighted the great season that Cam Newton had whose passing stats are even more impressive in light of the lack of supporting cast. The Panthers went 15-1 in the regular season and eventually lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
In 2016, Matt Ryan showed off his accuracy and arm logging 4,944 passing yards. Add in the 38 passing touchdowns, 9.3 yards per attempt, and only seven interceptions and it is easy to see why Ryan took MVP. His personal stats this season were incredible completely on their own and led to both the MVP award and the Offensive Player of the Year. However, having Julio Jones on your side is never a bad thing and the two connected for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns throughout the regular season. The 2015 Falcons went 11-5 before barreling through the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. We all know what happened after that.
Tom Brady. Almost no other words are needed. In his third MVP season, Brady tallied 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions. There is no doubt these are good personal stats. But the 2017 Patriots had Brady surrounded on all sides by offensive talent. The offensive line keeping Brady on his feet included Nate Solder, David Andrews, Joe Thuney, and Shaq Mason. His go-to, Rob Gronkowski was playing at a high level with 69 receptions and 1,084 yards. In addition, Brandin Cooks had a great year with 65 receptions for 1,082. Three other receivers had above 400 yards. The 13-3 Patriots made it to Super Bowl LII before losing to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Patrick Mahomes had shown flashes of prodigious talent in college. But few expected the statistical cornucopia he would produce in 2018. These numbers are wild: 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. For context, only Peyton Manning has matched these numbers, and Mahomes is one of only seven quarterbacks to pass for over 5,000 yards in the history of the NFL. Numbers like that translate into wins and the Chiefs went 12-4 in the regular season before losing to the eventual champion Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Wunderkind. That would be one way to describe Lamar Jackson in 2019. 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns isn’t a bad passing year for many quarterbacks but it is what Jackson did on the ground that really set him apart. 1,206 rushing yards made Jackson Baltimore’s leading passer and rusher. A surprise loss in the Divisional Round doesn’t erase the records this Ravens team accumulated. Most rushing yards (3,296) in a single season. The first team to average 200 yards passing and rushing per game. 13 Pro-Bowlers (tied with the 2007 Dallas Cowboys.) Bottom line: Jackson was the leader of a historic NFL offense.
Kyler Murray’s Future
So what sort of numbers should we expect from Kyler Murray if he is to be the next MVP? These quarterbacks averaged 4,316.4 yards and 38.2 touchdowns.
In his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, Murray posted 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was second on the team in rushing with 544 yards and four touchdowns. It is not outside the realm of possibility for him to increase both his passing yards and number of touchdowns. Avoiding the red-zone woes that plagued the Cardinals last year will help with this.
For most that watched him closely last year, the talent level of Murray does not seem to be much in dispute. He is gifted in long pass situations and his mobility was impressive. As the season progressed, his decision-making became far better and he started to learn how to throw the ball away and avoid unnecessary sacks.
So many of his intangibles remind one of Mahomes and Jackson, two other young quarterbacks who leaped to the top of the NFL in their second seasons.
However, there is one variable, common to the last five MVPs that could prevent Murray from claiming the prestigious award.
Each of these quarterbacks were leading a team that was VERY GOOD. These teams averaged 13 wins and three out of the five made it to the Super Bowl. (Sorry Kansas City and Baltimore) Four out of five were the number one offense in the NFL for that season.
The Cardinals went 5-10-1 last season behind rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury. They had the 16th ranked offense and flashed potential in a number of close games. With a full year of Kenyan Drake and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, there is a great deal of hope in the desert for an offensive breakout. Arizona’s general manager Steve Keim invested heavily on defense in both free agency and the draft hoping to turn around what was a very disappointing side of the ball.
With the Cardinals roster looking better on both offense and defense, Kyler Murray is in a position he wasn’t last year. The wide receiver trio of Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, and Christian Kirk is one of the best in the league. Hopefully, Kenyan Drake plays a full season at the level he showed in the second half of last year.
Murray now has the talent around him, but if he wants to join the elite club of NFL MVPs he will need to lead the Cardinals to a new level. Arizona hasn’t gotten to 13 wins or even the playoffs since 2015.
The road to MVP is difficult but not impossible. Seemingly every year there is a team that makes a significant leap. On paper, the Arizona Cardinals have had a good off-season that could set them up for success on the field.
Of course, no one knows what next season will bring, but Kyler Murray has the talent and now the supporting cast to turn some heads. Kyler Murray MVP? It’s too early to tell, but don’t be surprised if Murray and the Cardinals are better than you remember them.