With three weeks left in the season, the NFL’s brightest stars will make their final pushes to position their teams for the best possible postseason scenarios. They’re also making final bids to be named Most Valuable Player.
This season has featured some truly eye-popping bodies of work by some of the league’s elite. It’s now a very competitive race for the MVP spot.
Historically, quarterbacks have dominated this award. The field this year includes many MVP-caliber passers. There are many non-quarterbacks who have performed heroically and deserve to be considered for this honor.
Here’s a look at the leading MVP contenders (both traditional and unconventional) and how things could shake out.
The traditional candidates
Again, it’s a quarterback-dominated award. Passers have won MVP in 13 of the last 14 seasons. When asked by NFL insiders for their predictions for MVP, the names that pop up are very familiar.
Aaron Rodgers: After all the turmoil of the offseason and ugly season debut, Rodgers flipped the switch, returned to his dominant form and again has the Green Bay Packers on schedule for a deep playoff run. It could lead to a Super Bowl appearance. Once again, he’s on pace to top the 4,000-yard passing mark, and currently has 30 touchdown passes and just four interceptions while leading the NFL with a quarterback rating of 110.4. Green Bay has the league’s best record, meaning that if they can keep it up, the Packers will have home field advantage in the playoffs.
Tom Brady: Father Time has yet to sink his clutches into Brady, who has kept an injury-plagued Bucs squad’s Super Bowl repeat hopes alive. The 44-year-old leads the NFL in passing yards (4,348), yards per game (310.6).
Patrick Mahomes: His numbers haven’t been quite as prolific as years past, however, after a slow start, Mahomes has steadily regained his usually impressive form, helped carry the Chiefs back to the top of the AFC standings and has restored them as Super Bowl favorites.
Lamar Jackson: The Ravens have endured one wave of injury after another. The Ravens’ top running backs were injured to begin the year. Their wide receivers have been in and around the team all year. Yet, Jackson has kept them afloat averaging 240 passing yards and 63 rushing yards a game.
Outside the box candidates
There are definitely some non-quarterbacks that NFL talent evaluators, coaches and players believe deserve to be a part of the MVP conversation.
Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor: He has almost single-handedly saved the Indianapolis Colts’ season while leading the league in rushing – by a mile. Taylor boasts 1,518 rushing yards (424 more than the second-leading rusher) and 17 rushing touchdowns (five more than second place). The Colts had a disappointing start with 1-4, so Taylor was hired to assist Carson Wentz. Taylor has taken his team under his wing and smashed the opposition with games at stake. The Colts are now 7-2 after Taylor’s heroics.
Pittsburgh Steelers LB T.J. Watt: Leading the NFL in sacks for a second straight season, Watt has a new career high (17.5 and counting) while pacing a Steelers defense that has largely kept them in games this season.
Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett: Putting up career numbers, Garrett has 15 sacks, 48 tackles and a fumble recovery while serving as the catalyst for a defense that ranks fifth in the league and has helped the Browns weather adversity on offense.
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp: Not only has the fifth-year wideout shattered his own personal best, he also broke the Rams’ single-season receiving yards record previously held by Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce, and his 1,625 yards, 122 catches and 14 touchdown catches all lead the NFL by a healthy margin. Kupp quickly became the preferred quarterback for Matthew Stafford and has been a valuable replacement for Robert Woods, who was injured. Eight times this season, Kupp has recorded 115 receiving yards or more.
Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons: The Cowboys thought they were drafting an impact inside linebacker out of Penn State. Parsons was forced to be an edge rusher after injury to others. He’s proven that he can be a defensive game-changer regardless of his position. His 12 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and 57 tackles are a big reason for Dallas’ defensive improvement.
Although all impressive, three of these candidates are truly delivering at the most elite level: Rodgers, Taylor and Kupp.
However, Rodgers is the favorite to ultimately take home the award. That means he would repeat as league MVP and win the honor for the fourth time of his career, (tying him with Peyton Manning) and putting him in company with Manning, Brett Favre and Jim Brown as the only players in NFL history to win MVP in consecutive seasons (Favre won it three straight years from 1995-97).
Rodgers continues to deliver at an elite level, topping the 30-touchdown mark for the seventh time in his career. His ability to manage the ball (with just four interceptions) and his ability elevate the talent around is remarkable.
Rodgers and Brady seemingly had been neck-and-neck in this race, but the Saints’ shutting Brady out at home last week appears likely to have opened the door for Rodgers to pull away.
Now, if the voters opt to break from tradition and give a non-quarterback the award, Taylor is most deserving. If successful in pulling off this upset, he would become the first non-quarterback MVP since Adrian Peterson won the award in 2012.
Kupp is having a dynamic campaign and has indeed elevated this Rams offense. Taylor’s contributions are more significant.
Perhaps Taylor’s strongest statement came last week against the New England Patriots when with 2: 01 left in the game, and the Colts needing to maintain possession to run out the clock and protect a 20-17 lead against a very good Patriots defense, the 5-foot-10, 226-pound running back ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run. With that play, he slammed the door on the Patriots, lifting Indianapolis to a 27-17 victory.
Three games remain, meaning Rodgers and Taylor and their competitors have a few more opportunities for statement performances. Will Rodgers add another chapter in his legendary career? Or will the Colts’ unlikely hero surpass the favorite and win the most prestigious award in the NFL?