NFL awards don’t get handed out for another three months or so, but it’s never too soon to think about who could win MVP. Last season, Cam Newton came out of nowhere to lead the Panthers to a 15-1 record. The year before, Aaron Rodgers took home the hardware for the second time in his career.
Typically, the award goes to the best player on the best team, but that’s not always the case. As a result, there are still several players in the running to win NFL MVP – there just aren’t as many as you think.
Here are the only five players who can win it this season.
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Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
The biggest culprit standing between Wilson and an MVP is quite literally the barrier standing between him and the guys trying to sack him: his offensive line. Wilson has been sacked only 12 times, but part of that is because of the fact that he’s so great at escaping would-be tackles. He’s bailed his offensive line out on numerous occasions, but even his wizardry hasn’t been enough to mask how bad his linemen are.
Still, he’s averaging 259 passing yards per game (15th) with a passer rating of 91.5. Of course, he has only five touchdown passes, which is a huge issue, but you might remember how many he had through seven games last season: eight. In his final nine games, Wilson had 26 and just three interceptions, posting a ridiculous passer rating of 119.7 in that span.
He can flip a switch at any moment and go off, which is why he remains in the running. If the Seahawks are going to go anywhere this season, it will be because he throws 20 touchdown passes in the second half of the season and leads them to 11 wins. Wilson is the biggest long shot in the group, but he was seemingly out of the running at this point a year ago.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
The last running back to win NFL MVP was Adrian Peterson in 2012. Before that? LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen often, but Elliott isn’t your average running back, and he doesn’t run behind your standard offensive line. He’s an elite talent and his line is the best in the league, making this the perfect storm to Elliott to surge from the back of the pack to the top.
He leads the league with 799 rushing yards and is eighth with five rushing touchdowns. More important, he’s the most productive player on the NFC’s best team as the Cowboys are 6-1 and sitting atop the conference. If they continue to win games at this rate and Dak Prescott doesn’t throw for 400 yards per game down the stretch, Elliott will be Dallas’ favorite to win the award. That hinges on Prescott’s play, somewhat.
Elliott will need to rush for at least 1,700 yards and probably add another 300 receiving in order to surpass Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Matt Ryan, but it’s doable behind that offensive line.
Carr has taken a considerable step forward in Year 3, taking the league by storm. He ranks fifth in the NFL in passing yards (2,321) and third in touchdown passes (17) and has just three interceptions. He’s the No. 1 reason Oakland is 6-2 as he’s thrown two game-winning touchdowns and a two-point conversion to Michael Crabtree that beat the Saints.
He entered this season with five career game-winning drives, but he’s nearly doubled that total with three in 2016.
Carr has an uphill climb toward NFL MVP given the players he’s going up against, but he has the numbers and the pass-happy offense to do it. More often than not, the Raiders are going to be involved in shootouts with the way their defense gives up points in bunches, which will drive his numbers up.
The one thing he and the Raiders need is a signature win. They have yet to beat a great team this season, but the Broncos this weekend certainly qualify as such. Beat Denver and the Texans in back-to-back weeks and Carr will seriously strengthen his case.
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If we were to hand out the MVP award right now, Ryan would get it. The Falcons are 5-3, and Ryan is among the best in every notable passing category. He leads the NFL with 2,636 passing yards and 19 TD passes, while also owning a passer rating of 115.8. If not for his stellar play, the Falcons likely wouldn’t have five wins at this point in the season.
He’s gotten help from arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Julio Jones, but Ryan has done plenty himself. Even when Jones was injured against the Packers and almost a non-factor, Ryan connected with Mohamed Sanu to win the game. He already has two game-winning drives this season to beat the Raiders and Packers – two strong teams right now.
What Ryan will have to do in order to hold off Brady is put up astronomical numbers and lead the Falcons to at least 12 wins. He’ll need to have 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns with a passer rating above 115, assuming Brady keeps on his pace of 36 touchdowns and 3,900 yards. It won’t be easy, but it'll be necessary if Ryan wants to take home the hardware.
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Though Brady may not have won the award just yet, he’s the favorite to take it home at the end of the season. Yes, he’s only going to play 12 games at most. Yes, his numbers are going to be inferior to every other top quarterback’s first the most part. But no, that won’t stop him from being named MVP.
The Patriots are simply the best team in the NFL. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, and it will remain that way through the regular season. Typically, the MVP award goes to the best player on the best team – not necessarily the player with the best stats. And it’s not as though Brady’s numbers will be bad.
He’s on pace for 3,957 passing yards, 36 TD passes and no interceptions. He has the highest passer rating, completion rate and yards per attempt in the league, which are certainly relevant and noteworthy. You’d be foolish to discount Brady in this race because he’s still the best quarterback in the NFL.