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Ranking the Best NFL MVP Seasons of All Time

By Dan Vasta in NFL
| December 5, 2021 7:15 am PDT

The NFL has had dozens of exceptional seasons over the years. To dominate the regular season and win the MVP is highly entertaining for the fans and the franchise.

Ranking the best season is a challenge due to the game-changing over the decades. Rules have changed, and game plans have been a rollercoaster going back the last half-century.

For these rankings, I weighed how the MVP winners performed in the postseason. Only ten players have won the Super Bowl MVP after they won the regular season MVP. Many players that won the MVP sometimes dropped the ball in January.

While looking at their playoff performances, here are your top 10 best MVP seasons in NFL history.

10. 1986 Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York (NFC)

The top defensive player in league history grabs a spot on the list. The Giants nightmare edge rusher could wreck an entire gameplan by his lonesome.

Knowing how much he dominated the sport and his ability to win often made him the best player on the field in most games he played.

The 20.5 sacks he registered were off the charts, and he was one of the first players that popped on the film.

He had a pick-six against the 49ers in the Divisional Round. Taylor then handled Washington en route to their Super Bowl victory over Denver. There are plenty of other offensive options, but the 20-plus sack season makes this a worthy ranking.

9. 1993 Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas

Holding out due to a contract dispute, many questioned whether Smith would be able to perform out of the gates. He wouldn’t play until Week 3 against the Cardinals.

It took him a few games to catch fire, but the fifth to eighth games of the season for Dallas were carried by Smith.

  • 106 carries for 550 yards (5.2 YPC)
  • 5 rushing touchdowns
  • 15 receptions for 11 yards
  • Margin of four victories: 68 points

Yes, Smith would later separate his shoulder against the Giants and the ability to play through injuries during the season helped put Smith on the map. The Cowboys had a great season, finishing 12-4 and heading into the postseason with their swagger intact.

  • Divisional Round vs. Green Bay: 13 carries for 60 yards, 87 total yards
  • NFC Championship vs. San Francisco: 23 carries for 88 yards, 2 total TD, 173 total yards
  • Super Bowl vs. Buffalo: 30 carries for 132 yards, 158 total yards, 2 total TD

Among the top 10 best backs in the NFL, many of the haters will point to the elite offensive line by the Cowboys. Troy Aikman, Michael Irving, and Charles Haley were legends on the roster.

Yes, there was plenty of talent, but Smith was the top star in the 1993 season. Completing and sealing the deal against the Bills with a virtuoso performance still is remembered to this day.

8. 2011 Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay

The Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl with Brett Favre. Rodgers was coming off of one and seemed destined to repeat the following season in 2011. Everything looked great. Rodgers was putting the best season of his career together.

  • 48 Total TD
  • 68.3% Completion Percentage
  • 4,643 yards passing
  • 15 games played
  • 10 games with 2+ Pass TD

Rodgers did it all, and the discount double-checks passer put it all together during the season. We saw the Bears fall victim twice, allowing eight passing touchdowns in their sweep.

The Vikings allowed seven passing touchdowns and over 700 yards. The only team to limit him in a victory was the Kansas City Chiefs. Kyle Orton, Jackie Battle, and Thomas were in the backfield. An odd trio was saved and carried by their dominant defense.

Still, Rodgers was nearly flawless throughout the season. He ran a few in for scores and made all his top targets have exceptional seasons.

They were six deep at wideout, and all six ended up having solid to very good careers after the 2011 season.

  • Randall Cobb: 25 receptions for 375 yards, 1 TD
  • Jordy Nelson: 68 receptions for 1,263 yards, 15 TD
  • Greg Jennings: 67 receptions for 949 yards, 9 TD
  • Jermichael Finley: 55 receptions for 767 yards, 8 TD
  • James Jones: 38 receptions for 635 yards, 7 TD
  • Donald Driver: 37 receptions for 445 yards, 6 TD

Other than Nelson and Jennings, the overall numbers lacked.

Finley was a premier tight in the league due to his size and athleticism. Injuries derailed his career, or else it could have been an exceptional one. Driver and Jones were often featured on passing downs and often had single coverage.

