20 of the Best NFL MVPs Over the Years

20 of the Best NFL MVPs Over the Years

The AP Most Valuable Player Award is one of the most coveted awards in all of football, so you can only imagine the type of season the best NFL MVPs had. Winning the MVP award is one thing, but have you ever wondered how the MVPs over the years stack up against one another? 

The MVP award is distributed by the Associated Press, which hand selects a group of 50 sportswriters, journalists, and analysts that vote on the winner every single year. The award is then handed out at the NFL Honors ceremony, which is held the night before the Super Bowl. 

While winning a Super Bowl ring is arguably the ultimate prize in football, winning the MVP award is the highest individual honor a player can receive. It’s a testament to their performance on the field and shows that they go above and beyond to put their team in a position to win.

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Who Are the Best NFL MVPs of All-Time?

20 of the Best NFL MVPs Over the Years
MPH Photos / Shutterstock

The first Associated Press Most Valuable Player Award was handed out in 1957 to a man named Jim Brown. Since then, the award has been handed out 66 times to 48 different players. Nine of those players won the award more than once and only four won it at least three times.

What’s even more incredible is the fact that only five people have won the award back-to-back – including Aaron Rodgers, who achieved that feat this past season when he won his fourth MVP award. Even with that award on his resume, he still doesn’t have the most MVPs of all-time. 

In an effort to reminisce about what used to be, we’re going to take a look back at some of the best NFL MVPs of all-time. Ability to win the award multiple times will be prioritized, so those nine players will be found near the bottom of this list. The rest will be decided by performance.

20. Patrick Mahomes – 2018

Patrick Mahomes won the MVP award in 2018 with the Kansas City Chiefs. In what was his first year as a starting quarterback, he led the Chiefs to a 14-2 record and threw for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He added 272 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Mahomes is currently entering his sixth season in the league – fifth as starting quarterback for the Chiefs. He has accumulated 18,991 yards, 151 touchdowns, and just 37 touchdowns in his career. He’s a four-time Pro Bowl honoree, Super Bowl winner, and Super Bowl MVP winner.

19. Adrian Peterson – 2012

Adrian Peterson won the MVP award in 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings. It was his sixth year in the league and he had already hit more than 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons. He finished 2012 with 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns – just eight yards away from an NFL record.

Peterson is currently a free agent, but has enjoyed an illustrious 15-year career in the NFL. As of today, he has 14,918 rushing yards, 120 rushing touchdowns, 305 receptions, 2,474 receiving yards, and six receiving touchdowns. He’s a seven-time Pro Bowl honoree and four-time All-Pro.

18. O.J. Simpson – 1973

O.J. Simpson won the MVP award in 1973 with the Buffalo Bills. It was his fifth season in the league and he was coming off his first 1,000+ yard season. Simpson finished the 1973 season with 2,003 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns – he averaged 143.1 yards per game. 

Simpson is a Hall of Fame running back that spent 11 seasons in the NFL – nine with the Bills and two with the San Francisco 49ers. He finished with 11,236 rushing yards and 61 rushing touchdowns in his career. He was a six-time Pro Bowl honoree and five-time All-Pro player. 

17. Walter Payton – 1977

Walter Payton won the MVP award in 1977 with the Chicago Bears. It was his third season in the league and he had just come off his first 1,000+ yard, 10+ touchdown season. He finished the 1977 season with 1,852 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 132.3 yards per game.

Payton is a Hall of Fame running back that spent 13 seasons in the NFL. He finished 10 of those seasons with more than 1,000 yards and five of them with more than 10 touchdowns. He retired with 16,726 rushing yards, 110 rushing touchdowns, and nine Pro Bowl selections. 

16. Cam Newton – 2015

Cam Newton won the MVP award in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers. It was his fifth season in the league and he led his team to a 15-1 record – eventually losing in the Super Bowl. He finished the season with 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions through the air. 

Newton also added 636 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns that season. He was quite the dual threat quarterback for a while and currently has 32,382 passing yards, 194 passing touchdowns, 123 interceptions, 5,628 rushing yards, and 75 rushing touchdowns in his career. 

15. Shaun Alexander – 2005

Shaun Alexander won the MVP award in 2005 with the Seattle Seahawks. It was his sixth season in the league and he had hit the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past four seasons. He finished the 2005 season with a career-high 1,880 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns.

Alexander started to decline the following season and was out of the league by 2009, but he will be remembered for his five-year stretch from 2001 to 2005. He finished his career with 9,453 rushing yards, 100 rushing touchdowns, 1,520 receiving yards, and 12 receiving touchdowns. 

14. Terrell Davis – 1998

Terrell Davis won the MVP award in 1998 with the Denver Broncos. It was his fourth season in the league and he had hit the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first three seasons. He finished his dominant 1998 season with a career-high 2,008 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. 

Davis is a Hall of Fame running back that only spent seven seasons in the NFL, but he made the most of the time he was given. He finished his illustrious career with 7,607 rushing yards, 60 rushing touchdowns, 169 receptions, 1,280 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns. 

13. Lawrence Taylor – 1986

Lawrence Taylor won the MVP award in 1986 with the New York Giants. It was his sixth year in the league and while it was his first MVP, he was already a two-time Defensive Player of the Year at that point. He finished the season with a career-high 20.5 sacks in 16 games played. 

Taylor is a Hall of Fame linebacker that spent 13 seasons in the NFL – all with the Giants. He was the 1981 Defensive Rookie of the Year and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. LT finished his career with 142.0 sacks, good enough for ninth all-time. He won two Super Bowls.

12. Emmitt Smith – 1993

Emmitt Smith is a Hall of Fame running back that won the MVP award in 1993 with the Dallas Cowboys. It was his fourth season in the league and he was coming off a year that saw him put up 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns. He finished 1993 with 1,486 yards and nine touchdowns. 

