Thursday, February 7, 2013

National Friday League: Viking Accolades Edition

Adrian Peterson, the third Viking MVP
Three Vikings have had MVP seasons. Whose was the greatest?

1971 Alan Page
In 1971, the Vikings were (with Baltimore) the top defense in the league, allowing (wait for it...wait for it...) 9.9 points per game. Page was the dominant force for that defense. Unfortunately, season by season defensive stats for players in the 1970s are hard to come by (and I'm struggling to find reports about it: it would help if this video were still available). The fact that Page remains one of only three (three!) players to win AP MVP that wasn't a quarterback or running back is wildly impressive. Kicker Mark Moseley in 1982 makes no sense to anybody I've ever heard from. Lawrence Taylor is recognized as the dominant, game-altering defender of his generation, and his win in 1986 makes sense. And then there's Page. That Page is in the discussion with Taylor here, and that after over 50 years of the award only two defenders have ever seemed worthy of the award, might just make his MVP the most notable in franchise history.

1975 Fran Tarkenton
'75 was Tarkenton's best season during his run in the '70s as a QB for a team that was well-coached, good at defense, good at running the game, and regularly competitive no matter what (they went 23-5 in the two seasons before Tarkenton came back to Minnesota, with virtually no passing game to speak of). In '75, Tarkenton led the league in pass attempts, completions, completion percentage, and TD passes, while leading the Vikes to a 10-0 start and 12-2 finish. But while Tarkenton may have been the best QB that season, he wasn't statistically far ahead of other QBs that year. Ken Anderson had a better passer rating and more yards, and Joe Ferguson had as many TD passes. I think this was a "great QB on the best team" MVP award, which is good, of course--but there are a lot of "great QB on the best team" MVP awards, and only two (two!) defensive players with an MVP. Page is more impressive.

2012 Adrian Peterson
One thing that makes Peterson's performance so noteworthy is just how much better he was than the rest of the RB field in 2012. He had 30 more rushing yards per game than the next best RB (or 484 total yards). He had 24 yards from scrimmage more than the next best RB (or 388 total yards). That was that much more productive while averaging 6.0 yards per rush and dragging a team with little passing threat to a 10-6 record puts him in a special, memorable place. Peterson put himself into Jim Brown/Walter Payton/Emmitt Smith/Barry Sanders discussions with this season (yes, I view him as now one of the top five runners of all-time). I think Peterson's MVP is more noteworthy than Tarkenton's--but I think some more time should pass before we reflect on whether his MVP is more special than Page's MVP.

Cris Carter, Hall of Famer 
I love Cris Carter. His work catching passes on the sideline was artistic and innovative: he had an incredible ability to keep his toes in bounds, let his body go limp, and make the catch while falling to the ground. He was one of the great receivers to use his body in the short and intermediate range, shielding tightly covering DBs and using spectacular hands to make difficult catches. His abilities made him particularly devastating in the end zone: his skills--strength, intelligence, body control, leaping ability, hands--were just as useful and effective when the field was condensed and crowded. That's why he ended up with 130 touchdown receptions. You can see those magnificent skills here, and take note: how often does he even seem open when making those catches?

My enduring image of Carter is falling to the ground, stretching far to catch the ball, with a defender hanging all over him...for a seven yard gain. That's what I see when I think of him.

I would rank Cris Carter as the third best wide receiver of the '90s. I'm excluding those WRs who were great either during the beginning of the decade (Sterling Sharpe, Andre Rison) or end (Randy Moss), and looking at those wide receivers who were great through the bulk of the decade. Nobody will dispute Jerry Rice at #1, but Viking fans might dispute my ranking of Michael Irvin at #2. How can I say this? After all, Cris Carter scored literally twice as many TDs in his career as Irvin did, and he ended up with 351 more catches.

But looking beyond cumulative numbers shows that Irvin was a more productive player: he did more for his team with the catches he got than Carter did. Irvin averaged 3.3 yards per reception more than Carter in his career (15.9 to 12.6), which is pretty substantial: Irvin was a more versatile, dangerous receiver, better at getting downfield. Carter had several great seasons compiling receptions: he led the league once, was in the top-5 five times, and in the top-10 eight times. But do receptions matter more than what you do with those receptions? Carter never ranked higher than 7th in the league in receiving yards, ranking in the top-10 five times. Irvin ranked in the top-10 in receiving yards six times, including leading the league in 1991 and ranking 2nd twice. Consider too that Carter led his own team in receiving yards five straight years, while Irvin led his team in receiving yards eight straight years.

Furthermore, their team contexts were very different. Irvin scored relatively few TDs in large part because Dallas leaned heavily on Emmitt Smith (the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns) in the red zone. But Dallas also leaned heavier on the running game during what amounted to Carter's prime. During many of their similar years, Dallas and Minnesota had a pretty similar number of pass attempts. But in Carter's signature seasons, back-to-back seasons with 122 receptions, the Vikings threw way, way more than the Cowboys. In 1994, the Vikings had a whopping 225 more pass attempts than the Cowboys (673-448), and in 1995 it was 155 more passes (642-487).* Over the course of two seasons, the Vikes threw an average of nearly 12 more passes per game than the Cowboys. These were years that you might say made Carter a Hall of Famer--yet I don't think he did more with his opportunities than Irvin did.

And this isn't even meant to disparage Carter so much as praise Irvin--being the third best WR of a decade that included Jerry Rice in his prime is impressive! Carter is one of the all-time greats and a worthy Hall of Famer.

*In 1995 Irvin caught 111 passes, when his team only attempted 487 passes. Holy crap.

1 comment:

  1. I think scoring is more important, Irvin was good, but had a way better QB and running back, hence probably more one on ones. I think, the only thing that makes Irvin better is a ring. Also, earlier in his career CC WAS super dangerous downfield and would take shorter slants to the house. He was able to extend his career by being that go to 3rd down and redzone sure thing. When we plucked him from Philly, he exploded as a Viking for years and even outshined Anthony Carter.