In past years, voting for Baltimore Ravens MVP has been particularly simple.
In 2003, no one would have really needed to consider anyone not named Jamal Lewis for the honor.
In 2006, there was hardly an argument that Steve McNair didn’t deserve the award.
Just a season ago, I fired back the name “Ray Rice” about as quickly as I had received my MVP ballot.
Yet when ballots were sent out last week for the 2010 version of the honor, my deliberation process was a bit lengthier.
Plenty of Baltimore Ravens players had solid seasons in 2010.
LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, LB Terrell Suggs and K Billy Cundiff were all very deserving of their Pro Bowl nods. Each could very well be considered in this conversation.
Suggs and Reed in particular were exceptional at times; Suggs collecting 11 sacks and forcing two fumbles, Reed tallying a league leading eight interceptions despite missing the first six games while on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
QB Joe Flacco is also deserving of consideration. P Sam Koch is as well. OL Ben Grubbs would at least have to be on the list, as would RB Rice, CB Josh Wilson and WR’s Anquan Boldin Derrick Mason.
In fact, my 2-10 on the list would be (in order): Suggs, Reed, Lewis, Flacco, Koch, Cundiff, Rice, Boldin and Mason. Wilson would be right after that group.
But when it came to determining one individual winner, one player really stood out.
From Week 1 in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets to Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, there was no better Raven than DT Haloti Ngata.
That’s why he was my choice for Ravens MVP.
Statistically, Ngata might stand out in the way other players do. However, he posted a career high in sacks (5.5), and tied career highs in tackles (63) and pass deflections (5).
He did it in a season where he was asked to play multiple positions along the defensive line; including a number of snaps at Rush End after the team waived veteran DE Trevor Pryce.
The Ravens finished the season with the 5th best run defense (93.9 ypg) in the NFL. They allowed more than 150 yards rushing just once all season (173 yards in Week 3 against Peyton Hillis and the Cleveland Browns); they allowed 75 yards rushing or less five times.
This coming after an offseason in which national football writers (and many of us in the local market) speculated the team was going to be stronger offensively than defensively.
But statistics probably don’t do complete justice to Ngata’s value to this football team.
In 2006, there was no hiding from the fact that Lewis (a sure fire future Hall of Famer) wanted a great DT to play behind in order to help extend his career.
In four years, the big man from Oregon has done just that and more. In 2010, a 35 year old Lewis collected 139 tackles (good for 6th in the NFL) and anchored that 5th over rushing defense.
Without Ngata in front of him, it would be fair to question whether or not Lewis would even be playing at this point in his career.
In October, Head Coach John Harbaugh described Ngata as “playing as well as any defensive player in the league (right now).” It wasn’t an exaggeration then and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration now.
There might be some argument that the New England Patriots’ Vince Wilfork is as good an interior D-Lineman as Ngata. There’s definitely an argument that if he hasn’t yet, Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh will soon pass Ngata on the list of the league’s best players at the position.
But for now, Ngata’s the guy.
And that’s really the biggest reason the team’s defense has remained a stellar unit despite the losses of Pryce, DL Justin Bannan and DL Dwan Edwards as well as the season ending torn ACL suffered by CB Domonique Foxworth at the start of Training Camp.
The best statement that can be made about Ngata this season is that there was never a game in which we found ourselves shaking our heads and thinking “what a pedestrian effort from Haloti today” or “are we sure Haloti knew the game kicked off at 1pm?” or “Haloti really hasn’t made an impact today.”
That can’t really be said about the other players in my Top 10.
From Week 1 to Week 17, Haloti Ngata showed up, gave a full effort and made a legitimate impact.
He was REALLY good in 2010. Not only was he the team’s best player, he was also their most valuable.
That’s why he got my vote.
(Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)