Defensive MVP? Recent Super Bowls Say Don’t Bet On It

Aaron Donald most recently comes to mind


February 7

While part of the fun for Super Bowl bettors is identifying a long shot that could end up a big-money winner, it’s probably best to reconsider as it relates to defensive players in the Super Bowl MVP market ahead of Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. To put it bluntly, there’s a reason each of the top six players on the MVP betting board play offense.

And you don’t have to look too far back for a notable example.

Most recently in Super Bowl LVI, Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald was a game-wrecker against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in a 23-20 win. Donald finished with a game-high two sacks and the Rams sacked Burrow seven times. But he was even more impactful than that. NFL Next Gen Stats credited Donald for a team-high seven pressures despite receiving double teams and even an occasional triple team. He was responsible for a 17.5% pressure rate on 40 pass rush snaps, per Next Gen Stats, as LA pressured Burrow 41.5% of the time and finished with 11 quarterback hits. Donald also made the final two game-winning plays on both third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, the latter lauded given that Burrow had an opportunity to hit Ja’Marr Chase for a game-winning touchdown should Donald not have got to the quarterback so quickly and caused an incomplete pass.

Donald, who was anywhere from 12-1 to 18-1 before the game, lost out on Super Bowl LVI MVP honors to Rams wideout Cooper Kupp. Kupp finished with eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns, a notable performance in its own right. But it nevertheless fed into the thought that defensive players tend to be overlooked by offensive players for the award.

The last six Super Bowl MVP awards have been won by offensive players with four quarterbacks and two receivers. Former Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller was the last defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP when he did so in Super Bowl 50. Prior to Miller, there was one defensive MVP in the previous 12 Super Bowls.

But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some noteworthy defensive performances, of course.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady won Super Bowl LV MVP despite linebacker Devin White (12 tackles, one interception) and the Tampa Bay defense halting Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs in a 31-9 verdict. And Brady, who undoubtedly changed the culture in Tampa Bay that season, did so with a modest stat line of 21-for-29 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. The Super Bowl MVP storyline, it seems, was written before the game.

Two years prior, Patriots cornerback and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore lost out to receiver Julian Edelman (10 catches, 141 yards). Gilmore made a game-clinching interception and added one forced fumble to go along with three passes defensed as New England’s defense handcuffed the Rams in a 13-3 victory. Sure, Edelman was pivotal in helping the Patriots offense before the game-winning score, but Gilmore was the best player on the defense, which is what won New England the game. The fact the Patriots defense didn’t represent a single MVP vote probably tells you everything you need to know.

Additional examples come to mind because of a specific play. For example, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler clinched Super Bowl XLIX for Bill Belichick’s team with his goal-line interception on Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Butler lost out to Brady, who threw for four touchdowns on 37-for-50 passing and was well-deserving of Super Bowl MVP honors. Additionally, Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher James Harrison made another one of the biggest defensive plays in Super Bowl history with his 100-yard interception return as time expired at the end of the first half in Super Bowl XLIII. Instead, wide receiver Santonio Holmes (nine catches, 131 yards, touchdown) claimed the MVP honors after Pittsburgh’s 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

None of this is to say those aforementioned Super Bowl MVP winners were not deserving of their recognition, of course. It’s simply to point out that defensive players who also were deserving were overshadowed by their offensive counterparts. It tends to be a quarterback’s award, and for good reason given it’s the most important position on the field, but even when it doesn’t go to the signal-caller that doesn’t mean defensive players are top of mind.

All told, it’s worth considering prior to placing a bet on either a star defender on the Eagles or Chiefs. And while there are some enticing options at DraftKings Sportsbook with Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick (35-1), Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (40-1), Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (60-1), Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (80-1) and Chiefs pass rusher Frank Clark (80-1). Still, the likelihood is a quarterback, receiver or possibly a tight end hoists the award Sunday night.

NESN 360 in-article asset
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images

Picked For You