Opinion: Drew Brees Should Be Leading the MVP Race

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NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 18: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws the ball during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 18, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

I’ve said some controversial stuff in my days as a football writer and analyst. My opinions are almost never received well. This past draft season, I wrote multiple pieces on why Baker Mayfield should, and would, be the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. People told me I was crazy, my opinion was wrong, that he would never go first overall, and that I sucked as an analyst/writer and I should “go back to my real job,” among other things with other, less polite words.

In the words of Shinedown, who’s the a*****e now?

Let me be very clear; I don’t tweet something unless I am pretty serious about a topic. I especially don’t put together an article about something unless I am passionate about a topic. This is not a click-bait piece, this is simply what it says in the headline. I am about to make a case.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of experts and fans naming Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes as the favorite to win the NFL Most Valuable Player at this point of the season. Don’t get me wrong, Mahomes is having a very good season. In fact, this last Monday Night, he threw for six touchdowns in a classic-shootout-thriller loss to the Los Angeles Rams. His volume numbers are absolutely incredible (37 touchdowns, 3628 passing yards), and the Chiefs find themselves entering their bye week with a 9-2 record.

However, with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees playing the way he is this season, Mahomes is not the most valuable player in the NFL.

Drew Brees is on pace to set other records

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 19: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs passes against the Los Angeles Rams in the second quarter of the game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 19, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

We have all heard about how Patrick Mahomes is on pace to break the NFL’s single season passing touchdown record this season. Right now he would be 2 touchdowns shy of tying the record held by Peyton Manning, while on pace to throw 53 this season. He’s thrown 37 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, completing 67.5% of his passes and compiling a passer rating of 117.9.

These are all very impressive numbers, but let’s see what Drew Brees’ has done thus far.

Brees is completing a ridiculous 76.9% of his passes, almost 10% more than Mahomes. The NFL single season record for a completion percentage is held by Brees, a record he set last season at 72%. Right now, he’s on pace to shatter his own record. Brees has thrown 25 scores to just 1 interception, and has a passer rating of 126.9. His passer rating mark would also be an NFL record right now. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers holds that mark currently with a 122.5 rating from 2011. Brees also leads the NFL in Total Quarterback Rating, a metric that weighs in a quarterbacks running ability. He has an 89.3 mark. Mahomes sits at 83.9.

Basically, Brees is on pace to break every efficiency record in NFL history. At 39 years old, I do believe Brees season is much more impressive.

Advanced Stats Metrics

CINCINNATI, OH – NOVEMBER 11: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints drops back to pass during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Saints defeated the Bengals 51-14. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Were those stats not convincing to you? Let’s talk about some Next Gen Stats, a new series of metrics designed to go deeper into the game.

Time To Throw

The first metric we want to get into is Time to Throw (TT). This is the average time that the quarterback takes to make a throw. It sounds simple, but it is very telling. A quarterback releasing the ball faster is better than one who holds on to the ball longer, and should have less sacks.

Drew Brees is first in the NFL with the shortest TT, averaging 2.57 seconds per throw. As a result, Brees has been sacked only 9 times, less than once per game.

Mahomes, though, is eight worst in the league. With a 2.85 second average, Mahomes ranks slightly in front of quarterbacks to the likes of Buffalo Bills rookie Josh Allen, Dallas Cowboys man Dak Prescott, and Cleveland Browns back-up Tyrod Taylor. He’s been sacked 20 times, almost 2 times per game, as a result.

Average Completed Air Yards

The next metric to explore is Average Completed Air Yards (CAY). This is the average distance past the line of scrimmage that completed passes travel per play. This is an important stat. Sometimes, a group of receivers are so deadly after the catch that they can rack up a quarterbacks passing yards and make it appear as though the quarterback is better than he really is. This allows us to see how much of the yardage is on the quarterback.

Brees right now sits at exactly 6 CAY. His average completion goes 11.5 yards, which means his receivers average 5.5 yards after the catch. That’s a pretty balanced number, slightly tilted in Brees’ favor.

Mahomes averages 6.6 CAY. His average completion though? 13.7 yards, which means that his receivers average 7.1 yards after the catch. Again, that number might appear to be pretty balanced, only this time it’s tilted in the receivers favor.

To summarize this metric, Mahomes’ receivers are more dangerous after the catch than Brees’. That means Brees has to be more efficient throwing the football (which the numbers indicate that he is) and more of the load and the entire passing game hinges upon him.

