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Kent Somers: NFL MVP Not A QB? Perhaps In 2023

Miami's Hill, Philadelphia's Brown make early pushes for top honor

Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) catches the ball for a touchdown during a game against the Eagles.
Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) catches the ball for a touchdown during a game against the Eagles.

The Associated Press started picking selecting an annual NFL most valuable player award in 1957, and over time, the selection has become the most predictable thing in sports: Just give it to the best quarterback.

Running back Adrian Peterson in 2012 was the last non-quarterback to win it, and the last defensive player was outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. This make sense, of course, because there is no more important position in sports than quarterback. It's why owners and general managers will gamble every asset they have to obtain and/or keep one.

But we might be witnessing a twist on history this season. Two receivers, Miami's Tyreek Hill and Philadelphia's A.J. Brown, are on pace for historic seasons. No quarterback is having a comparable year, although Miami's Tua Tagovailoa will be in contention as long as he and the rest of the Dolphins, most notably Hill, remain healthy.

In eight games, Hill has eight touchdowns and 1,014 yards receiving. A.J. Brown has 939 yards and five touchdowns. Both are on pace to break Calvin Johnson's NFL record of 1,964 yards, set over 16 games in 2012, the year Peterson won the MVP award.

Brown has gained at least 125 yards in his last six games, something no other receiver has ever accomplished. Not Jerry Rice. Not Don Hutson. Not Randy Moss. Not Larry Fitzgerald.

"Nobody catches the ball prettier than A.J. Brown," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said recently. "I'm just in awe of good wide receivers and the skill that they have. Nobody goes and snatches the football like him. It's so much cooler in person and when it's on your team."

Cardinals fans know that, and it likely makes them wistful. Brown's performances over the last six games are reminiscent of what Fitzgerald did for the Cardinals at the end of the 2008 regular season and four playoff games.

In the last six games that season, including the run to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald caught 38 passes for 777 yards and 10 touchdowns. That compares favorably with Brown's numbers the last six weeks: 49, 831 and 5. Fitzgerald didn't catch as many passes but his yards per catch was better: 20.4 vs. 17.

Having an elite receiver who can make big plays in spite of coverages designed to prevent them is second in importance to having an equivalent talent at quarterback. And it's equal to having an elite pass rusher who can flip a game with a sack and forced fumble.

Hill and Brown have accentuated the point so far this season, which is why the conversation about MVP candidates at this point doesn't only include them, it starts with them.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray scrambles against the Seahawks in a 2022 game.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray scrambles against the Seahawks in a 2022 game.


Watch any level of football, from youth through the NFL, and it seems every quarterback can make big plays while on the move. That's been the trend in the NFL for some time, and it seems to have accelerated the past few years with the retirements of more stationary passers, such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer.

Are we witnessing the demise of the pocket passer? I asked Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon, who has spoken a few times of how difficult it is to defend a mobile quarterback, and Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham, who has worked with quarterbacks at Memphis, Auburn, Florida State and Oregon.

Gannon: "There are places for those guys. I think that whatever the skillset of the quarterback is, it's up to the coaches to put them in the best position possible to accentuate his skillset. There's a lot of different ways to play quarterback at a really high level. I've been around a lot of different ones. To the future of the game -- not sure as the game keeps evolving, changing and all those things. I know that it's hard to defend guys with that type of skillset (mobility), but it was also hard to defend Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. I think it really doesn't matter your skillset. How good is your skillset? That's what makes it hard to defend guys."

Dillingham: "If you don't have a QB who can run, you need to have a special passer and a special wide receiver who wins one-on-ones. There are three ways to be successful on offense: dominate in the run game, throw one-on-one completions, or have a QB who can make things happen out of the pocket and is a running threat.

"There will always be guys like that (Manning, Brees, Brady, etc.) who are special. But those guys are three of the best to ever do it. The middle-of-the-road true pocket guys will be the backups to the special guys. And the teams with a more mobile guy (starting) will want a more mobile backup."

San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner (54) walks off the field after the 22-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last month.
San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner (54) walks off the field after the 22-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last month.


The 49ers' bye week could not have come at a better time for them. They have lost three consecutive games, scoring only 17 points in each loss. All five of Brock Purdy's interceptions have come in those games, and the defense has been porous at times.

The latter has put coordinator Steve Wilks in the spotlight, given the 49ers success under previous coordinators DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh, who left to become head coaches. Pass defense is an issue. Over the last two weeks, Kirk Cousins and Burrow combined to completed 67 of 77 passes for 661 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

The pass rush has been inconsistent and tackling has been poor

"What sticks out the most is how slow and tired we looked," coach Kyle Shanahan said.

Shanahan has supported Wilks, pointing out that the 49ers offense is struggling too ...

The Eagles are the only team with fewer than two losses. The last time there was only one team with fewer than two losses after week eight was 2017. Over the last five years, there have been at least three at this point. ...

After a 1-3 start, the Bengals are 4-3 and back to being the Bengals. They have the NFC West to thank. The Bengals went 4-0 against that division. But quarterback Joe Burrow's return to health is the biggest factor. It was against the Cardinals in Week 5 that Burrow was back to his excellent self, and he's been on a tear since. In the victory over the 49ers last week, Burrow had almost as many touchdown passes (three) as incompletions (four).

"I don't use the word 'unbelievable' anymore," coach Zac Taylor said. "It's what you come to expect." ...

After the victory over the Cardinals last Sunday, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is 17-1 against NFC teams. ...

Did you have the Chiefs scoring just nine points and losing to the Broncos, the team that gave up 70 to the Dolphins in Week 3? Me, either.