The MVP race remains wide open

Mike Florio

Not long ago, the candidates for the 2019 NFL MVP award consisted of Patrick Mahomes, Patrick Mahomes, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson. Now, Mahomes’ injury could make his own chance at winning the award a much more difficult proposition.

So with seven weeks in the bag, let’s look at the candidates as of right now. It’s a snapshot that we’ll take, perhaps every week, in order to figure out who really is in the running for this award.

The Leading Contenders.

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Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Ravens: With the fourth double-triple of his career on Sunday in Seattle (if you haven’t read the excellent MDS item tracking and naming this rarely-achieved feat, you should), Jackson helped the Ravens legitimize their prior 4-2 record. He’s currently the NFL’s sixth-leading rusher, and he’s averaging 235.7 passing yards per game. Most importantly, he has an electric presence that resembles his two-way dominance at Louisville more than many thought it would. The ever-present threat of an injury resulting from the hits that he takes becomes the biggest risk to his shot at winning it.

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Packers: A proposal that seemed unsupported by the stats a week ago has become a reality, thanks to a career game from Rodgers against the Raiders. Fifth in passing yardage after Sunday’s 426-yard outburst, Rodgers is also tied for fifth in touchdown passes, throwing 13 (five on Sunday) against two interceptions. Starting with the Week Four loss to the Eagles, Rodgers has elevated to a higher level in the Matt LaFleur offense, and Rodgers has been spectacular ever since, winning three games in a row without his top receiving target (Davante Adams) on the field. If the Packers capture a bye in the NFC, the trophy may be his, again.

Christian McCaffrey, running back, Panthers: Off this week, McCaffrey remains on pace for 2,461 yards from scrimmage as the heart and soul of the post-Cam Carolina offense. The eighth pick in the 2017 draft is also on track to score 24 touchdowns. To be a serious candidate, he’ll need to do something historic or close to it. But he’ll have a hard time becoming the third 1,000/1,000 tailback (Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk have done it), and McCaffrey is currently slightly behind the single-season yards from scrimmage record set by Chris Johnson in 2009, with 2,509.

Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seahawks: A pair of home losses, punctuated by only the second more-than-one-score defeat in Seattle during his tenure with the team, has taken the shine off the leading candidate through Week Six. He still has 15 touchdown passes against only one interception. But the Seahawks will need to win the division at a minimum for Wilson to have a real shot at securing his first MVP. With the 49ers at 6-0, that won’t be easy to do.

Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Texans: Despite losing on Sunday in Indy, Watson continues to be a dynamic presence, making big plays in the clutch and generating another great statistical season. His accuracy is just south of 70 percent, he’s running less (thus reducing injury risk), and he’s getting sacked less. The Texans will need to win the division and earn one of the top two seeds in the AFC for Watson to have a real chance at winning.

The Fringe Candidates.

Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Chiefs: Still leading the NFL in passing yardage (2,180) and tied for the league lead in passing touchdowns (15), Mahomes’ case will depend on two things — first, whether the team thrives without him and, second, how quickly he returns. If, for instance, the Chiefs lose the next two (rematches of their only two Super Bowl appearances, against the Packers and Vikings) and Mahomes comes back in Week 10 and picks up where he left off, Mahomes would be right back in it. If he misses more than two games, however, it could be very hard to supersede someone who plays in all 16 games. Especially if the Chiefs don’t end up with at least a bye.

Tom Brady, quarterback, Patriots: His numbers are very good but not great. But his team is 6-0, and he continues to be the nucleus of it, even in a year when the defense is dominating. If the Patriots finish with the No. 1 seed in the AFC and if no other players from the other three playoff-bye teams have significantly better numbers or moments, Tom Brady could win it — especially since he’s Tom Brady.

Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Vikings: Three weeks after Minnesota had to be wondering how it could get out from under the $29.5 million in fully-guaranteed salary he’s due to earn next year, Cousins has had a historic run. He’s the first quarterback in league history to throw from 300 or more yards and generate a passer rating in excess of 130 in three straight games. More importantly, he now has the highest passer rating among all starters at 114.3. However, to even have a chance at winning it, the Vikings will need to catch and pass the Packers in the NFC North.

Jacoby Brissett, quarterback, Colts: Yes, Jacoby Brissett. His overall passing stats aren’t jaw dropping, but he’s on pace to lead the league in touchdown passes, which counts for something. The Colts also lead the AFC South. If they continue on this trajectory, and if Brissett can bump up his per-game passing average of 231.3 yards per game and his per-attempt average of 6.7, Brissett’s case will strengthen.

Michael Thomas, receiver, Saints: He’s leading the league in receptions (62) and yardage (763) despite not having Drew Brees for more than five games. No receiver has ever won the award, primarily because it usually goes to the guy throwing the ball. This year, with the season inevitably split between Brees and Teddy Bridgewater, league-leading catches and receiving yardage from Thomas could make him the first receiver to secure the prize — especially if the Saints end up with a bye.

The Longshots.

Dak Prescott, quarterback, Cowboys: The 4-3 record doesn’t help, but he’s third in average passing yardage and he’s averaging 8.9 yards per throw. If Dallas can continue to rack up wins and if the team finishes with a first-round bye, Prescott has a chance — especially since he plays for the Cowboys.

Dalvin Cook, running back, Vikings: Currently the leading rusher (he has played once more game than McCaffrey), Cook is averaging 103.5 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. He also has given new life to the Vikings’ play-action passing attack. The problem for Cook’s MVP candidacy is that Cousins gets the statistical benefit of the threat Cook brings to the field. At best, he’d chew into votes that would otherwise go to Cousins.

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