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NFL: Every Non-QB to Win Championship Game MVP

Two wide receivers - Julian Edelman and Cooper Kupp - have won MVP in the last four years. Could another non-QB scoop the award in 2023?

This article was originally published on 2/1/2023.

Of the 57 players in history to be awarded MVP, 31 were quarterbacks. Wide receivers (eight winners), running backs (seven), linebackers (four), defensive ends (two), safeties (two), cornerbacks, defensive tackles, and kick returners (one each) make up the other 26. Unlike awards such as regular season MVP, the list of championship game MVP winners is far more balanced across various positions on both sides of the ball.

All non-QB winners

Wide receivers: Cooper Kupp (2022), Julian Edelman (2019), Santonio Holmes (2009), Hines Ward (2006), Deion Branch (2005), Jerry Rice (1989), Fred Biletnikoff (1977), Lynn Swann (1976)

Running backs: Terrell Davis (1998), Emmitt Smith (1994), Ottis Anderson (1991), Marcus Allen (1984), John Riggins (1983), Franco Harris (1975), Larry Csonka (1974)

Linebackers: Von Miller (2016), Malcolm Smith (2014), Ray Lewis (2001), Chuck Howley (1971)

Defensive ends/tackles: Richard Dent (1986), Harvey Martin (1978)

Safeties/cornerbacks: Dexter Jackson (2003), Larry Brown (1996), Jake Scott (1973)

Kick/punt returner: Desmond Howard (1997)

Let's take a look at how some of these players managed to outshine their QBs on football's biggest stage.

Cooper Kupp (2022)

After winning the receiving triple crown in the 2021 regular season by leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, Kupp was integral in the Rams' run up to and in SBLVI. 

And after Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL in the second quarter of the championship game, even more weight was put on Kupp's shoulders. The Bengals knew Rams QB Matthew Stafford would go to his number one target, and they still couldn't stop it.

Kupp finished with eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the big game, adding seven rushing yards on a risky end-around play-call on a critical 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

Kupp's chemistry with Stafford led to another crucial first down on a 22-yard hook-up, and a few plays later he caught the go-ahead score with 1:25 left in the game. Despite Stafford going for 283 passing yards, 3 TD, and leading LA's game-winning drive, Kupp's sublime performance was enough to earn game MVP.

Julian Edelman (2019)

In a 13-3 victory over the Rams in 2018 NFL Championship, Edelman caught 10 passes for 141 yards - the second-most receptions in a championship game since 2004.

Edelman became the first wide receiver to win the game's MVP award since Santonio Holmes did in the 2009 NFL Championship, and only the second teammate of Tom Brady's to trump him for the award. Brady has won five SB MVPs in his seven wins.

TB12 finished SBLIII with no touchdown throws and one interception, while Edelman accounted for more than a quarter of NE's 407 total yards in what was the lowest-scoring championship game in league history.

Von Miller (2016)

Miller's all-around performance might be among the best ever by a defensive player on football's biggest stage.

In the 2016 NFL Championship, going up against the vaunted Carolina Panthers' top-ranked offense, the Denver Broncos linebacker recorded six tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two quarterback hurries.

His first forced fumble came on Carolina's second offensive drive. Miller ripped the ball out of Cam Newton's hands before defensive end Malik Jackson recovered it in the end zone for a Denver score.

His second forced fumble brought an abrupt end to the Panthers' potential game-winning drive. With just over four minutes remaining in the game and the Broncos up 16-10, Miller slapped the ball out of Newton's grasp as he was about to throw it. Denver pounced, scored on the next play, and were SB champions shortly thereafter.

Malcolm Smith (2014)

In the 2014 NFL Championship at MetLife Stadium, Smith had arguably the best game of his career - finishing with nine total tackles, a pass deflected, a fumble recovery and a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown as the Seattle Seahawks thrashed the Broncos 43-8.

The entire Seattle team played well with QB Russell Wilson, WR Percy Harvin and safety Kam Chancellor all making cases for themselves to be considered the game's outstanding player.

But Smith got the nod, perhaps just for being in the right place at the right time for a clutch sack and a pick-six, as he became the first defensive player to land the award since Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson in 2003.

Deion Branch (2005)

Branch had been unlucky to lose out to Brady for the MVP a year before after catching 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the championship.

But his performance in the Patriots' win over the Philadelphia Eagles could not be ignored, as he tied a big game record with 11 catches for 133 yards and later became the first wide receiver to win the award since 1989.

Chuck Howley (1971)

The former Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys linebacker made history for two reasons in the 1971 NFL Championship. He became the first non-quarterback to pick up the MVP award and, to this date, he remains the only player from a losing team to have won it.

The game was dominated by defense with 11 total turnovers - of which Howley was responsible for two. He intercepted legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and returned it 22 yards to midfield in the first quarter, and then picked off backup QB Earl Morrall in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter to preserve the Cowboys' 13-6 lead.

Dallas QB Craig Morton later threw three interceptions of his own, powering the Colts to complete a 16-13 comeback win.

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