Expected TDs Boosts Lamar’s MVP Candidacy

Michael Salfino
December 27, 2023 12:08 PM

Lamar Jackson is the betting favorite for MVP, with the BestOdds for him as of this writing at -170 and the average price at about minus -200.

But he’s widely regarded as the weakest MVP favorite in modern history due to a lack of touchdowns (19 passing, five via the ground).

Are TDs the best way to measure a QB MVP candidacy?

If you focus on yards (passing plus rushing), the MVP case for Jackson is stronger.

Fortunately, there is a time-tested method for converting yards into expected points.

This adjusts for Jackson’s lack of touchdowns on the goal line, where passes have accounted for only three of the 15 Baltimore scores from the three-yard line or closer and where Jackson has rushed in only once (Gus Edwards has 10).

Conversely, Jalen Hurts has accounted for 15 of the 17 TDs rushing or passing (13 via the run/tush push).

Josh Allen has accounted for nine of 15.

It’s more important that the Ravens got so close to the end zone, courtesy of Jackson, rather than who was given the honors on the doorstep.

So let’s focus on expected touchdowns, by converting yards into points.

Year after year, teams average a point scored about every 15 yards.

In the past three seasons, including 2023 through Week 16, teams score a point every 15.2 yards.

So let’s add all the rushing-plus passing yards for 2023 QBs and all QB MVP winners this century.

From there, we’ll calculate their expected touchdowns per game to better measure Jackson’s bonafides.

Jackson’s Expected TDs Similar To Josh Allen’s

First, let’s see if Jackson reasonably clears the 2023 hurdle.

Here’s how the current QBs rank in the statistic, min. 200 attempts.

RkPlayerGPass YdsRushTotal yardsExpected TDsxTDs/G
1Kirk Cousins8233125235622.12.77
2C.J. Stroud133631143377435.52.73
3Patrick Mahomes153938387432540.62.71
4Tua Tagovailoa15421453426740.12.67
5Jalen Hurts153636576421239.62.64
6Josh Allen153778413419139.42.63
7Brock Purdy154050140419039.42.63
8Lamar Jackson153357786414338.92.60
9Dak Prescott153892237412938.82.59
10Trevor Lawrence153736329406538.22.55

There are other factors here to consider, of course, primarily sacks and interceptions.

We’re ignoring them for simplicity’s sake.

Note that Jackson is about average in sack rate (7.4% to 7.2%) and well above average in INT rate (1.6% vs. 2.3%).

So he would not be hurt if those factors were considered.

The former favorite Brock Purdy is personally responsible for 2.63 expected touchdowns per game vs. 2.60 for Jackson, not a significant difference.

The current total touchdowns leader, Josh Allen (40 TDs passing plus rushing), is also at 2.63 earned, elevated by his goal-line usage, while Jalen Hurts (35 total TDs) is just 2.64.

Now factor in that Jackson is leading the Ravens currently to the league’s best record and you can see he has earned the consideration he’s being given.

Jackson’s 2023 Expected TDs vs. QB MVPs

Now what about MVPs this century?

Yes, Jackson would be a weak candidate historically – but not the weakest.

His 2.60 expected TDs per game currently ranks sixth worst this century (among the 21 MVP QBs if we include Jackson 2023) and about the same or better than 2020-21 back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers (2.61, 2.33, respectively).

The worst MVP by this yards-converted-to-TDs measure is 2003 Steve McNair (who tied with 2003 Peyton Manning in the voting), at 2.25 (Manning that year: 2.52).

The average of all the MVPs is 2.76.

In 2019 when he was far more productive in personally recording TDs rushing or passing, and when no one quarreled with his candidacy, Jackson was 2.71 expected TDs per game.

Is that significant?

If it is, it barely is.

Here are the worst-performing MVPs this century at yards converted to points based on the 2021-23 average of a point every 15.2 yards.

2009Peyton ManningIndianapolis Colts4500-131642.172.64
2015Cam NewtonCarolina Panthers38376361642.042.63
2020Aaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers42991491641.802.61
2023Lamar JacksonBaltimore Ravens33577861538.942.60
2003Peyton ManningIndianapolis Colts4267261640.352.52
2008Peyton ManningIndianapolis Colts4002211637.812.36
2021Aaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers41151011739.622.33
2010Tom BradyNew England Patriots3900301636.942.31
2003Steve McNairTennessee Titans32151381431.512.25

Jackson trails total-touchdown leader Josh Allen by 16 touchdowns, having just 60% of Allens’ scores throwing plus running.

That seems enormous.

But he trails Allen by just .03 expected touchdowns per game or 1.2%.

That’s barely anything and more than overcome by his team’s record, for which Jackson, everyone agrees, is most responsible.


About the author

Michael Salfino writes about sports and the sport industry. His numbers-driven analysis began with a nationally syndicated newspaper column in 2004. H...

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