The NFL’s MVP Award has been around since 1957. In that time, fullbacks have won the award four times. Two defensive players have been given the honor, and even a kicker has taken home the hardware. Zero pass catchers have won the award though, and for the most part, none have gotten particularly close.
Cooper Kupp put up one of the greatest receiving seasons of all-time in 2021 and only mustered one vote. Jerry Rice finished second in voting in 1995, but still fell 59 votes short of Brett Favre. He received 15 votes in 1993, and finished third in voting, behind his quarterback Steve Young as well as Emmitt Smith. The closest Rice got though was in 1987 when he recorded 22 touchdowns in just 12 games. Still, Rice finished six votes shy of John Elway.
The disrespect to pass-catchers has been immeasurable, but in 2022, Vikings’ third-year receiver Justin Jefferson has a chance to end the discrimination once and for all, and I think he’s got a pretty decent shot.
As of right now, according to OddsChecker spokesperson Kyle Newman, Jefferson is being given +15000 odds to win the MVP this year. That ties him with superstars Jared Goff and Sam Darnold, as well as some other notable non-QBs like Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey. However, those odds still seem extremely low given the circumstances Jefferson finds himself in.
The Vikings did away with Mike Zimmer during the offseason, and replaced him with former Rams’ offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, the same Kevin O’Connell who orchestrated Kupp’s massive 2021 breakout season. However, Jefferson is arguably a better fit for O’Connell’s offense than Kupp was. Both receivers do a lot of work from the slot. Jefferson lined up in the slot on nearly 20 percent of his snaps in 2021. That’s a ways off from Kupp’s usage last year (52.4 percent), but if O’Connell wants his offense to look anything like the Rams’ did in 2021, we can expect a significant uptick in Jefferson’s slot percentage next season. Second, Jefferson would only need to see a four percent increase in target share to match Kupp’s mark from last season. That’s not an unthinkable figure.
Furthermore, where Kupp had to compete for targets with guys like Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. last season, the main competitor for Jefferson in 2022 will be 32-year-old Adam Thielen. Thielen is coming off one of the least productive seasons of his career (in terms of yardage), and his touchdown rate (10 TDs on 67 receptions) is unsustainable. Those touchdown passes have to go somewhere, and even with the return of Irv Smith Jr., Jefferson is far and away the most reliable option for Cousins, just as Kupp was the most reliable option for Stafford.
Now, you might be thinking: “Sure, but Stafford is a much better quarterback than Cousins.” Correct. Kupp also didn’t have to face Jaire Alexander twice last year. I’m not expecting Jefferson to take as massive a leap as Kupp did. Kupp recorded career-bests in every major receiving category. He increased his reception total by 54 percent (94 to 125). He bettered his career-best yardage total by 67.7 percent (1161 to 1947). He increased his touchdowns by 60 percent (10 to 16). I’m not expecting that monumental a leap in every category, but if I’m being generous and divide each of those percentages in half, that would still give Jefferson a line of 137 receptions, 2244 yards, and 13 touchdowns. I don’t care how stubborn a voter you are, breaking the all-time receiving yards record by nearly 250 yards is going to get you some MVP hype. The receptions and touchdowns could be better, but like I said, I was being generous with those percentages. If O’Connell decides to use Jefferson anything like how he used Kupp last season, those numbers could be much greater.
Lastly, the MVP award voters often give an edge to playoff teams. If you’re that good, why can’t your team make it to the playoffs? I’m not saying the Vikings are a guaranteed playoff team, but their division is one of the weakest in football with both the Lions and Bears projected to be near the top of the draft next April. Plus, the Packers lost Davante Adams. We don’t know how that offense is going to look. All that amounts to the Vikings probably doing better than they did last year when they missed the playoffs by two games. The Cardinals will probably be worse. The Cowboys will probably be worse. The 49ers are a question mark until we see Trey Lance do well. There are several reasons to believe the Vikings will reach the postseason. Will they go 16-1 like Colin Cowherd predicted? No.
But there’s no reason to think the Vikings can’t go 11-6 or 12-5 and secure the NFC’s second or third seed.
Obviously, the MVP is a quarterback’s award to lose. Brady, Mahomes, Allen, Herbert, and Rodgers (even without Adams) are all the clear-cut favorites to win the award. While you might think that a monumental rise from Jefferson would only give voters more of a reason to vote for Cousins, keep in mind that Stafford didn’t get any votes last season. Kupp did though.
At +15000 odds, Jefferson might be one of the sneakiest MVP picks this year. Those odds are insane, especially when you consider that Cousins is being listed at +4000. It would take a massive push, but if any receiver can finally break the curse, it’s going to be Jefferson.