Every year, the league has its favorites to receive the most prestigious player award an NFL player can be honored with: the MVP. However, the list of favorites is a short one, but there are always the MVP dark horses.
Candidates are almost exclusively drawn from one group of athletes. At times, it is easy to get frustrated with that fact.
But the fact of the matter is that quarterbacks are the most valuable position in football. A good one can mask the problems and deficiencies in a team’s offense. A bad one can bring an otherworldly roster back down to earth. This is why the NFL is a quarterback’s league. It’s why the MVP is a quarterback’s award.
Last season, Aaron Rodgers (+1000) posted a ridiculous 48 touchdowns to only five interceptions, completed 70.7% of his passes to earn the NFL MVP award. He was a favorite to win it from week one, and he delivered. This season, the offense remains mostly intact and Rodgers should very much be a contender to repeat.
The NFL golden boy, Patrick Mahomes (+500), is another prime candidate to gain his second MVP award. With electric playmakers surrounding him and a beefed-up offensive line, Mahomes could be due for his best season yet. With a 5,000 yard and 50 TD season already under his belt, that’s a big statement to make.
Josh Allen (+1000) exploded onto the scene last season after a lackluster first two years. Leading the Bills to a 13-3 record while piling up 4,500 passing yards and 45 total touchdowns, Allen was very much a candidate to win the award last year. While the addition of Stefon Diggs certainly contributed to that, Allen has improved drastically and will contend once again.
Will Russell Wilson (+1400) ever end up winning one of these things? His career is starting to have a Drew Brees-type trajectory, and he will need a completely dominant season to buck that trend. He’s entered the last four seasons as a top choice, but one or two down games each season mask his greatness.
How can you not include the seven-time Super Bowl Champion? He may not have always been a top choice his last few seasons in New England, but after jumping ship to Tampa Bay, Tom Brady (+1600) is back in that conversation. His 40 touchdowns last year may only be the beginning of his reign in Tampa. With a full offseason under his belt, watch out for Brady to come back strong.
While the five generals listed thus far are the favorites, that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones racing. In fact, I’d argue that four of the last six winners were not preseason favorites.
Lamar Jackson (2019) was coming off a rookie season where he only scored 11 touchdowns. Mahomes (2018) had only seen action in one game before posting an all-time great season.
Matt Ryan (2016) had thrown 47 interceptions in his three previous seasons before leading Atlanta to the Super Bowl. And Cam Newton (2015) hadn’t thrown for more than 24 touchdowns in a season before going Super Cam and nearly going undefeated.
Many people might think that “Dark Horse” means not likely, but I like to think it means overlooked. Without further ado, here are the top five “Dark Horse” candidates to win the MVP this season.
5) Matt Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Stafford (+1600) may be higher on most people’s lists, but I think this is a very realistic spot for him. He’s got some really solid weapons in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
The running game should be a pleasant surprise as well, as Stafford has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2013. Cam Akers should surpass that mark fairly easily with Malcolm Brown out of the picture.
However, I do not see Tutu Atwell being a reliable third option. Perhaps, Van Jefferson or a revamped Desean Jackson could emerge as a solid target but I’m not convinced.
I genuinely believe Matthew Stafford deserves more credit than he’s gotten throughout his career. I’m just not ready to move him any higher on this list. If anyone is the MVP of this team, it’s that amazing defense.
4) Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Herbert (+1800) was nothing short of incredible last season. His ability to excel under excessive pressure was a strong point for the Chargers last season. Leading the league in passing yards (1,113) and passing touchdowns (9) under pressure is just the start for this dude.
Adding Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley, and Matt Feiler in the offseason will only help Herbert develop into the superstar he can be. Not to mention the bill of clean of health for star running back Austin Ekeler.
I’ve seen many people predict some regression for Herbert, saying it’s unrealistic for him to continue his insane efficiency under pressure. However, he won’t have to. The line is revamped, the weapons are back, and he’s got a full offseason under his belt.
Keenan Allen is a beast and will carry the load for the wide receivers, but Mike Williams is a great deep threat. Between Jalen Guyton and new additions Josh Palmer and Jared Cook, Herbert is ready to explode in 2021.
3) Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Do I believe that the cord was cut prematurely on Tannehill (+2500) in Miami? Absolutely, worse QBs than him have had longer leases. However, if you would have told me two years ago that Tannehill could be an MVP candidate… I would have my doubts.
However, fast forward to 2021 and it is very much a reality. Julio Jones and AJ Brown form arguably the league’s top WR duo. Derrick Henry holds back to back rushing titles. You can call me crazy, but this is an offense that can contend to be the league’s best.
Josh Reynolds, Marcus Johnson, and new draftee Dez Fitzpatrick could round out a solid WR core. Additionally, Anthony Firkser is certainly a breakout candidate at tight end for the Titans.
In 26 starts for the Titans, Ryan Tannehill has been, wait for it, ELITE. His 55 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions are just the tip of the iceberg. He has completed over 67 percent of his passes and has statistically been one of the league’s best deep-ball passers. Perhaps none of these QBs has the tools to pull off an MVP bid as Tannehill does.
2) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
It was heartbreaking to see Dak (+1400) go down last season. Through 4 games last year, he averaged 422.5 passing yards per game. Over a 16 game slate, that translates to 6,760 yards. No one in history has thrown for more than 5,500 in history.
I am not saying Dak would have kept that pace, but the rate he was at was incredible. I believe if he had stayed healthy, he could have led the Cowboys to an NFC East title last year. Now healthy, Dak should pick up right where he left off.
The offensive line is healthy again and the WR core is stronger than ever. I’ve previously mentioned how I believe Ezekiel Elliot will have a bounce-back season. This offense is loaded, and last season proved that Dallas trusts Dak to carry the load.
With the defense still questionable, Dak will have every opportunity to lead his team from behind to victory. Offensive shootouts are good recipes to rack up MVP-worthy stats.
1) Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Two words… “Hail Murray!” While all of these guys have the potential for outstanding seasons and are certainly candidates, I think Kyler tops the crowd. With DeAndre Hopkins at his side last year, Kyler (+2000) definitely grew into the QB he was drafted to be.
The 37 touchdowns were a huge step forward, and his elite rushing ability takes his game to the next level. He can impact a game so quickly by eluding pressure and getting to open space. With the Cardinals’ line not being among the league’s best, Kyler’s elusiveness is the ultimate tool for them.
Hopkins and AJ Green have the potential to be a top WR duo in this league I think, but Rondale Moore is what excites me. Moore may be the perfect WR to pair with Murray as his electric game perfectly suits Murray’s backyard style.
Adding Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella makes this the deepest WR room in the league, and Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense makes sure they’ll all get touches. With this roster, Kyler SHOULD be among the favorites to win this award.