25 of the Best NFL MVP Winners of All-Time

25 of the Best NFL MVP Winners of All-Time

The best NFL MVPs are known for having some of the best seasons ever witnessed in the history of football. They didn’t always go on to win the Super Bowl and they weren’t always on the best team in the league, but that’s not what the Most Valuable Player award is about. 

The MVP award debuted in 1957 and has been presented by the Associated Press (AP) every year since. At the regular season’s end, the AP selects a group of 50 prominent and unbiased sportswriters to vote on that year’s MVP. The winner isn’t announced until after the Super Bowl.

Since 2011, the Associated Press stepped their game up with the addition of the annual NFL Honors ceremony – where some of the best NFL MVPs have been presented their trophy. They also present their other year-end awards, including Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year.

RELATED: 25 NFL Memes to Give You a Good Laugh

Who Are the Best NFL MVP Winners of All-Time?

25 of the Best NFL MVP Winners of All-Time
Brad Sauter / Shutterstock

The NFL MVP award is one of the most coveted and prestigious regular season awards an NFL player can receive. It strictly means no other player was more valuable to their team. They exemplified what it means to contribute to a team’s success and they did it better than anyone.

As of 2021, only 48 players have ever won the award. Of those 48 players, 29 of them were quarterbacks, 16 were running backs, and there was one kicker, linebacker, and defensive tackle. No receiver, cornerback, safety, punter, or offensive lineman has ever won the award.

Even more impressive are the nine players that won the award multiple times – three players won it twice, five players won it three times, and one player won it five times. Each of those nine players are found on our list of the best NFL MVP winners of all-time – let’s see who they are!

25. Steve McNair

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 2003

MVP Season Stats: 14 games, 10-4 record, 3,215 yards, 28 total touchdowns, 7 interceptions

Steve McNair won the MVP award in 2003 when he tied with Peyton Manning in the overall voting. It was McNair’s ninth year in the league and he led the Tennessee Titans to a 10-4 record. He led the league in yards per attempt, yards per completion, and quarterback rating.

24. Barry Sanders

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1997

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 2,053 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 33 receptions, 305 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns

Barry Sanders won the MVP award in 1997 with the Detroit Lions, his ninth and second-to-last season in the league. He set a career-high with 2,053 rushing yards and 2,358 scrimmage yards with the Raiders, leading the league in both categories. He retired after the ‘98 season.

23. Thurman Thomas

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1991

MVP Season Stats: 15 games, 1,407 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 62 receptions, 631 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns

Thurman Thomas won the MVP award in 1991 with the Buffalo Bills, his fourth season in the NFL. While he didn’t lead the league in rushing yards or touchdowns, he did lead the league in scrimmage yards thanks to his 631 receiving yards. He also led the NFL in yards per attempt.

22. Marcus Allen

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1985

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 1,759 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 67 receptions, 555 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns

Marcus Allen won the MVP award in 1985 with the Los Angeles Raiders, his fourth year in the league. He led the league in rushing yards and scrimmage yards, setting career-highs in both categories. He rushed for nearly 600 yards more than any of his other seasons in the NFL.

21. Earl Campbell

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1979

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 1,697 rushing yards, 19 rushing touchdowns, 16 receptions, 94 receiving yards

Earl Campbell won the MVP award in 1979 with the Houston Oilers, his second year in the NFL. He led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, setting a career-high in the latter. He went on to rush for over 1,900 yards the following season, but failed to repeat as MVP.

20. Marshall Faulk

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 2000

MVP Season Stats: 14 games, 1,359 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 81 receptions, 830 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns

Marshall Faulk won the MVP award in 2000 with the St. Louis Rams, his seventh year in the NFL. He led the league in rushing touchdowns, rushing yards per attempt, and rushing/receiving touchdowns. His 26 rushing and receiving touchdowns by a single player ranks fourth all-time. 

19. Alan Page

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1971

MVP Season Stats: 14 games, 9.0 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 safeties

To this day, Alan Page is the only defensive lineman and one of two defensive players to win MVP. He won the MVP award in 1971 after recording 9.0 sacks, 2 safeties, and 3 fumble recoveries. He had an even better year in 1970 with 10.5 sacks and 7 fumble recoveries. 

18. Adrian Peterson

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 2012

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 2,097 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 40 receptions, 217 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Adrian Peterson won the MVP award in 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings, his sixth season in the league. He came just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. Peterson led the league in rushing yards and scrimmage yards. 