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Aggressiveness Percentage

Aggressiveness Percentage (AGG%) is an important trait as well. While the whole CAY metric that we just ran through also points to this, the AGG% metric allows us to measure how often a quarterback takes a shot play down the field, allowing for more risk on the result.

Drew Brees is about the middle of the pack on AGG%, taking shots on 16.2% of his plays. This is an incredible stat. Drew Brees is releasing the ball faster than any quarterback (as we spoke about with the TT metric), and shot plays take time to develop. The fact that he is in the middle of the league in AGG% says a ton about how quickly he truly is getting the ball out. With this AGG% rating, he’s thrown 25 scores to just 1 interception.

Mahomes is second to last in AGG%, hitting just 11%. To put that into perspective, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garrapolo is the NFL’s most aggressive quarterback, taking the shot play on 27% of his throws. With Mahomes lack of aggression, it goes to show, again, that his receiving corps is the key part to why he has seen so much success. Even with Mahomes’ AGG% rating being low, his touchdown to interception ratio is much higher, sitting at 37 to 10.

Expected Completion Percentage

NEW ORLEANS, LA – SEPTEMBER 16: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints drops back to pass during the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 16, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The Expected Completion Percentage (xCOMP%) metric is what the quarterback is expected to complete by measuring the difficulty of the quarterbacks throws. This metric speaks volumes about how well a quarterback is performing and how truly accurate he actually is.

Brees right now has a xCOMP% of 67%, a whopping 9.9% under what he is actually completing, best in the league. The closest performer to Brees is Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is 6.3% better than his xCOMP%.

Mahomes has a xCOMP% of 65.3%, 2.2% under his actual percentage. So while Mahomes is slightly better than expected, it’s nowhere near close to how Brees is performing.

Receiver groups

Patrick Mahomes has been blessed this season with a great group of healthy play-makers and receivers. Let’s take a quick look at his group, and how well they have performed in the last 26 games (since the start of the 2017 season).

Tyreek Hill (199 targets, 140 receptions, 70.4% reception rate)
Sammy Watkins (125 targets, 79 receptions, 63.2% reception rate)
Chris Conley (48 targets, 33 receptions, 68.8% reception rate)
TE Travis Kelce (223 targets, 150 receptions, 67.3% reception rate)
RB Kareem Hunt (98 targets, 79 receptions, 80.6% reception rate)
(Overall 69.4% reception rate)

I think it’s very safe to say that Mahomes has a very good receiver group. Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce were all pro bowl players last season. All three should be going back this season. Sammy Watkins is considered a very good number two option. He’s a mismatch to most defensive backs. Conley is a physical third option.

Drew Brees has seen a lot of injuries across his receiving corps. First, it was Ted Ginn, then it was Dez Bryant, the man they signed to replace Ginn. Let’s look at how well Brees’ group has performed in the same stretch that the Chief players mentioned above have.

Michael Thomas (240 targets, 186 receptions, 77.5% reception rate)
Tre’Quan Smith (33 targets, 22 receptions, 66.7% reception rate)
Brandon Marshall (56 targets, 29 receptions, 51.8% reception rate)
TE Benjamin Watson (113 targets, 88 receptions, 77.9% reception rate)
RB Alvin Kamara (172 targets, 137 receptions, 79.7% reception rate)
Overall (75.2% reception rate)

I think this point is fairly obvious. Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara were both pro bowlers last season, and it’s fair to assume they will be this season as well. Brandon Marshall and Ben Watson are both aging. Tre’Quan Smith has a long way to go as an NFL receiver. I believe it is very clear that Brees has a less superior receiving group then Mahomes.

 In conclusion

KANSAS CITY, MO – NOVEMBER 11: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs rolls out of the pocket during the second half of the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

I believe my case is very strong for why Drew Brees should be the favorite to win the NFL’s MVP award. Brees not only has been the better performer statistically, he has been more valuable to his team. The Saints sit at 9-1 so far this season, on a 9 game winning streak and no one can stop Brees. He’s been the most consistent and efficient player so far this season.

Patrick Mahomes has played an amazing season. Please do not misunderstand my point. I am not trying to tell you that he is having a bad year. However, when you compare the extraordinary season that he is having to what Brees is doing, being sixteen years older, I firmly believe that Brees is the leagues most valuable player.

Do you still disagree? Shoot me a tweet @johndavogel on twitter, leave a comment below, and let’s start a discussion.

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