A quarterback will almost certainly capture this year’s MVP award. That's been the outcome for eight consecutive seasons and there's little to no reason to think it will change in 2021. Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers is largely considered the favorite, as his surging Packers own the league's best record and appear to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The likes of Josh Allen, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes also serve as strong candidates. This year has delivered parity in abundance, and a pair of non-quarterbacks deserve strong shouts, even if their chances of winning the league's most prestigious individual award are slim.
If we imagined a world where a non-quarterback received a fair shake in the race, it would come down to two very explosive and dynamic skill players: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp and Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor.
Kupp was outstanding in Tuesday's victory over the Seattle Seahawks, securing nine receptions for an astounding 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Kupp currently leads all receivers in receptions (122), yards (1,625), and touchdowns (14). Minnesota's Justin Jefferson, who finds himself in second place in receiving yards, is a healthy 290 yards away (1,335) from equaling Kupp's totals. It puts Kupp’s ridiculous season in perspective.
Taylor is experiencing a special breakout campaign in his own right. The former Wisconsin standout has compiled a league-leading 1,518 rushing yards through 14 games. His astonishing 5.6 yards per carry on a healthy 270 attempts is an accurate representation of how dominant he's been throughout 2021. Taylor also leads all running backs with 17 touchdowns. The league's second-leading rusher is Cincinnati's Joe Mixon, who is 424 yards away (1,094) from tying Taylor for the league lead.
Choosing between these two trailblazers for a metaphorical non-QB MVP award is a difficult exercise, but we lean with Kupp for various reasons. While Taylor is undeniably experiencing an excellent campaign, it's hardly historic. Taylor is on pace to finish the season with 1,836 rushing yards, which would fall well short of the 2,000-yard mark we've seen several running backs reach in a 16 game season, versus the 17-game schedule Taylor now benefits from playing. Taylor should and probably will be a strong candidate for Offensive Player of the Year, but MVP is a different story altogether.
What Kupp is currently achieving feels truly special and that sets him apart in this head-to-head debate. Kupp enters the final three games of the regular season just 339 yards away from surpassing Calvin Johnson's all-time single-season receiving yards record (1,964). Kupp must average 113 yards per game to achieve such a feat, but it doesn't feel so far-fetched when you realize he's surpassed 113 yards in eight of 14 games this season, including his latest three appearances. Johnson's record isn't the only all-time receiving record Kupp is threatening to shatter. The former Eastern Washington receiver is now just 27 receptions away from equaling Michael Thomas' all-time single-season receptions record (149). Kupp will have to average nine catches per game over his final three to equal Thomas' record, and guess what? He's totaled nine or more receptions in eight games this year, including his last two.
We'd be biased to not point out that like Taylor, Kupp is also undeniably benefiting from the league's new 17-game schedule as he pursues a pair of historic receiving records. But at least Kupp is indeed threatening to achieve something truly historic in 2021. It's that fact that sets him apart from Taylor and gives him the leg up in any non-quarterback MVP conversation.