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The Value of Things: A statistical look at Texans QB C.J. Stroud and the MVP race

Is a C.J. Stroud MVP vote completely nuts?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, MVP voting is still very idiosyncratic in nature. How exactly do we define what it means to be the most valuable? Some people interpret it as the best player in the league. Others define it as who meant the most to his team’s success. Rookies haven’t won the award. Jim Brown won it back in the day, but that was 1957 and it is a whole different league.

Suffice it to say that Stroud has about a one percent chance of winning the award. That has nothing to do with him per se. The voters just don’t consider voting for rookies. However, just being in the conversation is more than improbable. Before we even embark on this journey we should set up some ground rules. What do the voters typically look at?

  1. Right or wrong, the player has to play for a good team. Let’s forget that the best player can play for a bad team. Even if we go with the more nebulous definition of meaning the most to his team, we are talking about a three win team in 2023. They’ve already doubled their win total. Still, we should limit our conversation to likely playoff teams.
  2. This is primarily a quarterback award. Sure, J.J. Watt finished in the top three at his very best, but even then people didn’t really consider him an ultimate favorite for the award. Tyreek Hill and Myles Garrett have been great. T.J. Watt could go on a rampage in the last seven games, but this is primarily about the quarterbacks.
  3. We have to remember this is a regular season award. Voters vote on the last day of the regular season, so whether a player face plants in the playoffs or goes on an improbable run really doesn’t play into it.

The Candidates

So, if we are looking at just quarterbacks on likely playoff teams that ends up shortening the list considerably. Jared Goff, Jalen Hurts, Brock Purdy, and maybe Dak Prescott are the only names that really come to the forefront in the NFC. In the AFC you have Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Tua Tagovailoa, and Stroud. So, let’s take a look at each and then see where Stroud fits.

Before I go into each guy we should set aside some criteria. We want to look at some advanced passing and running stats to gauge a player’s fitness. We will look at the obvious stuff like passing yards, touchdowns, and interceptions, but we will throw in a few others along the way. All of these can be found at pro football reference.

Jalen Hurts

The Narrative Case: The quarterback on the team with the best record has to open as the betting favorite. You could argue Hurts was better last season, but the Eagles are on pace to win 14 or 15 games this season.

Key Stats: 2,497 passing yards, 15 TD, 9 INT, 345 rushing yards, 9 TD

Advanced Stats: 110 NY/A+, 94.8 Rating, 64.4 QBR, 60.0 rushing success rate

What does it mean: Essentially, he is ten percent better than the league average on net yards per completion. That includes sacks in the final tally. I like using that over completion percentage because it correlates more with success. The 60 percent rushing is an measure of how successful they are at either scoring touchdowns or getting first downs. These numbers only mean something in comparison with other so we will see how it compares.

Lamar Jackson

The Narrative Case: The Ravens took control of the AFC when the Chiefs lost. There is a lot of football left to be played, but this is essentially the same argument as Hurts. The difference is that Hurts has better skill position players around him than Jackson.

Key Stats: 2,411 passing yards, 12 TD, 5 INT, 535 rushing yards, 5 TD

Advanced Stats: 116 NY/A+, 100.1 Rating, 62.0 QBR, 53.5 rushing success rate

What does it mean: Jackson could be the best running quarterback in the game’s history. He has two 1,000+ rushing seasons and has an outside chance at a third. He is also better at net yards per attempt than Hurts. Realistically, he has some work to do since the touchdown numbers are down.

Patrick Mahomes

The Narrative Case: The Chiefs can still get the best record in the AFC and he has the reputation as the best quarterback. Monday night clearly showed that his numbers don’t tell the whole story. He might have the worst receivers in football and that is not hyperbole. They quite clearly cost the Chiefs the game.

Key Stats: 2,619 passing yards, 19 TD, 9 INT, 296 rushing yards, 0 TD

Advanced Stats: 107 NY/A+, 93.8 rating, 69.4 QBR, 56.3 rushing success rate

What does it mean: A vote for Mahomes is a vote acknowledging that he is the best quarterback in football in spite of what the numbers say. His receivers are dreadful out of Travis Kelce. The net yards per attempt certainly would be higher if any of them could regularly catch the football.

