Has a Wide Receiver Ever Won the NFL MVP?

While the NFL MVP award is technically open to every position, it goes to the quarterback more often than not. In some ways, this makes sense. The quarterback is viewed by many to be the most important position in football. This does, however, make it hard for other NFL players to earn accolades even when they might deserve it.

One of the glaring instances of this is at the wide receiver position, where nobody has been able to collect the award. 

How the NFL MVP is chosen

Many leagues employ a point-based voting system that allows each voter to rank their candidates. This enables people to give props to more than one player, and it also helps make the voting closer rather than allowing one player to steal all the votes. This makes sense in theory, as only one player wins the award and sometimes there is a runaway MVP. 

In a 2011 article, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk broke down the problem with this process. That year, when Aaron Rodgers was the runaway MVP, Florio noted the way Drew Brees and Tom Brady got left in the dust despite having seasons comparable to Rodgers. By only allowing one vote, there is less thought going into the tiers of candidates.

In short, the voting process can be skewed when voters are not required to consider multiple players. 

Non-quarterback MVPs 

Since 2000, only Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Adrian Peterson have won the award at other positions. Every player in this group was a running back, the position that historically has the best odds of winning if it isn’t a quarterback (with 12 since the merger).

Even if a player has a strong quarterback, one who can get down the field and score at an elite level can make up for the quarterback bias. Outside of running backs, only two other non-quarterbacks have won, although several players like Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson did win the MVP award before then.

Lawrence Taylor, to this day, is the only defensive player to win the award, which he did in the 1986 season. Most bizarrely, Mark Moseley won the MVP award in 1982 as a kicker. 

A fantasy

With superstar wide receivers throughout history, one would think the occasional exception to the quarterback rule would get the award. But this is not the case. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann used the award as motivation to keep playing throughout his career, but he knew it was a long shot.

“That’s not going to happen as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers at that time,” Swann told the Washington Post. “It was fantasy for receivers to think they would be considered for that kind of vote.”

Jerry Rice, Sterling Sharpe, and Randy Moss were all major faces whose names get thrown out to this day, but none of them had the opportunity to raise the trophy because voters simply do not think wide receivers have the impact to be the most valuable player in the NFL, although they did receive votes.

Recently, before his dramatic exit from the NFL, Antonio Brown was considered to be in the running for the MVP Award in 2018. But he received zero votes when it all came out. Currently, superstar wide receivers like Michael Thomas or Davante Adams could be in the mix for the award, but with no precedent, it is hard to envision history correcting itself.

The MVP will naturally give quarterbacks the advantage, but this doesn’t mean others don’t deserve it. Despite some of the biggest names in history being wide receivers, they continue to be snubbed. Until the voting system and mindset change, the problem will persist for years to come.