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Sunday football notes

A wide receiver has never been named NFL MVP, but the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill is making a case

Tyreek Hill's 1,481 receiving yards through 12 games are 299 more than the next-best receiver in the league.Rob Carr/Getty

If any team has seen the devastation Tyreek Hill can wreak on a defense, it’s the Patriots.

In nine career games against New England, Hill has 50 catches for 744 yards and seven touchdowns, while his team is 6-3. Hill caught a touchdown pass in both Patriots-Dolphins matchups this year, both Miami wins.

Hill is no hated rival in the Patriots’ locker room, though. In fact, he has several guys pulling for him.

“I would say he’s the best receiver in the league, and I’m rooting for him to win the MVP,” Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson said. “I root for Tyreek Hill. He deserves it, honestly. Look at the film, look at the numbers he’s putting up. If he continues to do the things he’s doing, he will have a shot to make history.”

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No wide receiver has ever won the Associated Press’s MVP award in 66 years, and only Jerry Rice has come close. But with five weeks left in the regular season, Hill is giving voters a lot to think about (disclosure: In 2022, I became one of 50 AP voters).

In a year in which league-wide scoring and passer numbers are down, Hill is on a record-breaking pace. His 123.4 yards per game are the most in the 58 years of the Super Bowl era (discounting the strike-shortened 1982 season). It puts Hill on pace for 2,098 receiving yards, which would make him the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiver and would shatter Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 in 2012. Even without the extra 17th game, Hill would break Johnson’s record by 10 yards.

Hill’s numbers far outpace those of his peers. His 1,481 yards through 12 games are 299 more than the next receiver, CeeDee Lamb. Hill’s 19 catches of 25-plus yards are five more than anyone else. And his catch percentage of 73.2 ranks ninth among 83 qualifying receivers.

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Hill’s final projected stats look like something out of the Madden video game: 132 catches, 2,098 yards, and 17 touchdowns.

“He’s doing numbers that, like, Jerry Rice was doing,” Patriots receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “And to know that you’re getting double-teamed and still getting the ball, that’s crazy. He’s a different type of human being.”

Indeed, Hill is producing in his seventh NFL season despite being the focal point of every defensive game plan. He has at least 100 receiving yards in eight of 12 games, including his last three. Hill has a league-high four touchdown catches of at least 50 yards this year. Last week at Washington, when everyone in the building knew Hill was going to get the ball, he still had 157 receiving yards with touchdown catches of 60 and 78 yards.

“He’s setting the standard, putting on a display that you can’t match,” said Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones, who has been chasing Hill around since 2017. “It’s just one of those golden rules — you can’t hit what you can’t catch. He’s running around, and when guys can’t get a hand on him, it’s very, very tough to defend him.”

The problem for Hill is that MVP has overwhelmingly been a quarterback award. Of 68 winners — the award was split in 1997 and 2003 — 47 have been quarterbacks, including 14 of the last 15.

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Running backs are also heavily represented, winning 18 MVPs. There have been two defensive winners — Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986). Even a kicker has won — Washington’s Mark Moseley in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

But receivers have been shut out, rarely coming close.

From the award’s creation in 1957 through 2021, the 50 AP voters only submitted one name on their MVP ballots. When Cooper Kupp got one vote in 2021 after 149 catches, 1,947 yards, and 16 touchdowns (finishing a distant third to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady), it was the first time a receiver received a vote since Randy Moss got four in 1998.

That means Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, and Johnson, among many other great receivers, went their entire careers without receiving a single MVP vote. Moss didn’t get another vote after 1998, including in 2007 when he set a record with 23 touchdown catches.

The Packers’ Sterling Sharpe got a couple of MVP votes in the early 1990s, Steve Largent and Harold Carmichael got two each in 1979, and a handful of receivers in the 1960s and early 1970s got a few votes. But the only receiver in NFL history to seriously enter the MVP discussion was Rice, who finished second in 1987 and 1995, third in 1993 and 1994, sixth in 1986, and seventh in 1990.

In 2022, the AP switched to rank-choice voting, and Justin Jefferson finished fifth with no first-place votes, while Hill finished 13th.

The MVP award’s quarterback bias — understandable given that quarterbacks are overwhelmingly the most “valuable” players on the field — is Hill’s biggest hurdle. Several quarterbacks are producing MVP-caliber seasons, including the 49ers’ Brock Purdy, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, and Hill’s quarterback, the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa. 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey is also in the conversation, with 1,461 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns.

