The MVP award in the NFL is annually a coronation of the league’s best quarterback. After all, it’s far and away the most important position on the field, so it naturally gets the lion’s share of credit for successful seasons.
So ESPN undertook an exercise to name a non-QB MVP for the 2021 NFL season. Here is their quick explanation.
They deserve their own award — the non-QB MVP.
So I’m casting my 10-player ballot for this hypothetical award. As always, my selections lean heavily on metrics — like our Expected Points Added (EPA) numbers and NFL Next Gen Stats player tracking metrics — to make these votes.
Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons didn’t win the award, but he did come in fifth. Cooper Kupp won the award, followed by Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, and Deebo Samuel.
Then came Parsons, the top rookie on the list.
While not at the top of my list, there’s a legitimate case for Parsons as Defensive Player of the Year as a mere rookie. Parsons ranked first in pass rush win rate among all qualifiers this season (29%). That rate alone would not be enough to make his case because his versatility as an effective edge rusher and an off-ball linebacker means he rushed the passer less frequently than the other sack artists. In other words: he does all the other stuff well, too.
He ranked 22 out of 76 qualifiers in run stop win rate when lined up as an off-ball linebacker. And his 0.6 yards per coverage snap allowed as a nearest defender was fourth-best among linebackers with at least 200 coverage snaps, per NFL Next Gen Stats. As a rookie, he made his place among top linebackers.
The fact that Parsons is being in the same breath as Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt is a testament to just how phenomenal his rookie season was in 2021. He excelled at everything he was asked to do, all the way from rushing the passer to dropping back in coverage.
The rest of the list from sixth to tenth was Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, Ja’Marr Chase, Jonathan Taylor and a surprising name, Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer. That’s a lot of receivers and a lot of rookies for a top ten non-QB list.