Ankle injury a potential roadblock in Tyreek Hill’s MVP campaign

A trending question asked among NFL fans, pundits and players alike this season is simply, “Who is the MVP?”

Though the result may not show it, the Miami Dolphins’ 28-27 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night may have provided an answer.

Tyreek Hill, the NFL’s leading receiver and the key to the Dolphins’ offense, suffered an ankle injury in the loss, and though he returned in a limited capacity, he was not the same.

And as a result, neither were the Dolphins, who lost at home for the first time this season, and fell to 9-4 along the way.

“Obviously, a player of Tyreek’s caliber, it hurts when he’s not in. However, I think there was plenty of offense to be had and we’ve got a lot of guys that I trust to do that,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said after the loss. “I think that just, bottom line, you have things like that happen in a game, you’re going to lose and those are lessons that are learned usually one way, and that’s the hard one.”

Miami is still comfortably in first place in the AFC East, two games ahead of the Buffalo Bills. But the Dolphins will quickly take on the New York Jets on Sunday, and Hill’s status for the game is in question.

“That’s never something that I would be thinking about,” Hill said after the loss. “But if the trainers come to me, if they see something in the scans whenever I get these scans, they say, ‘Hey, Reek, you can sit out,’ I do it. But me being me, I don’t want to sit out. I want to be able to help this team any way I can, and that’s just who I am. I just don’t want to miss any games.”

That attitude is one of the reasons he is where is this season. And even though his four catches and 61 yards on Monday don’t show it, the veteran receiver has probably done enough to justify the “MVP!” chants he heard at Hard Rock Stadium during the loss.

This year, of all years, has been one of the trickiest in deciphering who the MVP is, and his 97 catches, 1,542 yards and 12 touchdowns have to put him in the discussion.

Seemingly so, quarterback play has taken a dip this year. Even the retired Tom Brady admitted as much, last month, saying “there’s a lot of mediocrity in today’s NFL,” on the Stephen A. Smith Show. The sentiment is shared by many.

There is no clear standout MVP candidate at quarterback, regardless of who you name. From Lamar Jackson to Jalen Hurts to Patrick Mahomes to Tua Tagovailoa, Hill’s teammate, and even Dak Prescott. All have had ups and downs along with their respective teams.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) aims a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, in Miami, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

And so all of this begs the question. Can a position player like Hill finally win the award?

It won’t be easy. The NFL, after all, has turned the MVP into a quarterback award. Not

since 2012, when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson last did it, has there been a non-quarterback to win the crown.

Within that time frame, there have been multiple position players who have made an argument to win one as well, but none came close.

The most recent example was in 2021 after Cooper Kupp’s historic season as a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams. Kupp won the triple crown that season, leading all wide receivers in yards, receptions, and touchdowns. He posted a line of 145 receptions, 1,947 receiving yards, and 16 receiving touchdowns.

In fact, his receiving-yards total came within 17 of the most in a single season, posted by former Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson, with 1,964. But after all of that, Kupp finished third in voting that season. His competition was quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, who won the award, and Brady.

Hill, health permitting, could eclipse Kupp’s totals. Even with Monday’s limited production, he’s still averaging 118.6 receiving yards per game, and 15.9 yards per catch. He’s on pace to pass 2,000 yards, which would shatter Johnson’s record and make him the NFL’s all-time single-season leader.

“I know it would take a lot to keep him out (of any game),” McDaniel said Monday.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill speaks during a news conference following an NFL football game, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Miami. The Titans defeated the Dolphins 28-27. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Besides the general statistics, Hill has been graded by Pro Football Focus as the best wide

receiver in the NFL with a grade of 93.3 out of 100. This grade is better than the 92.3 grade Kupp received in his historic season. Hill is also second amongst all receivers in passer rating when targeted at 129.7.

Advanced metrics, such as yards per route run against man and zone, have him above and beyond other receivers in the NFL. Hill leads the league in route win rate, with a 63.6% win rate which means he’s open more than half the time.

The metrics also show that there is no other player more dangerous with the ball in their hands than Hill, as for the year, he leads the NFL in yards after catch with 525.

Not only that, but through last week and before Monday’s loss, Hill accounted for 32% of the targets on the whole team, an incredibly high mark demonstrating how valuable he has been to the Dolphins’ overall success.

The buzz is starting to build around league circles for Hill’s case as MVP, as well. In fact, former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, last month, said “he is the best player at his position in the NFL right now. When you’re talking about the Dolphins, and their best player being Tyreek Hill, he has to be the MVP.”

Last month, when asked about his chances of winning the award, the often playful Hill said, “no, because we have a player that’s on our team that’s better than me and means more to this team. And his name is (fullback) Alec Ingold,” as he jokingly referred to Tagovailoa.

Despite Hill’s joking manner, he understands the impact he’s had and how much of a legitimate shot he has at becoming the first position player in more than 11 years to win MVP.

Of course, his progress through practice this week will go a long way toward keeping him in the race.

“When you have someone like Tyreek go down,” Tagovailoa said after the loss, “it does make it tough.”