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Then again, none of those quarterbacks has separated himself from his peers the way Hill has from other receivers. And while Hill undoubtedly benefits from the pieces around him — Jaylen Waddle, a stable of speedy running backs, and an elite scheme from coach Mike McDaniel — Hill is arguably the catalyst, not Tagovailoa.

If the Dolphins land the AFC’s No. 1 seed — which they currently hold at 9-3 — and Hill continues his torrid pace, the voters may take notice.

“If they do give it to a non-[quarterback] and Tyreek Hill breaks this record, he goes over 2,000 yards, he should be MVP,” Cowboys defensive star Micah Parsons said this past week on his podcast. “Without a doubt.”

Tyreek Hill (background) flips in celebration after he scored a second quarter touchdown against New England last season. Jim Davis/Globe Staff
COACHING CLINIC

Taylor tailored

plan to Browning

Backup quarterback Jake Browning was the talk of the league this past week after leading the Bengals to an overtime victory against the Jaguars. Browning “lit the world on fire,” coach Zac Taylor said, completing 32 of 37 passes for 354 yards, a touchdown, and a rushing touchdown in the 34-31 win.

“His incompletions were two drops, two throwaways, and a tipped ball,” Taylor said. “That’s pretty dang accurate. Really impressive performance by him.”

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But as impressive as Browning was last Monday, the game was really a clinic by Taylor on how to call plays for a backup quarterback. The raw numbers make it look like Browning let it rip — he averaged an impressive 9.6 yards per attempt, Ja’Marr Chase caught a 76-yard touchdown pass, and the Bengals produced six plays of at least 20 yards.

But in reality, Browning didn’t look downfield much. Taylor called a steady stream of quick screens to his running backs and receivers, and rollout passes to get Browning out of the pocket. Per Next Gen Stats, Browning averaged just 3.8 air yards per pass attempt, nearly half the average of the next quarterback (Brock Purdy, 6.0). Nearly two-thirds of Browning’s yards (233 of 354) were gained after the catch.

Browning threw the ball in an average of 2.47 seconds, the second-fastest time of the week. Only seven of Browning’s 38 passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air, but he lulled the Jaguars to sleep, going 7 for 7 for 170 yards. Taylor also called more play-action for Browning, using it on 25.4 percent of his throws, compared with just 9.6 percent for Joe Burrow this season.

This season has been defined by quarterback injuries — 15 of 32 teams have started multiple quarterbacks, and 53 quarterbacks have started at least one game. Taylor provided a master class for on how to manage a backup QB.

ETC.

Caserio deserves

some of the credit

The 7-5 Texans are arguably the NFL’s biggest surprise,and most of the credit for the turnaround has gone to rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and first-year coach DeMeco Ryans. But it’s hard not to notice that general manager Nick Caserio, now in his third season, has crushed it with his draft picks.

Stroud, the No. 2 pick this year, ranks fifth in the league in passer rating (101.2), is on pace to be the first rookie 5,000-yard passer in NFL history, and is a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year. In last week’s win over the Broncos, No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson had two sacks and eight pressures, and 2022 first-round pick Derek Stingley had two interceptions, and now has four in his last three games.

Tank Dell, this year’s third-round pick, had 709 receiving yards and seven touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury last week. Nico Collins, a third-round pick in 2021, is 10th in the NFL with 991 receiving yards, plus six touchdowns. Safety Jalen Pitre, last year’s second-round pick, had five interceptions last year and is now a leader of the Texans’ defense. Linebackers Christian Harris and Henry To’oTo’o, third- and fifth-round picks the last two years, are thriving.

Caserio also hit on a few value free agents, such as running back Devin Singletary (525 yards, two touchdowns), tight end Dalton Schultz (five touchdowns), and receiver Noah Brown (439 yards and a 20.9 average).

The arrival of Stroud and Ryans has helped the Texans get the most out of their draft picks and free agents. But Caserio deserves a lot of credit for hitting on so many players.

Looking back on 2017 Bills-Chiefs trade

The Bills and Chiefs meet in Kansas City on Sunday in a game that, thanks to the Bills’ 6-6 record, isn’t quite as big as the NFL had hoped it would be when it set the schedule this spring. But it does provide an opportunity to revisit the seismic trade these teams executed in 2017 and imagine what could have been.

