Monday, November 17, 2008

James Harrison For MVP?

I touched on this in my previous posting, but I'd like to be the first to formally dissect James Harrison's MVP Candidacy and analyze the candidates and where Harrison stands among these guys.

First, there's the so-called "intangible" value that most people tend to overrate when looking at MVP candidates. In this case, though, I think it is difficult to overestimate just how important he is to this defense. The Steelers have consistently been one of the most feared defenses in the league for years. I caught Harrison in training camp practices a few times over the past several years, even before he was anything but a special teamer, and he has always had one on-field disposition and one alone: Nastiness. He is a legitimately ill-tempered person, and if you don't think that carries over to the other players when they see him making big play after big play, then you my friend are crazy. And there is no trait more helpful to a defense than an absolute hatred of the team they are lining up against.

The big plays Harrison makes, while quite frequent last season, have become even more prominent this season. As mentioned earlier, he has 12 sacks and 67 tackles already this season, both astounding numbers. And teams are much more terrified of him then of the other starting 'backer LaMarr Woodley, which has contributed to Woodley's impressive 9.5 sacks on the year, though I hate to undermine LaMarr's impact, as he has prevented teams from constantly leaving men back to focus on Harrison. Harrison's sacks also almost always seem to come at the biggest points in games, specifically that one Sunday evening against Phil Rivers in the end zone for a monumental safety.

Harrison's numbers may be excellent, but how do they stack up against other legit candidates? Let's take a look at the other top candidates for the award:

1) Kurt Warner: It's been downright eerie watching Warner's resurgence this season. Its like it's 1999 all over again. He is the top rated passer in football and is already over 3000 yards and has 20 TD tosses on the year. He is also leading one of football's most traditionally pathetic franchises to a likely division title, and with the best 1-2 wide receiver punch since Warner's old squad had Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt at the peak of their powers, Warner's team should be poised to make some real noise come the late winter, and his numbers should continue to build impressively as the season goes along. And of course, he would be a very sentimental pick for many voters. Don't ever discount that factor with writers. They always love a good story.

2) Peyton Manning: It hasn't been anywhere near the best statistical season for Peyton, but this is probably the least talented overall team he has had since his rookie season. If they secure a wildcard spot with Manning putting up big numbers down the stretch, don't you dare count out the legend that is Peyton.

3) Eli Manning: After a breakout stretch last season, Eli Manning has continued his smart, excellent play into this year as the leader of the most dominant-looking team in football. His numbers may not jump off the page (87.6 Passer Rating, 2079 Yards and 15 TD) but if the Giants go, say 14-2 playing in what some consider the toughest division in football, Eli is going to get a serious push.

4) Kerry Collins: If the Titans continue on their incredible march to say, 14 or 15 wins (or dare I say 16?) then Kerry could get serious consideration as well. He is nowhere near the most important cog for the Titans, but writers love their quarterbacks and their running backs for the MVP Award (every MVP has been one or the other every year since 1986 when LT won it), and so Kerry, another terrific story could get consideration, though I don't think his numbers will be good enough to actually win the thing.

5) Matt Ryan: I know, it's never gonna happen that a rookie wins the MVP. Quite true, but if the Falcons somehow get into the playoffs (which I don't think happens by the way), then you can bet that Ryan will sneak into the top 5 or 6 or so of the final balloting. Again, it's the QB thing, and he has been an unbelievably good rookie QB.

6)Adrian Peterson: Peterson, along with the next name down on the list, has been the best running back in football this year, and if the Vikings can muscle their way into a division title and a postseason birth, Peterson will get some consideration for this award. The issue, as is the same below, is that runners typically only get this award when their statistics are eye-poppingly good. While Peterson is on pace to go for over 1700 yards, he has just 7 touchdown runs on the season, and those numbers likely won't be good enough to make serious noise in this race.

7) Clinton Portis: Portis is the key cog for a surprising Washington Redskins squad. The Skins look poised for a potential wildcard run, and if Portis either wins or finishes a close second in the rushing title while this is going on, expect him to get some consideration.

8) Larry Fitzgerald: Few people know it, but Larry Fitz, our beloved former Pitt super-duper-star, has transformed into the best receiver in football, at least in this guy's mind. And it's quite possible that Anquan Boldin is the second best receiver in football, making for one incredible 1-2 punch out in the desert. The writers would never allow a wideout to win this award, though.

9) Albert Haynesworth- The best defensive tackle in football. He is an unbelievably disruptive force and is the heart and soul of the last unbeaten team in football, a team that is driven by a ridiculously tough defense. If the Titans get to 14 or 15 wins, he will get a serious push to recognize all that he has done.

10) Kris Jenkins- Only because Peter King seems to think he belongs in the conversation.

11) Joey Porter- Someone from the 'Fins incredible season deserves some consideration for this award, and with an astounding 13.5 sacks, Porter gets the nod. He has become more of a pass rush specialist then he ever was in Pittsburgh, hence the career high sacks. I hope he tails off some, though, because while there is no question, at least in my mind, that our beloved Jimmy Harrison is the better all-around player, but there is no way he gets serious consideration for the MVP if he doesn't at least lead the league in the one shiny defensive stat, sacks.

12) Brandon Jacobs- I wanted to make this a reasonably even number, and a dozen other candidates sounded nice to me, so I went back and added Jacobs to the list. He has turned into the best big back in football since Jerome Bettis was in his heyday several years ago. He also has 11 TD's, a league high, which could help bolster him.

With all of this in mind, here are the percentages I'm going to assign to this Dirty Baker's Dozen of MVP candidates (including Silverback, of course):

Kurt Warner 27%
Peyton Manning 18%
Albert Haynesworth 10%
Matt Ryan 9%
Adrian Peterson 9%
Kris Jenkins 7%
Clinton Portis 5%
Eli Manning 4%
James Harrison 4%
Kerry Collins 3%
Larry Fitzgerald 1%
Joey Porter 2%
Brandon Jacobs 1%

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