Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the odds on favorite to win the 2021 NFL MVP award, but former All-Pro Shawne Merriman thinks there’s a dark horse in the race. That would be Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who has been a superstar this season.
Diggs is, without a doubt, a contender for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award, but could he actually be a viable MVP candidate? Merriman thinks that if not Rodgers, the NFL should look at the defensive side of the football.
That’s where Diggs has made a major name for himself.
Shawne Merriman gives Dallas Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs some MVP props
Merriman played a hard-hitting brand of linebacker in the NFL for eight seasons, so of course, he’d like to see some props go to a big-time defender. Recently speaking with Gambling.com in his role as NFL Ambassador, the linebacker best known for his time with the then-San Diego Chargers gave his thoughts on the NFL’s MVP race.
“Yeah, I’ve been saying this for the last few weeks,” Merriman said when asked if Rodgers is the leader of the MVP race in his eyes. “If it’s not him, then they have to start looking at the defensive side of the ball with Trevon Diggs.”
That’s a bold take from someone who was a very bold player, but does he have a point?
If not Rodgers, most would say that Tom Brady would be the favorite. After Brady is Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, who almost single-handedly makes the Colts a contender because of his ability to take over a game.
Can’t the same thing be said about Diggs, though?
The case for Diggs as a contender for the NFL MVP award
Diggs leads the NFL in interceptions with 11. The next closest interception total is J.C. Jackson’s seven, and that’s not even in the same ballpark. Seven and 11 are close together on convenience store signs, but in the NFL and specifically, as it relates to intercepting quarterbacks at the highest level of the game, the Grand Canyon may as well be between the two numbers. Also, consider that Jackson is a Pro Bowler for the New England Patriots this season. That just makes the 11 picks from Diggs even more impressive.
If you want to talk about taking over games, Diggs now has an interception in three of Dallas’ last four contests. He started the season off with six games in a row with a pick, including a game against the Carolina Panthers that saw him snag two.
Dallas has the second-best turnover differential in the league at +14. The Cowboys have given up the football 19 times, which isn’t great, but they lead the league in takeaways with 33. Diggs also has a forced fumble on the season, meaning he accounts for 12 of those 33 turnovers, or 36%, which is incredible for one single player.
Take away Diggs, and the Cowboys go from +14 to +2. While that’s still an impressive number, that would drop Dallas 11 spots in that category, and it can be argued that turnover differential is one of the more telling stats in terms of winning and losing.
History is not on the side of defensive players winning the MVP
The NFL’s MVP award has sadly become largely stat-based, which means that outside of a few outliers, quarterbacks generally get the nod.
The last non-quarterback to win the award was Adrian Peterson, and that was in 2012. In fact, since 2000, only four non-quarterbacks have been named NFL MVP, and they were all running backs. Since the turn of the century, only Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, and Marshall Faulk have been in that non-quarterback club.
If you think it’s tough for a non-quarterback to win the MVP, the odds are stacked even higher against a defender. In fact, going back to the start of the award in 1957, only two defenders have been named NFL MVP. The first was Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page, who won the award in 1971 when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. The second was Hall of Famer and legendary New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who won the award in 1986.
Two defensive MVPs. Two Hall of Fame players.
Diggs has been incredible for the Cowboys this season, and he’s undoubtedly one of the best overall players in the game. Is he in the same category as Page and L.T., though? Probably not. At least not at the moment.
If Diggs can snag four interceptions in the next two games for Dallas, that would make him the NFL’s all-time leader in single-season interceptions, putting him ahead of Night Train Lane, who snagged 14 in 1952.
Diggs would have a strong case to enter the stratosphere with Page and Taylor at that point, but that’s still a few interceptions away.