On draft day, the Bills traded the 10th overall pick to the Chiefs for picks 27, 91, and a 2018 first-rounder. The Chiefs used that 10th pick on Patrick Mahomes and never looked back. The Bills got value on their end, too — All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White with the 27th pick, plus linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and guard Dion Dawkins in subsequent trades made with the Chiefs’ picks.

Even with the Bills coming away with solid players, this trade would have gone down as one of the biggest draft-day blunders of all time if the Bills didn’t fall into Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 draft (the third quarterback taken).

All’s well that ends well, but keep in mind when watching Sunday’s game that the Bills could have had Mahomes in 2017, but instead decided to stick with Tyrod Taylor.

Going deep regarding pick-6s

Speaking of Allen, I stumbled on some interesting stats this past week with regard to pick-6s. Did you know that Allen has just two in his career, and hasn’t thrown one since the first quarter of Week 1 of the 2019 season? That’s a streak of 84 games, and 2,981 passes without a pick-6 for Allen, including the postseason.

(Now everyone say it with me: “Jinx.”)

Over the last three seasons, the quarterbacks with the most pass attempts without a pick-6 are Allen (1,789), Jimmy Garoppolo (991), Zach Wilson (946), Kenny Pickett (713), and Jacoby Brissett (594). Wilson, believe it or not, has never thrown a pick-6 among his 25 interceptions.

On the other end, the quarterbacks with the most pick-6s since 2021: Matthew Stafford (seven), Mac Jones and Derek Carr (six each), Jared Goff (five), and Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott, Justin Fields, Sam Howell, and Justin Herbert (four each).

Purdy’s numbers rank with the best

The 49ers’ 42-19 win over the Eagles last week was Brock Purdy’s 17th regular-season start. Now that he has a “full season” under his belt, it’s worth checking out his numbers.

Purdy is 14-3 as a starter, throwing for 4,283 yards with 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 69.7 completion percentage is the highest ever in a quarterback’s first 17 starts. So is his 116.9 passer rating, topping the 111.7 from Mahomes, 109.1 from Kurt Warner, and 108.6 from Dan Marino. Purdy’s 9.4 yards per attempt also ranks No. 1 all time.

Does this make Purdy the greatest QB of all time and a lock for the Hall of Fame? Of course not. But it’s quite the start for a guy drafted as Mr. Irrelevant a year ago.

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Extra points

Aaron Rodgers was incensed by a report from The Athletic last week that Wilson was hesitant to retake the starting quarterback job after being benched the last two games. Rodgers was upset not by the report, but the fact that people inside the Jets’ building leaked it. “I think it’s chicken [expletive] at its core, and I think it has no place in a winning organization.” Uh, welcome to the Jets, Aaron . . . Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik come from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree and run the same offense they ran in San Francisco. The top three quarterbacks this year in yards per attempt — San Francisco’s Purdy (9.6), Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa (8.6) and Houston’s Stroud (8.47). Next up on the coaching tree: 49ers pass game specialist Klint Kubiak, son of Gary . . . Mahomes is 17-3 in his career after a loss, and Allen is 22-10. Something has to give Sunday in Chiefs-Bills . . . D.K. Metcalf reached 22.23 miles per hour on his 73-yard touchdown catch two Thursdays ago, the fastest speed by a ball carrier since Week 2 of 2020. Human beings who are 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds are not supposed to be able to move that fast . . . Read the headline “Jaguars employee accused of stealing $22 million from the team” and was surprised it wasn’t about Urban Meyer . . . Definitely did not have “Sean McDermott apologizes for using 9/11 reference in team meeting” on my Bingo card. While embarrassing for McDermott to have it come out this past week, the fact that it happened four years ago means it was already known inside the building and probably won’t affect his job status . . . The Raiders have the fewest penalties in the league (56 in 12 games). Al Davis must be rolling in his grave . . . Stroud leads the NFL with 3,540 passing yards, which hasn’t been done by a rookie since the Eagles’ Davey O’Brien in 1939 . . . The notion that Caleb Williams and Marvin Harrison Jr. are going to stay in college is absurd. Even if they do receive NIL deals similar to their rookie contracts — which is hard to believe, since the top draft picks will be netting $25 million-$28 million million in 2024 — staying in college means waiting another year to start their free agency clock, and risking injury and draft stock. Not gonna happen.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.