Why Gurley must do something historic to win league MVP
Halfway through the season there are three frontrunners for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award -- quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees and running back Todd Gurley.
None has been an MVP before, though Gurley was close a year ago. He finished second to the Patriots' Tom Brady and was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year.
One year later he leads the NFL in touchdowns and is on a pace to threaten LaDainian Tomlinson's single-season record -- which, quite frankly, he probably must if he's to beat Mahomes and Brees to the finish line.
And there's a simple reason: If you're a running back and hope to win the league MVP, you absolutely, positively must do something more than dazzle to get there.
You must be historic.
Look at the recent history of the award, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Fifteen of the last 18 MVP recipients were quarterbacks. The other three were running backs.
OK, so far, so good.
Now, let's dive a little deeper into those numbers. The three backs were the Seahawks' Shaun Alexander in 2005, the Chargers' Tomlinson in 2006 and the Vikings' Adrian Peterson in 2012. Alexander set a single-season record for touchdowns, which was broken a year later by Tomlinson, who also set the mark for most rushing TDs. And while Peterson didn't establish a league benchmark, he came close in 2012 -- finishing just eight yards behind Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards to carry Minnesota into the playoffs.
It was the closest anyone has come to Dickerson since he set the record in 1984.
So there's a common thread, and it's this: All made history. Which is precisely what Gurley must do if he's going to follow them.
But even then, it might not be enough. In 2003, Kansas City's Priest Holmes set a single-season rushing record with 27 scores and didn't win the award. Neither did Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, who ran for 2,066 yards that year, then the closest single-season figure to Dickerson.
Lewis was fourth in the voting; Holmes fifth.
So who was the league MVP? There were two: Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Steve McNair. There's a reason they call it the most important position, people.
For Gurley to gain the attention of voters, it won't be enough for the Rams to reach the playoffs. Heck, most people a month ago knew they were a lock to win their division. Plus, they did it last year. Nor will it be enough for him to lead the league in touchdowns and scrimmage yards. Did that last year, too.
Nope, he must challenge Tomlinson's record. In fact, I dare say he must break it to have a chance … especially with Mahomes on a record-setting pace of his own.
It's no secret that the MVP voting is skewed toward quarterbacks, mostly because the entire NFL is skewed toward quarterbacks. It's a passing league, and the award reflects that. But when a quarterback sets a single-season touchdown record? Forget it. Time to get the check.
Manning did it in 2013, breaking Tom Brady's record set in 2007. And Brady did it in 2007, breaking Manning's record set in 2004 ... which, in turn, broke Dan Marino's record set in 1984.
OK, now guess what all of them had in common? If you said, "League MVP," go to the head of the class. Because that's exactly what happened. But what's more interesting is that Marino won it in a year when Dickerson established a rushing record that hasn't been broken in 34 years.
Yet he didn't win the award. A quarterback did.
There's a lesson there, and the lesson is this: Maybe the odds are simply too steep for Todd Gurley ... or any running back … to win in today's passing game. Because if Mahomes challenges Manning's record of 55 TDs in one year … and he's on schedule to end up with 52 … Gurley is probably cooked, no matter what he does.
It happened to Dickerson. It could happen to him.
Until or unless Todd Gurley makes history, most of the attention will be directed toward a quarterback … and most of the attention already has.