Rodgers took advantage of all his matchups, and Green Bay was an offensive juggernaut. There was no stopping Green Bay in the regular season. They seemed like they would steamroll everybody that stepped in front of them.

Until losing in the Divisional Round, it was a near-perfect season. Perhaps, Rodgers should be even higher, but another lackluster performance pegged him down a few spots.

7. 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego

Another LT had a season to remember during the 2006 campaign. There may not be a better individual season for a player. Tomlinson’s performance during his MVP campaign is up there with the best to ever do it

Tomlinson found the hizzy 28 times and toted it 348 times on the season. Most backs cannot hold up with the injury bug striking even the elite backs in the league.

Tomlinson was one of the better receiving backs we have seen. He hauled in 56 passes for 508 yards and three additional scores.

LT dominated from Week 8-14 as we have never seen in a short stretch. The numbers would have been Hall of Fame-worthy for an entire season. Yes, they were video game-like. We may never see dominance like this again.

Week 7-13 in 2007
  • 160 carries
  • 954 yards rushing
  • 1 Passing TD
  • 2 Receiving TD

The dominant Charger running back carried the franchise to a 14-2 record, and the Patriots were able to trip them up in the Divisional Round. Tomlinson was elite for an entire season and posted 100-plus yards in all but two games.

6. 2013 Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

The Broncos were thrilled to get Peyton on board at the later stages of his career. Throwing for 55 touchdowns at the age of 37 was record-setting, but the pieces around him were spectacular.

Four options in the passing game ended up hauling double-digit touchdowns in 2013.

  • Wes Welker: 73 receptions for 778 yards and 10 TD
  • Julius Thomas: 65 receptions for 788 yards and 12 TD
  • Demaryius Thomas: 92 receptions for 1,430 yards and 14 TD
  • Eric Decker: 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 TD

Denver eventually fell short and was handled by Seattle in the Super Bowl. That shouldn’t impact Manning too much, but that may have been the only concern that prevented him from cracking the top three.

Coming off the neck surgery and being able to dominate the NFL one more time was a storybook written ending to his career.

He would compete for two more seasons, but the injuries wore him down, and it was only a matter of time. The 2015 season saw his season shortened, and there were several dud performances, including the Super Bowl on the stat sheet.

Their elite defense carried him to a Super Bowl, but the 2013 MVP season was full of highlights that many starters couldn’t get to in a decade worth of games.

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5. 1989 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

The 1989 season was a remarkable season for the 49ers. The quarterback of the top team ever perhaps deserves to be even higher.

Montana was flawless and even ran three touchdowns during the season. Taking care of the football was pivotal in the success of the 49ers, but the dominance in the postseason made him a hero.

  • Divisional Round vs. Minnesota: 241 yards passing, four passing touchdowns
  • NFC Championship vs. Los Angeles: 262 yards passing, two passing touchdowns
  • Super Bowl vs. Denver: 297 yards passing, five passing touchdowns

The 49ers only lost two games, and they put together several great offensive performances throughout the season.

The NFC was trying to keep up with the offensive philosophy. They had Roger Craig and Tom Rathman hauling in passes as nobody had ever seen before.

Bill Walsh was the offensive genius that many believe he was the top offensive mind in football. Most coaches likely would have found success with Jerry Rice and Montana, but the Hall of Fame legend took them to the promised land in 1989.

There were a few nail biters, but Montana found ways to win thrillers. Completing over 70% of his passes with a passer rating of 112.4 puts Cool Joe among an elite company.

4. 1984 Dan Marino, QB, Miami

Dan Marino ranks highly as one of the top players without a Super Bowl. The overall numbers were outstanding back when most teams could not throw for 3,000 yards passing. Only three passers posted 4,000-plus yards in 1984.

  • Dan Marino: 5,084 yards passing
  • Neil Lomax: 4,614 yards passing
  • Phil Simms: 4,044 yards passing

The numbers were a challenge for most quarterbacks to accomplish much of anything compared to players nowadays.

The rules have changed more than the play-calling many will argue. Handing the ball off was a priority back then, and seven and eight-minute drives were the norms.

We often only see that for a select few teams in the NFL. We often see multiple scoring drives in seven to eight minutes. The season by Marino set records galore for passing yards, touchdowns, attempts, completions.