Smith went on to tally at least 1,000 yards in each of the next eight seasons, totaling 10 straight seasons altogether. He finished his career with 18,355 rushing yards (most all-time), 164 rushing touchdowns (most all-time), 3,224 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns.  

11. LaDainian Tomlinson – 2006

LaDainian Tomlinson is a Hall of Fame running back that won the MVP award in 2006 with the San Diego Chargers. It was his sixth season in the league and he had at least 1,000 yards in each season. He finished 2006 with 1,815 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. 

Tomlinson broke the single-season record for most rushing touchdowns and added three more touchdowns through the air for a total of 31 touchdowns on the year. He led the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns in 2006 and did the same thing the following year in 2007. 

10. Dan Marino – 1984

Dan Marino is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 1984 with the Miami Dolphins. It was his second season in the league and he led the Dolphins to a 14-2 regular season record. He finished the season with 5,084 yards, 48 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions.

Marino would only win the MVP award once in his legendary 17-year career, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t slinging it. He finished his career with 61,631 yards, 420 touchdowns, and 252 interceptions. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl honoree and three-time All-Pro player in his career.

9. Steve Young – 2 times

Steve Young is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 1992 and 1994. During the 1992 season, he led the San Francisco 49ers to a 14-2 regular season record. He finished the season 3,465 yards, 25 touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. 

During the 1994 season, when he won his second MVP award, Young led the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season record. He finished the season 3,969 yards, 35 touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions. That same season, he won his third Super Bowl. 

8. Kurt Warner – 2 times

Kurt Warner is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 1999 and 2001, despite going undrafted in the 1994 draft and finally making his debut in 1998. He led the St. Louis Rams to a 13-3 record in 1999 and threw for 4,353 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

Warner won the Super Bowl that year. After a decent 2000 season, Warner came out swinging yet again. He led the Rams to a 14-2 record and threw for 4,830 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions. The Rams made it to the Super Bowl again, but failed to bring home the title. 

7. Joe Montana – 2 times

Joe Montana is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 1989 and 1990 – his 11th and 12th seasons in the NFL. During those two seasons, he led the 49ers to a 25-3 record and threw for 7,465 yards, 52 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. They also won a Super Bowl. 

Montana would go on to win four Super Bowls in his illustrious career and was named the Super Bowl MVP three times. He retired with 40,551 yards, 273 touchdowns, 139 interceptions, and 20 rushing touchdowns. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl honoree and three-time All-Pro player.

6. Johnny Unitas – 3 times

Johnny Unitas is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 1959, 1964, and 1967. He led the Baltimore Colts to a 9-3 record in 1959 and threw for 2,899 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He led the team to an NFL Championship that same season. 

During the 1964 season, Unitas led the Colts to a 12-2 record and threw for 2,824 yards, 19 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. The 1967 season was just as good, leading the team to an 11-1-2 record and throwing for 3,428 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. 

5. Tom Brady – 3 times

Tom Brady is a future Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 2007, 2010, and 2017 – he also won Comeback Player of the Year in 2009. In 2007, he led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season record and threw for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions.

In 2010, Brady led the Patriots to a 14-2 record and threw for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns, and four interceptions. In 2017, he led the team to a 13-3 record and threw for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He has won a total of seven Super Bowls in his career. 

4. Jim Brown – 3 times

Jim Brown is a Hall of Fame running back that won the MVP award in 1957 (rookie season), 1958, and 1965 (final season). He became the first ever MVP award winner in 1957 when he rushed for 942 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. It was one of his worst seasons. 

He followed that up with another MVP award in 1958 when he rushed for 1,527 yards and 17 touchdowns. He continued to dominate the league every year, but didn’t win his next MVP until 1965 when he rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns. He retired after the 1965 season. 

3. Brett Favre – 3 times

Brett Favre is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 1995, 1996, and 1997 – the only player to ever win the award three years in a row. During that time, he led the Green Bay Packers to a 37-11 record and threw for 12,179 yards, 112 touchdowns, and 42 picks. 

Favre also led the Packers to a Super Bowl win during that three-year span. He would go on to be MVP runner-up twice in 2002 and 2007, was third in MVP voting in 2001, and fourth in MVP voting in 2009. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl honoree and three-time All-Pro player in his career.

2. Aaron Rodgers – 4 times

Aaron Rodgers is a future Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 2011, 2014, 2020, and 2021 – he’s the reigning back-to-back MVP winner that’s looking to three-peat in 2022. He has led the Green Bay Packers to at least 12 wins in each of his four MVP seasons. 

Rodgers won his first MVP award in 2011, a year after winning his first and only Super Bowl. He threw for 45 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2011, 38 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2014, 48 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2020, and 37 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2021.

1. Peyton Manning – 5 times

Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback that won the MVP award in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2013. He’s the only player to win MVP with two different teams (Colts and Broncos) and the only player to win back-to-back MVP awards on two different occasions (with the Colts).

Manning led his team to at least 12 wins in each of his five MVP seasons. 2004 was an impressive year that saw him throw for 49 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also had 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in what was arguably the best season of his career.

Active Players That Could Win an MVP Soon

In a league filled with superstars that impress the world with their spectacular play year-in and year-out, narrowing the MVP field down to one winner is no easy task. There can only be one winner (or two, though rare) and we’re sure to see several new winners in the coming years.

Some players that haven’t won the award before, but could win sometime soon include Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, and Derrick Henry

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Of course, you never really know who’s going to win the award. Rodgers could win it for the fifth time, Brady could snatch his fourth, might grab his second. That’s what makes the MVP award so interesting and exciting – it can be anyone on any NFL roster, but it’ll only be one in the end.

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