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Zulgad: Case Keenum deserves MVP votes, even if he isn’t the Vikings’ MVP

By Judd Zulgad

Case Keenum won’t win the NFL’s MVP award, but the Vikings quarterback is going to get votes.

In ESPN’s most recent MVP poll, Keenum received 14 points in the voting by the 12 experts, putting him behind Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (59 points, 11 first-place votes); Rams running back Todd Gurley (27 points, 1 first-place vote); Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (21 points) and Saints quarterback Drew Brees (17 points).

Keenum deserves the recognition. The veteran received a one-year, $2 million deal from the Vikings this offseason to serve as Sam Bradford’s backup. He spent one game in that role before being thrust into action after Bradford showed up with a sore knee following a brilliant performance in a victory over New Orleans in the regular-season opener.

Keenum will enter the Vikings’ Week 16 game at Green Bay on Saturday night, having completed 67.9 percent of his passes (290-of-427) for 3,219 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 11-3 Vikings have clinched the NFC North and Keenum has won nine of the 12 games he has started. He came in to relieve Bradford in an October game in Chicago and guided Minnesota to victory so it’s safe to say that Keenum is 10-3.

Keenum has done everything that’s been asked of him, has played better than any starting quarterback in Minnesota since Brett Favre’s MVP-type season in 2009 and deserves any postseason recognition he receives

And, yet, he wouldn’t finish among my top two choices if you asked me to pick my top five candidates for Vikings’ MVP this season. This topic came up on the “Mackey and Judd” show Tuesday and caused plenty of angst among listeners who felt Keenum’s accomplishments were being minimized.

My thought was Keenum has been great, but he’s also operating in a system where credit must be shared with many. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been incredible in his play-calling. The offensive line, running backs, receivers and tight ends have been fantastic.

And don’t forget this is a team built around its defense.

This is why if I had to cast a vote for Vikings’ MVP my top five would be: 1) Harrison Smith; 2) Xavier Rhodes; 3) Keenum; 4) Riley Reiff; 5) Linval Joseph.

This is an inexact science and given the number of dominant players on the roster it actually was more difficult to leave Everson Griffen (13 sacks) out of the top five than it was to put Keenum third. Adam Thielen (83 catches for 1,191 yards and four touchdowns) also easily could have made the top five.

The fact Smith was left out of the Pro Bowl only goes to show how big of joke the voting process for that game is because Smith is not only one of the better safeties in the NFL, he’s one of the league’s better players.

Smith is not only a dominant player on the field, he also serves as a player/coach, making the last-minute adjustments that Mike Zimmer wants. Smith has three interceptions, 1.5 sacks and has been credited with 64 tackles this season, placing him fourth on the team.

His contributions go beyond statistics and that’s why he would be my MVP choice. Rhodes would be a close second.

Rhodes is something we have rarely, if ever, seen in these parts. He is a shutdown corner. Rhodes has become accustomed to shadowing the top receiver from opposing teams and that has meant the quarterback rarely looks to his side of the field.

An NFL-related Twitter account put out this bit of information this week: Since 2016, Rhodes has held Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham and A.J. Green to a combined nine receptions and 94 yards (on throws into his coverage).

Read that again.

We are talking about four of the top receivers of the game who might consider a nine-catch, 94-yard day to be a disappointment.

Reiff, signed as a free agent during the offseason, has provided the type of consistent play at left tackle that the Vikings never got a season ago, or, really in recent years from Matt Kalil. Reiff might not be perfect, but he also doesn’t forget to block guys like Kalil did at times. Left tackle is one of the most important positions on offense and Reiff has stabilized a spot that was a dumpster fire in 2016.

I could have put Joseph behind Griffen, but to ignore the contributions from the nose tackle would be to overlook a guy who is dominant at what he does each week. Joseph plays a position that doesn’t get much recognition, unless that spot is a weakness. Then everybody sees the flaws.

Joseph is the biggest reason (literally) that the Vikings are second in the NFL in run defense. The amazing thing is that Joseph is listed at 6-foot-4, 329 pounds and yet you often see him getting 10 yards down the field to make a tackle.

All of this doesn’t mean Keenum hasn’t had a fantastic season. The national media will give him plenty of credit and it’s well deserved. But when you look at the success of the 2017 Vikings, it starts with defense and, for me, that success starts with Smith and Rhodes.

The post Zulgad: Case Keenum deserves MVP votes, even if he isn’t the Vikings’ MVP appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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