What Total Points Tells Us About This Season’s MVP Race

As we enter the last quarter of the season, playoff scenarios become much more defined and awards discussions pick up. The MVP conversation, in particular, is an interesting one because the favorite has changed a few times over the last month and a half. According to Westgate, four different players have at least been tied as the favorite since mid-October — Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson. And for the first time since early October, we had an odds-on favorite in Jackson after Baltimore’s dominant win over the Rams last week.

Without getting into the subjective question of “value” as it relates to team quality, let’s see how the race shakes out through the lens of Sports Info Solutions’ (SIS) Total Points system. This system (described in detail here) takes dozens of charting data points and combines them with the Expected Points Added framework to evaluate each player, and then scales each player’s contribution to map to points scored across the league. It’s not a definitive answer to the MVP question but it provides a compelling statistical input.

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(For those comparing these numbers to the mid-season leaders, please note SIS updated the calculation this past week.)

Total Points Leaders Through Week 13 

PlayerTotal PointsMVP Odds as of 12/5
Aaron Rodgers842500
Lamar Jackson77-400
Dak Prescott773000
Kirk Cousins666000
Patrick Mahomes632500
Russell Wilson60350

While we might also consider Christian McCaffrey as a down-ballot candidate, it really only makes sense to consider a non-quarterback offensive player if passers as a whole are having a down year and the skill player of interest is having an all-time season. Since that’s not the situation we’re in, this list of quarterbacks will do.

Why Isn’t Lamar Jackson First?

The current favorite, Lamar Jackson, actually finds himself tied for second on the Total Points Leaderboard. His 22 Rushing Total Points Earned (which includes scrambles) pace the position by a mile and would also lead all running backs. He’s broken or eluded 30 tackles per 100 attempts, fourth-most among players with at least 30 carries. 

To go with his elite rushing ability, Jackson ranks sixth in Passing Total Points Earned. After an intriguing 2018 campaign, Jackson’s passing ability has improved substantially in his second year, especially on intermediate throws. His Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR, an SIS statistic that takes Passer Rating and adjusts for things like drops and throwaways to better measure throwing ability) on throws between 10 and 19 yards ranked last in the NFL last season (min. 150 total attempts). He ranks first this season.

So with all that, why isn’t Jackson leading in Total Points? Part of it is just a lack of volume. Because of the inefficient nature of running the ball overall, it is harder to rack up Total Points on the ground than it is through the air. With about a hundred fewer passing attempts than Rodgers, Jackson has an uphill climb, even with the dominant rushing performance and highly efficient passing.

Additionally, a lot of his not being atop the list has to do with his teammates. Jackson has benefited from an offensive line that has blown only nine blocks per 100 plays on designed passes, which is the best rate in the league. Because Total Points is a division-of-credit metric and there is only so much value to go around on a given play, Jackson has conceded a handful of points to his offensive line. Ravens pass-catchers have also only dropped only 17 passes, fifth-fewest in the NFL. Jackson has gained only 11 Total Points on plays with a dropped pass, a good chunk below Rodgers and Prescott who have both earned 20 points on such plays.

Why Rodgers over Prescott?

Aaron Rodgers has a small lead on the field at the moment. That seems odd on its face, because he’s 700 yards behind Dak Prescott, has fewer touchdowns than Prescott, Jackson, and Kirk Cousins, and doesn’t have a meaningful rushing contribution.

His main differentiator from Prescott, in particular, is his lack of interceptions and interceptable passes. Rodgers loses less than a point from his two interceptions because they both bounced off receivers’ hands, while Prescott has lost himself 30 points on plays where he was intercepted. Beyond that, Prescott has eight dropped interceptions, which ties him for third behind Jameis Winston (12) and Kyle Allen (11). In sum, Prescott loses 43 more points than Rodgers does on interceptions and dropped interceptions alone.

What About the Others?

Kirk Cousins hasn’t received much consideration at all for the award, but he’s quietly having a very strong season. He is the only quarterback to rank in the top five in IQR on short, intermediate, and deep passes. However, he plays in a conservative attack—he’s 19th in pass attempts and 24th in average depth of target—which definitely detracts from his candidacy, particularly because the Vikings have had Dalvin Cook tearing up defenses from the backfield. 

Patrick Mahomes looked like he was replicating his historic 2018 campaign for a while, but an injury and a more pedestrian pace will keep him out of the running barring a dramatic turn of events. He’s averaging 20 fewer yards and one fewer touchdown per game than he did last season, which basically just puts him in mortal territory.

Russell Wilson was a frontrunner a few weeks ago, but his performance has tapered off in recent weeks. He’s at essentially the same total he was after Week 9. Overall, he has still been possibly the most efficient pure passer in the league. His IQR of 125 is the best in the NFL, which partially owes to his not having any potential interceptions dropped. He has 34 Total Points Earned on deep pass attempts, by far the most in the league. However, relatively low volume and a bunch of sacks deter from his value.

Third Quarter Pole All-Total Points Team

As we’ve done at each of the quarter poles this season, here are the best of the best at each position according to Total Points. All of these numbers (and those of every other player in the league) can be found at SISDataHub.com.

All-Total Points Offense

PositionPlayerTeamTotal Points Earned
QBAaron RodgersPackers84
RBChristian McCaffreyPanthers42
WRChris GodwinBuccaneers56
WRJarvis LandryBrowns43
WRMichael ThomasSaints40
TETravis KelceChiefs41
LTAndrew WhitworthRams32
LGJoe ThuneyPatriots27
CAustin ReiterChiefs24
RGMarshall YandaRavens27
RTOrlando Brown Jr.Ravens32

All-Total Points Defense

PositionPlayerTeamTotal Points Earned
DENick Bosa49ers33
DEJoey BosaChargers30
DTAaron DonaldRams28
OLBShaquil BarrettBuccaneers44
OLBT.J. WattSteelers42
ILBLavonte DavidBuccaneers39
ILBJamie CollinsPatriots36
CBTre’Davious WhiteBills40
CBMarlon HumphreyRavens31
SKevin ByardTitans31
SJustin SimmonsBroncos29

All-Total Points Specialists

PositionPlayerTeamTotal Points
KJustin TuckerRavens21
PBrett KernTitans16