A lot has to go right for any NFL player to win the MVP award in any given season. You gotta retain elite all-world play throughout a four-month span, and just as importantly, you oughta stay healthy in this ultra-physically-punishing sport.
Unfortunately, several players were putting together historic seasons that were cut short by injuries.
Before we start this list, we want to clarify that we aren’t necessarily saying that the injured player would have GUARANTEED won the MVP award if they didn’t get hurt. We’re simply pointing out that they were having a phenomenal year and would’ve been in the running if they didn’t suffer an injury.
So with that said, let’s dive into 14 unfortunate instances where an NFL player got injured during an MVP-caliber season.
Carson Wentz (2017)
Wentz was a rock star in his sophomore year for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. He was the runaway favorite to win MVP honors before tragically suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Wentz’s season ended right then and there. He won 11 of 13 starts and completed 60.2 percent of pass attempts for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns against seven interceptions. In comparison, MVP winner Tom Brady played all 16 games and threw 32 touchdowns — one less than Wentz.
No doubt that the MVP was going to Wentz if he stayed healthy. Now, Nick Foles memorably came off the bench and led the Eagles to an unlikely Super Bowl 52 championship — defeating Brady and his mighty New England Patriots in the big game.
So things worked out fine for the Eagles, but you do feel for Wentz. He was never anything close to his MVP form again after that injury that derailed a career year.
Jalen Hurts (2022)
If Hurts didn’t suffer a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the Eagles’ Week 16 and 17 games, he very likely wins MVP over Patrick Mahomes.
Of course, if Mahomes wasn’t so darn good, Hurts could’ve won MVP honors anyway.
The 2020 second-round pick won 14 of 15 starts and completed 66.5 percent of pass attempts for 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Hurts was ultra-dynamic as a runner, too, finishing with 760 rushing yards and 13 rushing scores.
Mahomes was the better passer, but Hurts was the superior dual-threat QB. Take your pick. If Hurts plays all 17 games, we bet he would’ve won MVP over Mahomes.
Adding insult to injury, Hurts outplayed Mahomes in Super Bowl 57, but the Eagles’ D was nowhere to be seen in a gut-wrenching 38-35 loss.
Tom Brady (2008)
Brady’s 2008 season only lasted seven and a half minutes. But in case you forgot, he was coming off the best single-season ever for a quarterback, so it’s not a stretch to say he belongs on this list.
In ‘07, Brady threw 50 touchdown passes — a single-season record. His Patriots finished 16-and-0 in the regular season and put up 589 points — also a single-season record. Their bid at the perfect season, of course, ended with a heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42.
It felt like the MVP award would once again come down to TB12 and Peyton Manning entering 2008, but Brady hardly had the opportunity to defend his title. He suffered a torn ACL on a hit from Bernard Pollard 7-and-a-half-minutes into the club’s Week 1 opener and was immediately ruled out for the year.
The Patriots finished 11-5 with backup Matt Cassel. Surely, a healthy Brady would’ve at the very least been the runner-up to that year’s MVP winner in Manning?
Dan Marino (1993)
Miami’s star quarterback was cooking as always in the first quarter of the 1993 season. His Dolphins started out 4-1-0, with Marino completing 60.7 percent of pass attempts for 1,218 yards and eight touchdowns against three interceptions.
But it all came crashing down when Marino suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the Dolphins’ Week 6 road game against the Cleveland Browns. Without Marino, Miami slumped to a 9-and-7 finish — having dropped each of their final five games to miss out on the postseason.
Derek Carr (2016)
It might be the greatest “what if” in Oakland slash Las Vegas Raiders history.
In his third NFL season, Carr was having a career year for Oakland in 2016. He went 12-and-3 as their starter and completed 63.8 percent of pass attempts for 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
The Raiders were on their way to ending a 14-year playoff drought, and they were even in contention for the AFC’s No. 1 seed all the way until Week 17. Unfortunately, the club’s Super Bowl dream crashed abruptly in Week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Oakland was leading 33 to 14 in the fourth quarter when Carr took a sack from Trent Cole. The injury didn’t initially seem that bad, but it was later revealed to be a broken fibula for the Raiders’ star QB.
The Raiders went on to win the game, but they were heavily criticized for keeping Carr in a game that was essentially out of reach for Indy.
And then in the Raiders’ Week 17 game against the Denver Broncos, backup Matt McGloin suffered a shoulder injury that forced the team to start Connor Cook in their wild card game against the Houston Texans. Oakland had no chance in that contest as they fell 27 to 14.
Matt Ryan went on to win MVP honors, with Tom Brady finishing second. Carr, a contender all season long, finished third in MVP voting.
Derrick Henry (2021)
King Henry won his second straight rushing title as well as Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2020, having racked up 2,027 rushing yards to go along with a league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns.
Entering 2021, there was no doubt who the best running back in football was. Henry got off to a blistering start in 2021, rushing for a ridiculous 937 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight games. Think about that. He was about to hit 1,000 yards rushing by early November.
Just when Henry already looked poised to win a third straight rushing title — and potentially MVP honors — he suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot during a Week 8 contest against the Colts.
Tennessee miraculously finished as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and Henry returned in time for the postseason. But he was ineffective in their heartbreaking loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round.
At his pace, Henry was about to push for a second straight 2K rushing season. Had he done that, our money would’ve been on him winning MVP over Aaron Rodgers.
Dak Prescott (2020)
Okay, so the Cowboys were 2-and-3 in games Prescott played in 2020. But prior to that gruesome ankle fracture that ended his season in Week 5 against the New York Giants, No. 4 was on a historic pace.
