INDIANAPOLIS – A late-season surge has a pair of Colts building very strong resumes for end-of-the-year awards.
For once, too, the Colts’ national attention seems to be growing a bit for the cases of Jonathan Taylor (Most Valuable Player) and Darius Leonard (Defensive Player of the Year).
Let’s evaluate where Taylor and Leonard stand in those respective races:
Jonathan Taylor for MVP (current odds: +950, 4th best odds)
-Pros: As the Colts have won 5 of their last 6, Taylor is averaging 144.8 rushing yards per game. That late-season production is massive for drawing in eyes, so is having a big performance on national television, which Taylor did against the Patriots and will try to do again against the 27th-ranked Cardinals rush defense this Saturday. To garner major attention for votes—particularly as a running back—you need those MVP moments. Taylor had one with that 67-yard run against the Patriots.
Another thing to point on Taylor is how he is absolutely demolishing numbers for any other running back this season. At 1,518 rushing yards, Taylor has 424 more yards than any other running back. It’s the consistent production, while suiting it up every single week, that separates Taylor from the rest of the NFL’s runners. In today’s NFL, running backs no longer put up the type off week-in-week-out consistency that Taylor provides. You want big plays? That’s Taylor. You want 20-some carries every week? That’s Taylor. There’s a feel of Taylor being the catalyst for the Colts similar to what Adrian Peterson was for a 10-6 Minnesota team in 2012, in which Peterson won the MVP (the last running back to win the award).
-Cons: Ok, is the MVP award viewed like the Heisman Trophy—awarded to the ‘Best Player?’ Or does the award follow its acronym ‘Most Valuable Player?’ Sure, Taylor has immense value to the Colts. But let’s not act like the Colts record sans-Taylor would change as much as the Bucs without Tom Brady or the Packers without Aaron Rodgers (Brady and Rodgers are the overwhelming MVP co-favorites at +160). That’d be foolish to assume. This is where the natural quarterback-bias we see in voting comes into play. But if the criteria is to give the award to the NFL’s ‘best player,’ that’s where Taylor is the guy. No quarterback is putting up never before seen numbers in the league this year, so it’s time for voters to be open-minded with their MVP vote and give Taylor a fair look.
Also, is Taylor still a year early from truly building enough attention to receive votes? He wasn’t a name in the preseason thrown around as a legit MVP candidate, and with the Colts 1-4 start this year, Taylor stayed off that radar. A second year running back is not often viewed as a legit MVP candidate and that’s something to consider when thinking about how 50 NFL writers will vote.
Darius Leonard for DPOY (+10000, 8th best odds)
-Pros: No defender comes close to taking the football away better than Leonard. With 6 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions, Leonard has put up turnover numbers that no one else in the NFL is close to (no one has at least 3 FF and 3 INTs this season). When you factor in the turnover-machine that Leonard is, it’s laughable that he is such a longshot for this award.
One of the most important aspects to defensive football is creating opportunities for your offense. Leonard has done that on a routine basis for the Colts. When you toss in another 3 fumbles recovered, it’s a reminder of how active No. 53 is around the football. Again, no defensive player is sniffing this sort of ball production.
-Cons: When you play in the defensive front seven, the sack stat is one of the first figures voters will be looking for. Well, Leonard has none this year (he had 15 sacks in his first 3 seasons). That’s really going to hurt him when comparing resumes to favorites T.J. Watt (17.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and Myles Garrett (15.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble). Granted, those two guys are pure edge rushers, coming after the quarterback far more than Leonard is asked to do. Still, 0 sacks for Leonard gives voters an easy cop out.
Like running back, an off-ball linebacker has a stigma against the position when this award is given out. No linebacker has won Defensive Player of the Year since Luke Kuechly in 2013. For Leonard to merit serious chatter among voters, he’s going to need a game-changing performance this Saturday night on national television. Watt is a very deserving-favorite, but it’s a mistake for Leonard to be so low on the odds list given the historic numbers he’s on pace for this season.