Marino was efficient despite not airing it out as much as many passers do nowadays. The efficiency was absurd under center. Miami made it to the Super Bowl on a team carried by the Dolphin signal-caller.

3. 2007 Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

The ranking could be higher, but they came up one game short of history. Still, this is based on the regular season and was why we see TB12 in the top 3.

New England has had so much success with Brady, winning six Super Bowls. The 2007 season looked like their most dominant season and was seemingly the best team to not win a title.

There were only two games where he failed to post multiple passing touchdowns. Brady had five games with at least four passing scores, and the performances were all phenomenal to watch. It seemed like the Patriots would never lose.

  • Week 3 vs. Buffalo: 311 yards passing and 4 passing TD
  • Week 6 at Dallas: 388 yards passing and 5 passing TD
  • Week 7 at Miami: 354 yards passing and 6 passing TD
  • Week 11 at Buffalo: 373 yards passing and 5 passing TD
  • Week 14 vs. Pittsburgh: 399 yards passing and 4 passing TD

Throwing only eight interceptions alongside his 50 passing scores was flawless. The 4,806 yards was a weekly discussion. The number kept piling up and setting the NFL record for most passing touchdowns in a single season at the time was astonishing.

There was plenty of help and playing with one of the better wide receivers (Randy Moss) and the greatest coach (Bill Belichick) played a vital role.

The defense was exceptional, and TB12 had a Hall of Fame career after this season. It was a spectacle and is worthy of the high ranking.

2. 1999 Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis Rams

There was not a better storybook written season. To see a backup quarterback with zero experience in the NFL win the MVP was absurd. The Rams were doomed after Trent Green got hurt for the season in the preseason.

Warner had a great cast around him. Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt were all Hall of Famers that put together a tremendous season. The first four starts of his career in 1999 were outstanding, and the Rams ended up winning all of them.

  • Passing Yards: 1,217 yards
  • 14 TD/ 3 INT
  • Completion Percentage: 72.6%

The Ram signal-caller played his best in the postseason as well. The Super Bowl victory in an epic performance over the Titans. It was one of the better fourth quarters in NFL history.

The final numbers by Warner ended up being the best in the Hall of Fame career of Warner, and it seemed as if the Rams would win multiple titles. Still, the 1999 season was one for the books, and it stacks up well with anybody.

1. 1994 Steve Young, QB, San Francisco

Steve Young was remarkable in 1994. He tops this list for best MVP seasons in NFL history.

The postseason and the ability to win the Super Bowl as a starter takes the cake for the best southpaw ever. The video game numbers were absurd, and the poise he displayed in the pocket was impressive.

1994 Postseason Stats
  • Rushing Yards: 128
  • Passing Yards: 623
  • Total TD: 11
  • INT: 0

Young was threading the needle with ease and set a Super Bowl record with six passing touchdowns. The postseason only indicates who was worthy of all the accolades.

The regular season wasn’t too shabby either. Young ended up throwing for a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes, but his 35 touchdown passes in 1994 was a magical season. It was the second-most he ended up within his career.

The 49ers passer was a dual threat that was unstoppable in the open field. He was protected by an exceptional offensive line that season, but his weapons certainly played a role.

Ricky Watters was a tremendous running back that season, and Jerry Rice was the GOAT for a reason. Chasing his first title, Young had a slam dunk season and put the exclamation point in their dominant Super Bowl victory over the Chargers.

Summary

This list is full of legendary performers, and many others could have snuck in.

There have only been ten players in the history of the NFL (as of 2021) that have won both the season-long MVP award and then the Super Bowl MVP.

  • Barry Starr, 1966
  • Terry Bradshaw, 1978
  • Mark Moseley, 1982
  • Lawrence Taylor, 1986
  • Joe Montana, 1989
  • Emmitt Smith, 1993
  • Steve Young, 1994
  • Brett Favre, 1996
  • Terrell Davis, 1998
  • Kurt Warner, 1999

Looking at the beginning of the Super Bowl era in 1966, these were your top NFL MVP winners.

Be sure to leave a comment for your thoughts and opinions on the top MVP winners. For all your NFL needs, be sure to check out our NFL blog.

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