Is Carson Palmer the best choice for MVP this year? Let’s put aside the Cam Newton argument and just focus on Palmer’s place in post-merger history. As Adam pointed out, 2015 Carson Palmer is currently 7th on the list of Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt leaders, and the six players in front of him all won the AP MVP (that would be Peyton Manning 2004, Aaron Rodgers 2011, Dan Marino 1984, Tom Brady 2007, Manning 2013, and Rodgers 2014).
Of course, ANY/A is biased in favor of modern players, so let’s look at ANY/A+. Here, he doesn’t drop as far as you might think: Carson is still tied for the 11th best season since 1970, and a few non-AP MVPs sneak in there ahead of him (Mark Rypien 1991, Randall Cunningham 1998, and a quarterback who lost to another quarterback a having historic season: Montana ’84 and Ken Anderson 1981).
So we know Palmer is having an awesome year; how does it compare to the average MVP-caliber season? Before the 2014 season, I looked at just that question. Here is how 2015 Palmer relates to the average MVP-caliber year:
Here’s how to read the table:
- An average MVP has a completion percentage that’s 112% of league average; Palmer’s is only 102%.
- An average MVP puts up about 25% more passing yards than league average; Palmer is at 118%.
- Even in passing touchdowns, Palmer doesn’t stand out as great: yes, he has 144% of league average, but this is where MVP quarterbacks usually shine, at 159%.
- Similarly, Palmer looks below-average — relative to MVPs, of course — in interception rate. Palmer’s interception total is good, but only a little above league average.
- In terms of sacks, sack yards, and pass attempts, Palmer pretty much is in line with what an MVP quarerback has. That gets us to the big category….
- As far as ANY/A goes, Palmer doesn’t stand out here as much as you might think. Of the 31 quarterbacks to win the MVP award since 19701, 23 have had ANY/A averages higher than Palmer, at least as measured as a percentage of league average.
- As for wins, Palmer is on pace to win about 13.5 games, slightly above the average MVP.
There are many ways to measure league average, and given the rising averages, you could argue that percentage of league average is the wrong way to go. With higher averages, it’s harder to stand out: Palmer would look better if we subtracted league average, rather than divided by it. That’s a mathematical theory question that we could debate. But I was a bit surprised to see that Palmer doesn’t quite stick out here as much as you might think.
If we look at Relative ANY/A — which would be Palmer’s ANY/A minus league average — he would be at +2.32. You can find some pre-2014 RANY/A ratings here, albeit in a somewhat unorganized (for this purpose) manner.
Of course, it goes without saying that Newton — with a ANY/A as a percentage of league average of 113% and a RANY/A of +0.83 — doesn’t fare particularly well in these metrics. But Newton’s case isn’t built on RANY/A (thankfully, for him) — it’s built on his contributions to a team that’s devoid of offensive weapons, an undefeated record, and what Newton adds on the ground. That’s precisely the sort of thing a quarterback would need, though, given that no quarterback since 1970 has won the MVP award without having an ANY/A average at least 20% above league average.
And it should be obvious to those of you who understand the way these formulas work that Palmer looks “worse” here because of the rising league average. This season, the NFL average ANY/A is currently 6.30. It could still dip over the last three weeks, and Palmer could have a hot finish: those two factors may be enough to pull him around MVP-average. But as it stands, 2015 is set to be the latest in a long line of “best passing seasons ever” in recent history.
- Including 2014 Rodgers, who wasn’t on the initial table. [↩]