So, does Adrian Peterson deserve the MVP for the 2012 season? Probably, but deserve doesn’t cut it in the NFL. The question is will he get it? MVP awards have been handed to non-quarterbacks less than 40% of the time since 1957, and even more sparingly in recent years – none since 2006, only twice since 2000.
Jim Brown played his entire professional career for the Cleveland Browns, between 1957 and 1965. He was the first AP player of the year, and also the second, winning the award back to back in 1957 and 1958. In 1965 he won the award for a third time. His best season was actually in 1963, when Brown ran for 1863 yards and scored a total of 15 touchdowns, averaging 133.1 yards per game. He won the NFL title in 1964, and was inducted into the hall of fame in 1971. Brown is still the only non-quarterback to win the MVP multiple times.
Paul Hornung, 1961 - Paul Hornung was the first of two consecutive MVP awards for Green Bay Packers running backs. Hornung, who played his college ball for Notre Dame, played in two stints for the Green Bay Packers and is still considered to be one of the greatest short-yardage runners in NFL history.
Jim Taylor, 1962 - The second half of the Packers running crew, Taylor was a huge star for LSU during his college days. He actually played for the New Orleans Saints for one season in 1967. At the time of his retirement, his 83 career touchdowns were second only to Jim Brown. Taylor was the main rusher for the Packers, running for at least 1000 yards in five consecutive seasons, including 1474, going along with 19 touchdowns in his MVP winning season.
Alan Page, 1971
Today he’s an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, but Page used to be a member of the Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters“. He became the first defensive player to win the MVP, followed by only one, more than a decade later. He made the Pro Bowl nine times and the All-Pro selection six times. He was also part of the 1970s decade team, recording 148.5 sacks during his career, inducted into the hall of fame in 1988.
Larry Brown, 1972 - The running back for the Washington Redskins between 1969 and 1976, Brown had one of his only two 1000+ yards seasons during his MVP campaign, also scoring 12 touchdowns that year. He made the Pro Bowl on each of his first four seasons in the NFL.
O.J. Simpson, 1973 - There’s not a lot of good things people are willing to say these days about O.J. Simpson, but he was the first running back to rush for over 2000 yards in a season, scoring 12 touchdowns and averaging 143.1 yards per game during his MVP winning season. He also rushed for 1817 in 1975, scoring 16 touchdowns and adding 7 more via receptions, but the MVP award went to Fran Tarkenton that year.
Walter Payton, 1977
Greatest running back of all time? Possibly. When he retired after the 1987 season, concluding 13 years with the Chicago Bears, Walter Payton was the NFL all-time leader in rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. He’s still the leader in touchdown passes for a non-quarterback with 8. He ran for a career high 1852 yards in 1977, scoring a total of 16 touchdowns. He was inducted into the hall of fame in 1993.
Earl Campbell, 1979 - The Tyler Rose was a big star and Heisman Trophy winner for Texas in College. He exploded onto the NFL, leading the league in rushing for three consecutive seasons immediatly after coming out of college. He ran for 1697 and scored 16 touchdown the year he won the MVP. He actually ran for 1934 in 1980, but lost in the MVP race to Brian Sipe. The one man demolition team was inducted into the hall of fame in 1991.
Mark Moseley, 1982 - During the strike-shortened season of 1982, a lot of weird things happened. One of them was Moseley of the Washington Redskins, who made an incredible 95.2% of his kicks that season, winning the MVP, later winning the Super Bowl. He was one of the two last full-time straight on placekicker in the National Football League.
Marcus Allen, 1985
Marcus Allen played in the NFL from 1982 till 1997, spending most of his time with the Los Angeles Raiders before moving to the Kansas City Chiefs. He ran for a career high 1759 yards in 1985, also scoring 14 touchdowns, but never ran for more than 900 yards in his career again, partially due to injuries and also his bad relationship with Al Davis. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XVIII, running for 191 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Lawrence Taylor, 1986 - The last defensive player to win the MVP and is often voted as the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL. He was a 10 time Pro Bowler, 10 time All-Pro member and two time Super Bowl champion during his 13 years with the New York Giants. John Madden said about him: Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I’ve ever seen. He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers.
Thurman Thomas, 1991 - Bills have always had good running backs, but they were never enough to win them Super Bowls. Thomas is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons, and is one of only six running backs to have over 400 receptions and 10,000 yards rushing. He scored a touchdown in four consecutive Super Bowls, but he also lost all of them. He had a total of 2038 yards from scrimmage the season he won the MVP.
Emmitt Smith, 1993
Smith is the NFL’s all time leader in rushing yards, a three time Super Bowl champion and once a Super Bowl MVP. Despite all that, there are quite a few who think he was a tad overrated when he comes into the “greatest of all time” debates, with his stats pampered thanks to an incredible offensive line he had the privilege to play behind. Smith led the league in rushing and in yards from scrimmage the season he won the MVP, although he had much bigger season in terms of touchdown scoring, finishing with “only” 10 in 1993.
Barry Sanders, 1997 - One of the more popular votes for greatest running back in NFL history, Sanders shared his award with Brett Favre that year. The Detroit Lions player made the Pro Bowl each season he was in the league (1989-1998), never running for less than 1100 yards and going for 2053, including 2358 from scrimmage, in the season he won the MVP.
Terrell Davis, 1998 - A career that started so well, peaked in 1998 scoring 23 touchdowns and running for more than 2000 yards, winning two Super Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP but was over after only seven seasons in the league. He is still the Denver Broncos all-time leading rusher, with 7,607 rushing yards.
Marshall Faulk, 2000
Faulk’s greatest season was in 1999, when his teammate, Kurt Warner, won the MVP. Faulk became just the second player in NFL history to rush and catch for over 1000 yards in each category, setting a new record for yards from scrimmage with 2429. In 2000, he finished with “only” 2189 yards from scrimmage, but scored a total of 26 touchdowns. He won the Super Bowl with the Rams but never rushed for more than 1000 yards after the 2001 season.
Shaun Alexander, 2005 - One of the more famous victims of the “Madden Curse“, which isn’t that powerful anymore. Alexander ran for 1880 yards in 2005, helping the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl. He set a new record for rushing touchdowns with 27 and overall touchdowns with 28 that season. He retired only three seasons later, never running for more than 900 yards again.
LaDainian Tomplinson, 2006 - Tomlinson ran for at least 1200 for each of his first seven seasons but had his best in 2006. He ran for an NFL-best 1815 yards this season, averaging 113.4 yards per game and had 2323 yards from scrimmage. The most impressive was his scoring with 31 total touchdowns.