Quarterbacks are the stars of the NFL. The best quarterbacks often make the most money and get the most attention of all the players in the league. That media attention, along with the fact that the quarterback is the most important part of his team’s offense — helps the play-callers get recognized for the work that they do on the field. More often than not, that recognition includes a quarterback being named the MVP for the season. While quarterbacks win MVP most seasons, that’s not always the case. So who was the last non-quarterback who was named MVP? Let’s find out.
How MVP voting works and the rarity of non-quarterbacks winning
Voting for the Associated Press MVP award is handled by a panel comprised of 50 sportswriters and other media professionals who follow the league closely. Some notable names who have served on the panel include broadcasters Troy Aikman, Cris Collinsworth, and Tony Dungy.
The members of the panel cast their votes between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. Voters tend to have a bias toward players on offense, so only three players who don’t play on the offense have won the award since 1961 — two defensive players and a kicker.
Of the offensive players who have won it, 38 have been quarterbacks — representing well over half of the awards given out during that span.
Non-quarterbacks to win MVP
If you want to find out who the last non-quarterback MVP was in the NFL, you have to go back to 2012 when Adrian Peterson won the honor. He finished that season with 2,097 yards — just nine short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. It’s been seven years since Peterson won the MVP award, but the 34-year-old is still in the league and currently playing for the Redskins.
Here are some other notable non-quarterbacks who have won the MVP award.
LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006
RB LaDainian Tomlinson had a record-breaking 28 rushing touchdowns and ran for over 1,800 yards in 2006, when he was named MVP. The longtime Charger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Marshall Faulk, 2000
Part of the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf,” RB Marshall Faulk received the league’s top honor after rushing for 1,359 yards and 18 touchdowns in the 2000 season, with another eight receiving touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Terrell Davis, 1998
RB Terrell Davis had a league-best 2,008 rushing yards for the Broncos in 1998 and had 21 touchdowns on the ground. His MVP season ended by helping to lead the Broncos to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Davis is also part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
Emmitt Smith, 1993
The NFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, RB Emmitt Smith’s resume includes winning the 1993 MVP award. That season, he had a league-high 1,486 rushing yards en route to the Cowboys winning the second of three straight Super Bowl titles. Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Non-quarterback MVP snubs
With quarterbacks winning the MVP so often, there are a number of seasons in which a non-quarterback deserved to win the award but was snubbed, unfairly losing to a quarterback. Here are some examples.
J.J. Watt, 2014
In 2014, DE J.J. Watt recorded 20.5 sacks and scored five touchdowns, including three on offense, having one of the best seasons of any defenders since Lawrence Taylor’s 1986 campaign — when he was named MVP. But Watt lost the vote to QB Aaron Rodgers. Shockingly, Rodgers didn’t even have the league’s best passer rating that season.
Jerry Rice, 1987
A wide receiver has never won the MVP award, but Jerry Rice probably should have back in 1987. In a strike-shortened season in which he played just 12 games, Rice managed to score 23 times — 22 receiving touchdowns and one rushing. Those 22 receiving scores stood as the record for 20 years. Later, Randy Moss passed it with 23 in 2007. Despite Rice’s record-breaking season, he finished second to QB John Elway in MVP voting.