17. O.J. Simpson

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1973

MVP Season Stats: 14 games, 2,003 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 6 receptions, 70 receiving yards

O.J. Simpson won the MVP award in 1973 with the Buffalo Bills, his fifth season in the league. It was the year he became the first player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. He led the league in rushes, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and longest rushing touchdown in 1973.

16. Walter Payton

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1977

MVP Season Stats: 14 games, 1,852 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 27 receptions, 269 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

Walter Payton won the MVP award in 1977 with the Chicago Bears, his third season in the NFL. He led the league in rushes, rushing yards, yards per attempt, rushing touchdowns, and scrimmage yards. He set a career-high with 1,852 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

15. Shaun Alexander

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 2005

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 1,880 rushing yards, 27 rushing touchdowns, 15 receptions, 78 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Shaun Alexander won the MVP award in 2005 with the Seattle Seahawks, his sixth season in the league. He ran for a then-record 27 rushing touchdowns and also led the league in rushes and rushing yards. It was his fifth consecutive and final season with more than 1,000 yards. 

14. Lawrence Taylor

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1986

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 20.5 sacks

Lawrence Taylor won the MVP award in 1986 with the New York Giants, his sixth season in the NFL. He posted a league-leading 20.5 sacks en route to being the first linebacker to win MVP and the second defensive player to win the award all-time, joining Alan Page (#19 on this list).

13. Terrell Davis

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1998

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 2,008 rushing yards, 21 rushing touchdowns, 25 receptions, 217 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

Terrell Davis won the MVP award in 1998 with the Denver Broncos, his fourth season in the league. He led all players in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per attempt. Only nine other players have rushed for more than 20 touchdowns and only eight had 2,000+ yards.

12. Emmitt Smith

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1993

MVP Season Stats: 14 games, 1,486 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 57 receptions, 414 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Emmitt Smith won the MVP award in 1993 with the Dallas Cowboys, his fourth season in the NFL. He led the league in rushing yards, yards per attempt, and scrimmage yards, despite holding out the first two games of the season. He currently has the most rushing yards all-time.

11. LaDainian Tomlinson

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 2006

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 1,815 rushing yards, 28 rushing touchdowns, 56 receptions, 508 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns

LaDainian Tomlinson won the MVP award in 2006 with the San Diego Chargers, his sixth season in the league. He became the first and only player to record more than 30 rushing and receiving touchdowns in a single season and set another record with 28 rushing touchdowns. 

10. Dan Marino

# of MVPs: 1

Years Won: 1984

MVP Season Stats: 16 games, 14-2 record, 5,084 passing yards, 64.2% completion percentage, 48 touchdowns, 17 interceptions

Dan Marino won the MVP award in 1984 with the Miami Dolphins, just his second year in the NFL. He led the league in completions, yards, touchdowns, and quarterback rating. He led his team to a 14-2 record and would go on to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. 

9. Kurt Warner

# of MVPs: 2

Years Won: 1999, 2001

Best MVP Season: 1999 (16 games, 13-3 record, 4,353 yards, 65.1% completion percentage, 42 total touchdowns, 13 interceptions)

Kurt Warner won the MVP award in 1999 and 2001, both with the St. Louis Rams. His first award came in his second season (first as a starter). In 2001, he threw for a career-high 4,830 yards and 68.7% completion percentage. He also added 36 passing touchdowns that season. 

8. Steve Young

# of MVPs: 2

Years Won: 1992, 1994

Best MVP Season: 1994 (16 games, 13-3 record, 3,969 yards, 70.3% completion percentage, 42 total touchdowns, 10 interceptions)

Steve Young won the MVP award in 1992 and 1994, both with the San Francisco 49ers. When he won the award in 1994, it was the fourth time a 49ers’ quarterback had won the award in the past six years – in large part thanks to Jerry Rice. Young went 27-5 across both MVP seasons. 

7. Joe Montana

# of MVPs: 2

Years Won: 1989, 1990

Best MVP Season: 1989 (13 games, 11-2 record, 3,521 yards, 70.2% completion percentage, 29 total touchdowns, 8 interceptions)

Before Steve Young won his two MVPs with the 49ers, Joe Montana won back-to-back MVPs in 1989 and 1990. He only played in 13 games in 1989 and went 25-3 across both MVP seasons. He was operating at his peak, despite failing to amass 4,000 yards in either season.

