Can Jalen Hurts really win NFL MVP in 2022?

There is no doubt Jalen Hurts is having an incredible season. He’s the most important player, on the league’s most surprising team, and the Eagles currently have the NFL’s best record. That should be enough to make him the runaway front-runner for MVP this season — but is it?

There’s no shortage of justification why Hurts is the best player in the NFL this season, especially from Philly fans. He’s winning games, he’s been ruthlessly efficient, and unquestionably one of the biggest reasons the Eagles went from being a plucky hopeful looking to cement a playoff spot, to now a favorite to make the Super Bowl and represent the NFC.

This doesn’t change two key issues with the idea of Hurts as MVP:

  • MVP has never really been about who is the most valuable
  • Hurts doesn’t have the stats to back up being a modern MVP

Much of the statistical argument for Hurts winning the award is based on 17 game projection which have him finishing with 26 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing touchdowns. If that holds, then there’s absolutely no doubt he’d run away with the award — especially if he maintains his lack of turnovers. That said, the devil is in the details.

Hurts’ passing touchdowns have largely been inflated thanks to two games: Throwing four touchdowns against the Steelers, and three against the Commanders. These two opponents rank 32nd and 28th in passing touchdowns allowed respectively. In Hurts’ six other starts he’s thrown five touchdowns total, against teams with an average passing touchdown allowed ranking of 16th. So, in total he’s played middling passing defenses, and really stuffed the stat sheet in two games that bolster his entire season’s worth of touchdowns.

The remainder of the Eagles’ schedule is against the 15th ranked pass touchdown defense on average. This means that projecting his passing TD total out to 26 is perhaps too generous. Based on past results he’s likely to finish the season with 20 passing touchdowns. The total stat numbers are compounded by the fact that the Eagles are having Hurts run less, likely out of concern of injury. In the last three games he’s only rushed 20 total times, after averaging 12 runs per game earlier in the season. This means that naturally his rushing touchdowns will drop too, in service of the far more important job of winning football games and sustaining success.

If we look at all factors it’s entirely likely Jalen Hurts will finish with around 4,300 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 4 interceptions — while running for 9 touchdowns. That is a phenomenally good season, but is it enough?

Dual-threat quarterbacks have always been looked down on compared to their pure-passing brethren in MVP voting. The only two players to break the trend were Cam Newton in 2015, and Lamar Jackson in 2019. Newton finished with 3,837 yards, 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a 16 game season, while Jackson had 36 passing touchdowns and 7 rushing touchdowns. Eclipsing that 40 TD mark has become a critical factor in modern MVP races, and the last QB to win MVP with less than 30 total TDs was Peyton Manning in 2003, when he finished with 29.

Unless Hurts’ TD numbers continue to lift in the back-half of the season and push his scoring TD totals into the mid-30s, this isn’t a conversation. He will not win MVP against Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, both of whom are on pace for over 40 touchdowns this season. As it stands, Hurts has the second-best odds from DraftKings to win MVP, with Allen still the favorite to win, and Mahomes only barely behind Hurts in third.

This isn’t a Jalen Hurts problem, it’s an MVP problem

For my money, Hurts has been the MVP of the season so far. If we look truly at the spirit of the award he’s been the nexus of change in Philadelphia, the engine that’s making the Eagles go. If you removed Hurts from Philadelphia the team would be … okay. A fine, but unremarkable, middling organization that has no chance of being 8-0 and leading the NFL right now. Just as they were before Hurts’ mammoth breakout this year.

Jalen Hurts has been the most valuable player for his team in the NFL this season. Just as Adrian Peterson was the most valuable player for the Vikings when he won in 2012, or when LaDainian Tomlinson won for the Chargers in 2006, or Shaun Alexander with the Seahawks in 2005. In all cases the team would be utterly decimated if their presence was removed.

Too often MVP has become cover for “best quarterback,” with offensive player of the year going to the best non-quarterback. Passers have won nine years in a row, with non-quarterbacks only garnering 31 votes total, out of a possible 400 over the time period. It’s this trend that has pulled MVP thinking away from who has completely changed their team’s fortunes, and who is brilliant — but maintained the status quo.

Sure, you can say “take Mahomes or Allen away from their teams and what do you have?” which is a true enough argument, but maintaining a high level of performance is functionally different that becoming so valuable a team can’t do without you.

That is what this MVP vote will come down to in the end, because it’s highly unlikely Hurts will pass Mahomes or Allen in touchdowns this year. That’s why it’s going to be a major uphill battle for Jalen Hurts to be MVP this year, even if he absolutely deserves it.

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