He completed 68 percent of pass attempts for 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns against four picks. More notably, he averaged 371.2 passing yards per game. So he was on pace to throw for just under 6,000 passing yards, which would’ve smashed the single-season record Peyton Manning set in 2013 with 5,477.
Dallas crumbled once Prescott went down to injury and finished with a miserable 6-10 record. Just another reminder of his value to the organization…
Kurt Warner (2000)
Warner was coming off a historically-great season in 1999, one that saw him win MVP honors AND the Super Bowl in the same year. No QB would achieve that feat until Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2022.
Sadly, Warner and the St. Louis Rams’ chances of repeating as champs were dealt a massive blow when he broke his finger in a Week 8 game against Kansas City. Before the injury, Warner had 18 touchdowns, and his Rams were off to a scorching 6-and-1 start.
Backup Trent Green played well in Warner’s absence, but the Rams still weren’t the same without their future Hall of Famer at QB. The Rams finished 10-6 and fell to the NEw Orleans SAints in the Wild Card Round.
With Warner injured, it was fittingly his teammate and running back Marshall Faulk who went on to win 2000 MVP honors.
Andy Dalton (2015)
The Cincinnati Bengals were coming off a fourth straight one-and-done outing in the postseason, leading to questions about Dalton’s ability to lead the franchise to the promised land.
Dalton certainly looked like a man on a mission in year five, however. He went 10-and-3 as the Bengals starter — even leading the team to big-time statement wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half.
Unfortunately, Dalton’s season ended abruptly in a Week 14 home contest against the Steelers when he suffered a fractured thumb in his right throwing hand. His season ended with an MVP-like stat line of 3,250 passing yards and 25 touchdowns against only seven interceptions and three rushing scores.
Second-stringer AJ McCarron, to his credit, fared well in Dalton’s placement. The Bengals’ season ended with a heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Round, however, by a
final score of 18-16. Gotta think if Dalton was the QB in that game, Cincy would’ve won – and who knows? Maybe they go on a Super Bowl run.
Aaron Rodgers (2017)
Rodgers led the Packers to a red-hot 4-and-1 start, highlighted by a last-second thriller of a W over the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry World in Week 5. Through those first five games, he had 13 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
But in a highly-anticipated Week 6 road game against the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers suffered a fractured collarbone after taking a big hit from Anthony Barr.
A-Rod missed the next seven games before returning in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers. Rodgers had three touchdowns and three picks in a 31-24 loss, and the Packers shut him down for the final two games.
16 touchdowns. Six interceptions, and a 97.2 QB rating. Yep, Rodgers would’ve given both Carson Wentz and Tom Brady a run for the MVP award if he stayed healthy all season long.
Lamar Jackson (2022)
After missing the Baltimore Ravens’ final five games in 2021, Jackson came back onto the scene with a vengeance. His Ravens were sitting pretty at 7-4-0 heading into their Week 3 showdown against the Denver Broncos.
Early in the game, Jackson suffered a knee injury that wasn’t initially deemed serious. Pretty quickly, it was ruled that his injury would NOT be season-ending. So Jackson went on the IR with an MVP-like stat line of 2,242 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 764 rushing yards to go align with three rushing scores.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s injury indeed wound up being season-ending. The Ravens narrowly squeaked into the postseason with a 10-7 record, only to drop a close game to the rival Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round.
In 12 games without Jackson through the 2022 season, the Ravens averaged a mere 17.2 points per game – and they went 4-and-8 in games without him. Yeah, that’s an MVP-contending QB if we’ve ever seen one.
Ray Lewis (2002)
The last Defensive Player to win MVP honors? New York Giants’ legend Lawrence Taylor way-back-when in 1986. But if a shoulder injury didn’t limit him to just five games in 2002, maybe Ravens’ legendary linebacker Ray Lewis would’ve snapped the streak.
Despite appearing in only five games that year, Lewis had two interceptions, three pass defenses, one forced fumble and 58 combined tackles. He could’ve easily won what would’ve been the second Defensive Player of the Year award of his illustrious career if not for injury.
And very potentially MVP honors as well.
Drew Brees (2019)
Brees retired as the NFL’s all-time passing yards and passing TDs leader, so it remains a shock to us that he never won an MVP award.
2019 felt like it could finally be Brees’ year. He had 370 passing yards and two touchdowns in the New Orleans Saints’ Week 1 home win against the Houston Texans. But in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams — the NOLA No-Call rematch, by the way! — Brees suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb and missed five games.
Incredibly, backup Teddy Bridgewater went a perfect 5-and-0 as Brees’ replacement in those games. Brees would play 11 games altogether and complete 74.3 percent of his passes — the second-best single-season mark ever, just shy of the record he set a year earlier — for 27 touchdowns and four picks.
It’s not a stretch to think Brees could have won MVP honors over Lamar Jackson if he didn’t have to miss five games. In terms of the passing game, Brees was on his own level that year.
Carson Palmer (2014)
Palmer led the Arizona Cardinals to a thrilling Week 1 comeback win against the San Diego Chargers, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for the next three games.
He returned in Week 6 and won each of his next five starts. Sadly, Palmer tore his ACL in the Cardinals’ Week 10 win over the St. Louis Rams. So his season ended with 1,626 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions for a QB rating of 95.6.
Arizona was 6-0 with Palmer but just 5-and-5 without him. They still qualified for the playoffs but were no match for the Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card Round. Had Palmer stayed healthy, he could’ve very likely won his first MVP award…and who knows? Maybe he leads Arizona to their first-ever Super Bowl.
We’ll never know for sure.
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