6. Jim Brown

# of MVPs: 3

Years Won: 1957, 1958, 1965

Best MVP Season: 1958 (12 games, 1,527 rushing yards, 17 rushing touchdowns, 16 receptions, 138 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown)

Jim Brown won the MVP award in 1957, 1958, and 1965, all three with the Cleveland Browns. He was the inaugural MVP winner when the award began and is just one of four players to win in consecutive years. He’s the only player to win the award in their final season in the league. 

5. Johnny Unitas

# of MVPs: 3

Years Won: 1959, 1964, 1967

Best MVP Season: 1959 (12 games, 9-3 record, 2,899 yards, 52.6% completion percentage, 34 total touchdowns, 14 interceptions)

Johnny Unitas won the MVP award in 1959, 1964, and 1967, all three with the Baltimore Colts. He won it for the first time just four years into his career and went 32-6-2 across his three MVP seasons. He also passed for 71 touchdowns in those three years, including 32 in 1959. 

4. Brett Favre

# of MVPs: 3

Years Won: 1995, 1996, 1997

Best MVP Season: 1995 (16 games, 11-5 record, 4,413 yards, 63.0% completion percentage, 41 total touchdowns, 13 interceptions)

Brett Favre won the MVP award in 1995, 1996, and 1997, all three with the Green Bay Packers. He’s the only player to win the award three consecutive years in a row. He went 37-11 in that span, throwing for 112 touchdowns and leading the league in touchdowns all three years. 

3. Aaron Rodgers

# of MVPs: 3

Years Won: 2011, 2014, 2020

Best MVP Season: 2011 (15 games, 14-1 record, 4,643 yards, 68.3% completion percentage, 48 total touchdowns, 6 interceptions)

Aaron Rodgers won the MVP award in 2011, 2014, and 2020, all three with the Green Bay Packers. He’s the most recent winner and could very well win at least one more by the time he retires. He went 39-8 across his three MVP seasons, throwing for 131 touchdowns in that span.

2. Tom Brady

# of MVPs: 3

Years Won: 2007, 2010, 2017

Best MVP Season: 2007 (16 games, 16-0 record, 4,806 yards, 68.9% completion percentage, 52 total touchdowns, 8 interceptions)

Tom Brady won the MVP award in 2007, 2010, and 2017, all three with the New England Patriots. He’s just one of two players to win the award 10 years apart and could become the second player to win the award with two different teams. He went 43-5 in his MVP seasons.

1. Peyton Manning

# of MVPs: 5

Years Won: 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013

Best MVP Season: 2013 (16 games, 13-3 record, 5,477 yards, 68.3% completion percentage, 56 total touchdowns, 10 interceptions)

Peyton Manning is the best NFL MVP of all-time. He has won the award a record five times and is the first player to win it back-to-back twice in their career. Along with Brady, he won the award 10 years apart. He’s also the only player to ever win the award with two different teams. 

Which NFL MVPs Didn’t We Mention Above?

The 25 NFL MVP winners listed above will forever be remembered for their season-long dominance – some of them multiple times. With that said, there were 23 players that we didn’t get to mention and they deserve to be credited with their impressive accomplishment. 

Other NFL MVP winners include Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Rich Gannon, Boomer Esiason, John Elway, Joe Theismann, Mark Moseley, Ken Anderson, Brian Snipe, Bert Jones, Fran Tarkenton, Ken Stabler, Larry Brown, Jim Taylor, Roman Gabriel, Earl Morall, Bart Starr, Y.A. Tittle, Paul Hournung, and Norm Van Brocklin

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 25 of the Best Kickers in the NFL in 2021

There are also several players that we fully expect to win at least one MVP award in the near future. Some of those players include Derrick Henry, Josh Allen, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Justin Herbert, Stefon Diggs, Jonathan Taylor, Kyler Murray, T.J. Watt, and more.

About At The Buzzer

At The Buzzer, or ATB is the place for those who love sports, life, family, community, and so much more. We are far from the run-of-the-mill 24/7 sports news websites. We not only bring you what’s happening in the world of sports in terms of trades and breaking news, but we also bring you the news that goes on behind the scenes, like big life moments, and so much more. So take a minute and read one of our articles, we promise you won't regret it.