NFL 2017: Top 10 non-quarterback MVP candidates

The MVP award is often given to the best quarterback, but if it goes to a different position following the NFL 2017 season, here are the 10 best candidates.

Each year it seems like the NFL MVP award doesn’t necessarily go to the best player, but to the quarterback most responsible for his team’s success. Following two running backs winning the title in 2005 and 2006 it has been a steady run of signal-callers, with just one running back mixed in when Adrian Peterson won it in 2012.

Outside of him, former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning took the trophy four times whereas Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers won it twice. Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Matt Ryan of the Falcons kept the streak going by winning the prestigious trophy in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Looking forward to the 2017 NFL season, many predictions about who will win the award center around quarterbacks. Should the trend be bucked and a non-quarterback walk away with the MVP here is a look at the top 10 possible players who would be the likely candidates — beginning with a few who just missed the cut.

Honorable mentions: Joey Bosa, DE – Los Angeles Chargers, Mike Evans, WR – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Oct 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a pass behind San Diego Chargers free safety Dwight Lowery (20) during the second quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

10. Julio Jones, WR — Atlanta Falcons

As previously mentioned, Matt Ryan won the MVP in 2016 and one of the biggest reasons was the connection he has with wide receiver Julio Jones. The Atlanta Falcons made some headlines when they gave the Cleveland Browns five picks to move from No. 27 to sixth overall.

They made that splashy move for the right to secure Jones’ services. After watching him record 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010 for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Atlanta believed he could transform their offense.

That’s exactly what happened as Jones had a remarkable 959 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He followed that up with 1,198 yards and ten scores in his second season. It was the first of four seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving — the only time he failed to reach that plateau was 2013 when he missed all but five games due to injury.

Jones’ most productive season was 2015 when he had 136 receptions for 1,871 yards. After the team invested in some other players to help the passing game, his numbers went down but his effectiveness hasn’t.

As of now he averages the most yards receiving per game and could easily have another 1,800-yard season to find his name among the MVP finalists.

Jan 8, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

9. Odell Beckham, Jr., WR — New York Giants

Another great young receiver is next in our NFL 2017 non-quarterback MVP hopefuls in New York Giants Odell Beckham, Jr. He’s the one player close to Julio Jones in terms of yards per game and OBJ is still getting better as he’s just 24 years old.

Beckham was the 12th overall selection out of LSU in 2014 and after missing the first four games of the season he blew up for the G-Men. The rookie went for over 1,300 yards and had 12 touchdowns. He’s never had less than that many receiving yards and has always been able to record double-digit touchdowns.

Heading into his fourth season, Beckham has 288 yards with 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has been in hot water for his temper and off-field decisions, but there’s nothing for the team to concern themselves with. If the worst things he does includes hitting Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman too hard (who blames him, right?), attack a kicking net and go on boat trips before playoff games, OBJ and his Giants will be just fine going forward.

He’s one of the few receivers who could legitimately challenge for the most sought after individual reward in the league.

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 11: Vic Beasley Jr.

8. Vic Beasley, Jr., EDGE — Atlanta Falcons

It’s been quite a while since an Atlanta Falcons player has been mentioned. After seeing Matt Ryan win the MVP in 2016 we looked at receiver Julio Jones’ potential for the honor during the NFL 2017 season. Jones may not be the best option for the team outside of Ryan though as edge rusher Vic Beasley, Jr. could be the most dominate player on that entire team.

After being selected early in Round 1 of the 2015 NFL Draft, Beasley was pretty raw as a rookie. It wasn’t necessarily his fault as the position he plays is one of the toughest to transition from. In his second season though, his talent was on full display.

Beasley led the revived Falcons defense all the way to the NFC South title and eventually to the Super Bowl. He was also the leader in the league with 15.5 sacks for the Dirty Birds. Heading into Year 3, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get even better for the Dirty Birds.

With head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff working to build a talented defense they have now surrounded their best pass rusher with players like defensive end Takkarist McKinley and defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Those additions should only make it easier for Beasley to find himself some favorable matchups.

Jan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) runs after a catch against Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Packers won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

7. Jordy Nelson, WR — Green Bay Packers

In 2015, the Green Bay Packers were without wide receiver Jordy Nelson, following a torn ACL in preseason. Their offense simply wasn’t the same without him that year. Of course quarterback Aaron Rodgers was still among the best in the league, but other players suffered. Fellow wide out Randall Cobb had earned a reputation as an explosive playmaker, but without Nelson taking attention away he really struggled with consistency.

Nelson returned in 2016 and so did everyone else on the Packers offense. He’s one of the more underrated players in the league and, at 31 years old last season, he looked to have the same explosion despite that age and injury. The star wide out had 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns for the NFC North champions.

His performance earned him the 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award and there’s no reason to think that he can’t keep the momentum going moving forward. The Packers have done next to nothing to fix their weak running game, which means that Rodgers and company will keep slinging it like crazy. That could end up getting Nelson some mention during the MVP selection process.

Dec 24, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills free safety Corey Graham (20) dives to try and tackle Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) during the second half at New Era Field. The Dolphins beat the Bills 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

6. Jay Ajayi, RB — Miami Dolphins

Boise State running back Jay Ajayi was an absolute beast in college. The Broncos had no issues handing the ball off to their London-born running back and watching him move the chains with ease. On top of his running, he was a fantastic pass catcher for them as well, and had a lot of people intrigued as he entered the 2015 NFL Draft.