Jared Goff

The Narrative Case: The Lions have their best team since I’ve been alive. Goff has to get some credit for that. Interestingly enough, he was the comp people gave for C.J. Stroud and it made a lot of Houston fans squeamish. Maybe they owe Goff and Stroud an apology.

Key Stats: 2,743 passing yards, 16 TD, 8 INT, 14 yards 2 TD

Advanced Stats: 116 NY/A+, 96.1 rating, 64.0 QBR, 21.7 rushing success rate

What does it mean: As the Lions continue to win, Goff will continue to get more credit. He clearly does not run the ball well, but he might be the best passing quarterback here outside of Stroud. The Lions being good might get him an emotional boost from the voters.

Tua Tagovailoa

The Narrative Case: When the Miami Dolphins are rolling no offense in the NFL looks better. Eventually, the numbers just become overwhelming. You could say he doesn’t do any of this without Hill or Jaylen Waddle, but someone has to get the football to them.

Key Stats: 2,934 passing yards, 21 TD, 8 INT, 39 yards, 0 TD

Advanced Stats: 132 NY/A+, 106.0 Rating, 61.7 QBR, 16.0 rushing success rate

What does it mean: Who knows what goes into the secret sauce of traditional QB rating and ESPN’s QBR. The perception is that the Dolphins can’t win big games, so clearly Tua needs to win a big game or two before he gets serious consideration. He might be the worst running quarterback on this list and that could hurt him against guys like Hurts and Jackson.

Brock Purdy

The Narrative Case: He has the highest quarterback rating in the league by a fairly significant margin. Eventually, you have to stop making excuses and give him his props. If he goes on a tear like he did last season then he has to get serious consideration.

Key Stats: 2,662 passing yards 18 TD, 5 INT, 121 rushing yards, 2 TD

Advanced Stats: 145 NY/A+, 115.1 rating, 77.0 QBR, 53.3 rushing success rate

What does it mean: It means he is the best statistical quarterback in football. At a certain point you force yourself to ignore perception and just look at the evidence. Purdy may not be the most physically gifted quarterback, but on balance he has performed the best so far.

Dak Prescott

The Narrative Case: Again, this is a regular season award. Sure, Prescott chokes in the playoffs, but that shouldn’t matter here. His team is one of the best teams in the NFL and he is one of the main reasons for that.

Key Stats: 2,604 passing yards, 19 TD, 6 INT, 141 rushing yards, 2 TD

Advanced Stats: 113 NY/A+, 104.0 rating, 73.9 QBR, 51.5 rushing success rate

What does it mean; It means if you dial out the noise then Prescott is one of the top three statistical quarterbacks in football. He is there in total touchdowns, net yards passing per attempt, and in both rating systems. He has a tough perception to overcome but the resume is there so far.

C.J. Stroud

The Narrative: Stroud wins on a feel good basis and on the basis of where the team would be without him. He has an average defense and average skill position talent around him. He has done it with a makeshift offensive line. He may have had to overcome more than just about any quarterback here.

Key Stats: 2,962 passing yards, 17 TD, 5 INT, 85 yards rushing, 2 TD

Advanced Stats: 123 NY/A+, 99.3 rating, 60.7 QBR, 52.0 rushing success rate

What does it mean: He may not be first in any category but he is right there in all of them. He is probably in the top half of every significant metric out there. He shouldn’t be the MVP based on these numbers, but he clearly belongs in the conversation.

Where does this leave Stroud?

In the stats game we frequently have to combat what I call “yeah buts” and “whataboutism”. Sure, he is good, but he isn’t a good running quarterback. He isn’t as prolific but the numbers clearly show he is effective when he does run. What about actually getting the ball in the end zone? Well, he may not be as prolific as the top guys, but he clearly is at least in the middle of the pack.

There are seven games to be played. Anything could happen. The Houston Texans could continue their winning streak and capture the AFC South. You’d have to take him seriously then. They could go on a losing streak and fall out of the playoff chase altogether. Then, he slides out and become a candidate next year. Suffice it to say, if the season ended today he should be a candidate and that alone is music to the Texans’ ears.