Of the 500 votes that've been cast for AP NFL MVP over the last 10 seasons, 439.5 (88 percent) have gone to quarterbacks. And that includes 2012, the year in which Adrian Peterson became the last non-quarterback to win NFL MVP.
Since Peterson won it in 2012, only one non-quarterback – Texans defensive end JJ Watt – has received 10 or more votes (Watt had 13 in 2014). The last non-quarterback to earn an MVP vote was Rams running back Todd Gurley back in 2017.
The narrative that only quarterbacks should be considered for NFL MVP has hardened over the last five or so years. It would take an absolutely extraordinary season for someone other than a quarterback to be considered by the national pool of MVP voters for the award.
Enter Jonathan Taylor in 2021.
"I've never seen anything like it with my own two eyes," running back Nyheim Hines said.
That a debate has even bubbled up around Taylor's MVP candidacy is a testament to the remarkable impact he's had on the Colts, who enter Week 18 one win away from clinching a spot in the playoffs. And as Taylor enters his final regular season game of his second year in the NFL, he does so with a legitimate case to not just earn a few votes, but be a real contender for the award with some of the league's best, most legendary quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
1. He isn't just leading the league in rushing.
Taylor enters Week 18 with a league-best 1,734 rushing yards, which is 529 more than gained by Joe Mixon, who's second with 1,205 rushing yards. The gap between Taylor at No. 1 and Mixon at No. 2 is about the same as the gap between Mixon at No. 2 and Darrell Henderson at No. 29 (688 yards).
As things stand heading into Week 18, that 529-yard gap is the largest between the NFL's No. 1 and No. 2 rushers since 2009, when the Titans' Chris Johnson led the league with 590 more yards than the Rams' Steven Jackson. Johnson is the only player since 1980 to lead the league in rushing by 500 or more yards; Taylor could become the second.
Mixon, who's on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, may not play in Week 18. So that would leave the Browns' Nick Chubb (1,201 yards) as the most likely guy to finish second in the NFL in rushing as long as he plays this weekend.
Taylor, too, leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,076, 247 more than the Rams' Cooper Kupp) and total touchdowns (20, two more than the Chargers' Austin Ekeler). Taylor's 20 touchdowns represent only the 31st time in NFL history a player has had 20+ total touchdowns in a single season.
The 22-year-old Taylor is the youngest player in NFL history to have 2,000+ yards from scrimmage and 20+ total touchdowns in a season.
2. No player has been more impactful in setting the tone for an offense than Taylor.
The Colts have given the ball to Taylor 173 times on first down, with their star running back gaining 1,020 yards on those carries. More importantly: Taylor is averaging 5.9 yards per carry on first down, most in the NFL among backs with 100 or more carries on first down.
That average of 5.9 yards per play is higher than nine teams are averaging when passing on first down. Taylor has picked up 34 first downs when running the ball on first down, nine more than any other player and the most in the NFL since 2016; his 12 touchdowns on first down lead the league, too.
Not many teams are able to consistently keep their offense ahead of the chains and on schedule by being physical and running the ball. The Colts are.
"I think it just helps overall, especially for the quarterback of not being in tough situations," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "Everybody knows it's hard to convert on third-and-long. That's a tough situation for a quarterback and an offense. So, when we're able to be productive on first and second down like that, it just keeps us out of those situations, able to move the chains and kind of stay on schedule. It opens up the playbook a little bit more. It may limit some of their exotic pressures and that aspect of it. We've just got to be able to continue doing that."
And a bonus fun fact here: If Taylor has one more game with at least 100 rushing yards and at least one rushing touchdown, it'd give him 10 such games this season. Only three other player have ever had 10 or more of those games in a single season: Dallas' Emmitt Smith (11, 1995), Seattle's Shaun Alexander (11, 2005) and Atlanta's Jamal Anderson (10,1998). All three of those players' teams made it to the Super Bowl.
3. Speaking of first downs...
Taylor has 104 rushing first downs, an incredible 43 more than the player with the next-highest total (Pittsburgh's Najee Harris). He's the first player since Seattle's Shaun Alexander in 2005 to have 100 or more rushing first downs in a season – and Alexander, by the way, won MVP that year.
4. He's been incredibly explosive, too.
It's not like Taylor is some short-yardage/goal-line back who's great for three yards and a cloud of dust when his team needs two yards to move the chains or get in the end zone. Taylor leads the NFL in:
- Rushes of 10+ yards (48, nine more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 20+ yards (13, two more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 30+ yards (8, three more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 40+ yards (5, three more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 50+ yards (3, one more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 60+ yards (3, one more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 70+ yards (2, one more than anyone else)
- Rushes of 80+ yards (1, more than anyone else)
5. He's already set two new franchise records and could add some more on Sunday.
Taylor broke Edgerrin James' single-season franchise rushing record of 1,709 yards in Week 17, and he surpassed Lenny Moore's Colts record with his 17th rushing touchdown on his heroic 67-yard score in Week 15 against the New England Patriots.
Taylor needs one touchdown in Week 18 to set a new franchise record for most total touchdowns in a season, too – his 20 touchdowns currently are tied with Moore for the most in Colts history.
Also: Taylor enters Week 18 averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, which would be in line to set a new Colts franchise record for players with a minimum of 200 rushing attempts. The previous record holder? Taylor, with an average of 5.0 yards per carry last season.
And Taylor has an outside chance of setting a new Colts record for most yards from scrimmage – he's 228 yards away from breaking James' record 2,303 set in 2000.