Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 Nov 2013

ESPN: Calvin Johnson for MVP?

After Calvin Johnson's historic game with 329 receiving yards, I noticed some people suggested him for MVP. If it wasn't for Peyton Manning's season, Johnson may have as good of a case as any right now.

According to Brian Burke's stats for Win Probability Added and Expected Points Added at Advanced NFL Stats, Johnson's on pace for the best WPA season by a non-QB since 1999.

That's even with missing one game, which just so happened to be the worst game of the season for Detroit's offense (season-low nine points) and Matthew Stafford. If he keeps it up, it'll be hard to say he's any less valuable than a player like Adrian Peterson was last year.

Since we know the passing game is far more important to success than running, and if receivers catch the majority of passes and gain most of the yards, then why should we not view them on equal or superior ground to running backs when it comes to value?

So after seeing the decline of the running game this season and how some very good quarterbacks have struggled in the absence of a good receiver(s), I took a look at skill player value based on stats like WPA and EPA. The trends I found were consistent in both despite the fact EPA does not consider score and time remaining like WPA does.

DVOA also confirms the down year for running backs. The average DVOA for a qualified 2013 RB is -3.20%. That's the lowest since 2002 (-3.49%). It's the same result (2013 being the worst since 2002) even if we just look at the top 10 RBs in DVOA.

With another season where the pass ratio is at an all-time high, it's about time we give the game's cockiest position just what they want: more attention.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 01 Nov 2013

7 comments, Last at 01 Nov 2013, 5:57pm by StanSellsBoats

Comments

1
by JIPanick :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 2:57pm

"Since we know the passing game is far more important to success than running, and if receivers catch the majority of passes and gain most of the yards, then why should we not view them on equal or superior ground to running backs when it comes to value?"

We should.

Which is why Peterson had no business receiving MVP votes, let alone winning the award.

4
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 4:28pm

For a typical team, that would be true. For a team with no credible passing game, that Peterson practically dragged to a 10-win season and a playoff berth, we should make an exception.

Adrian Peterson's 2012 season is the exception that proves the rule. Which is why many advanced stats people predicted the Vikings wouldn't be good this year, since there was no way Peterson was going sustain the production he had the latter half of 2012.

2
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 3:45pm

The second sentence of this blurb kind of takes the wind out of the rest of it. Calvin Johnson will not win MVP, and it will not be close. Peyton Manning will win MVP this year. "Victory" for Calvin Johnson would be getting any votes at all.

3
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 4:24pm

Agreed. For Johnson to even have a chance at the award, the Lions would have to approach the Bronco's win total, and Johnson would have to have at least 2000 yards and close to 20 TDs.

The first is not as ridiculous as it seems, given how easy the Lion's remaining schedule is, but still it's unlikely. The latter two would require Johnson to average like 175 yards/game and 1.5 TD's/game for the rest of the season. A tall order even for him.

5
by tuluse :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 4:46pm

Steve Smith should have won MVP in 2005.

I don't check Brian Burkes's site very often, and I think I'm missing out there are some cool stats there.

CJ is on pace for about 84 expected points added, Steve Smith is credited with 99 in 2005. Calvin Johnson is targeted on 23.9% of the Lion's passes. Steve Smith was targeted on 34.9%. Despite this high volume, his per play efficiency could be considered higher with .58 expected points added per play compared to CJ's .44 epa/p.

I don't mean to take anything away from CJ who I think is the best receiver currently playing, I just wanted to revel in the wonderful season Smith had in 2005 again.

6
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 5:13pm

Burke's site has some fascinating articles, as well as numbers. I strongly suggest you check it out regularly. Kind of on the current subject, there's a new article where he tries his best to separate out QB performance and WR performance.

Smith's 2005 is even more impressive considering what the rest of the Panthers' WR corps consisted of. The Seahawks strategy in the NFCCG was basically "cover Smith with 4 guys, and let you try to beat us throwing to Keary Colbert and the desiccated corpse of Ricky Proehl".

7
by StanSellsBoats (not verified) :: Fri, 11/01/2013 - 5:57pm

"... it's about time we give the game's cockiest position just what they want: more attention."

Come on, man. That's exactly the kind of tripe I come to FO to *not* read. Please don't devalue your own quality analysis by appending Bayless-esque nonsense to it.