Despite his 4,567 yards from scrimmage in three seasons (just two as a full-time starter), Ajayi saw his stock plummet some thanks to a knee injury. He wound up lasting until the fifth round and the Dolphins were lucky enough to land his services.

Injuries continued to limit him throughout his rookie season and he rushed for less than four yards per attempt on just 49 carries. Heading into his second season, Ajayi was expected to be a reserve behind Arian Foster. After the running back who was formerly the leader of the Houston Texans retired thanks to being hurt the Dolphins ended up turning to Ajayi. He didn’t let them down as he fueled a comeback from the bottom of the standings to a playoff spot on the heels of three separate 200-plus-yard performances.

Despite starting just 12 games, Ajayi finished fourth in total rushing yards in the entire NFL. Heading into Year 3 he’s fully healthy, and will be a starter from Day 1. There’s no reason to think he won’t contend for the rushing title and if so, has a shot at the MVP award as well.

Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) before the game against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB — Dallas Cowboys

He didn’t win the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, but in any other season, he probably would have. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing yardage and had 15 touchdowns on the ground as well. The one thing keeping him from the top rookie honors was a guy picked by the same team three rounds later.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was phenomenal for the Boys and took home the honors, but he and Zeke both knew how important they were to one another as Dak not only joked about cutting the award in half, but he also brought Elliott with him to accept the award.

Part of the reason Dak brought his teammate was because he knows how great of a player Elliott is. Entering his second season, the top rusher in the league from last year not only hopes to continue to dominate on the ground — he also hopes to be used in the passing game more as well.

If Elliott is able to stay in the top few spots for rushing yardage and expand upon his abilities as a receiver there’s no reason to think he can’t be the best player in the league. Zeke is one of the more talented running backs in recent memory and may be one of the favorites to stop the recent quarterback MVP reign.

Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs the ball against New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) during the second quarter in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

4. Antonio Brown, WR — Pittsburgh Steelers

A former sixth-round pick in 2010 out of Central Michigan, wide receiver Antonio Brown has developed into a star for the Pittsburgh Steelers. On a team which has featured many great wide receivers in recent years, Brown has stood above and outlasted them all. His ability to create space with his route running is outstanding and he’s also a weapon as a punt returner for the team.

He also has the ability to help the team in multiple ways, which is what sets him apart from other receivers. Brown was slowed down some in 2016, but that “slow season” meant just 1,284 yards receiving. This was a big drop from the 1,834 the season before. He did, however, still manage 12 touchdowns for Pittsburgh last season, and should only get better as long as starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy.

The receiver and quarterback duo have a connection unlike any other in the game. Without Big Ben, Brown is a very talented receiver. With him, he’s quite possibly the best in the game. The five-time Pro Bowler just inked a new five-year deal, which should keep him with the team that drafted him for the rest of his career.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Denver Broncos Von Miller (58) celebrates after a defensive stop in the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Titans won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

3. Von Miller, OLB — Denver Broncos

The second overall pick in 2011 out of Texas A&M, outside linebacker Von Miller has been one of the most dominate pass rushers in the NFL since joining the league. He started taking down passers at a high rate as a rookie, and hasn’t let up since.

On top of his constant regular season pressures, Miller also dominated for the Broncos during their recent championship run. With quarterback Peyton Manning looking completely over his head during his final season, Miller and company put their team on their backs. Despite Manning struggling to throw the ball more than five yards down field, this team was unstoppable.

They headed into Super Bowl 50 and Miller made life miserable for MVP Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers. The quarterback struggled to get away from Miller and he wound up earning himself a huge new deal.

Miller could catch a similar fire in 2017 and find himself in the MVP talk for sure. He enters this season with 338 tackles and 73.5 sacks in six seasons in the league. With other players like linebacker Shane Ray breaking out around him, Miller could perform even better moving forward.

Khalil Mack Oakland Raiders

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2. Khalil Mack, DE — Oakland Raiders

One of the most likely defensive players to win the 2017 NFL MVP Award would surely be Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack. He was originally drafted fifth-overall in 2014 — after the much higher rated Jadeveon Clowney went first overall for the Houston Texans.

Much less attention waw given to Mack, but that’s just not the case any longer. After a decent rookie season, he broke out in 2015. Despite his sack totals dipping, Mack won the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

He was a member of the All-Rookie team in 2014 and then became a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl player in each of the past two seasons. After securing their first winning season since 2002, the Raiders have a lot of people to thank. On offense there was no shortage of players to heap praise on, but on defense that wasn’t the case. Mack has been the foundation of that side of the ball and they will go as far as he does.

In order to make a deep playoff run, the Raiders need Mack to continue to progress a leader for this team. If he can do that, the sky is the limit.

Le'Veon Bell Pittsburgh Steelers

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1. Le’Veon Bell, RB — Pittsburgh Steelers

Another Pittsburgh Steelers player makes the list as running back Le’Veon Bell gets some love here. Since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2013 out of Michigan State he’s been a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Bell has averaged 4.5 yards per rush in his career and has 26 touchdowns on the ground.

Bell isn’t just a running machine, but also is effective as a weapon out of the backfield catching the ball. On tip of his running he has 227 receptions for 2,005 yards and five more scores. He’s been so good that despite missing four games to start the season, Bell was in the discussion for MVP in 2016.

Moving forward he would do himself a favor by not getting busted for offseason drug use. He also needs to find a way to put his contract issue behind him and just show up ready to work.

Should he be able to do those couple of things, there’s no reason to think that Bell won’t take the MVP away from the signal-callers and put it back in the hands of the guys who run full speed into 300-pound men trying to destroy them.

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