NFL Awards Watch: The resurrection of MVP front-runner Matt Ryan

While recognizing this isn’t the best way to judge public perception, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s average fantasy football draft position before this season is telling.

Ryan was coming off a mediocre season. Fine, he was coming off three mediocre seasons. Last season was his worst though, at 21 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 89 rating. Coming into his age-31 season, nobody expected a full rebound. Nobody.

Ryan was being drafted in Yahoo fantasy leagues, on average, 28th among NFL quarterbacks. Here are some names that went ahead of him: Blake Bortles, Tony Romo, Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco, Brock Osweiler, Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III. That’s correct, by and large people figured Griffin would put up better numbers than Ryan this season.

And through about a third of the NFL season, Ryan is the league’s MVP in a landslide.

It’s one of the best stories in the NFL so far, and it’s not getting enough attention. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is favored to win MVP already by Bovada, and there’s a good chance he’ll be the pick at the end. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is getting more MVP buzz, and he has a fine case. Even guys like LeSean McCoy and Sam Bradford (!) are getting MVP love.

But if we’re looking beyond name recognition, preseason expectations or market size, the obvious answer is Ryan. He has been the league’s best quarterback, and it’s not close.

Ryan has 2,075 yards, nearly 300 more than anyone else. He has 14 touchdowns, one behind Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the league lead. Ryan has just three interceptions. His 9.9 yards per attempt is not only amazing, it is 1.7 yards better than any other qualifier. And among quarterbacks with more than 125 passes, Ryan’s 117.9 rating is 11.9 points better than second place. He has done this despite one-third of his games coming at Denver and at Seattle, two of the best defenses in football. On top of it all, Ryan’s Falcons are off to a surprising 4-2 start.

Whatever criteria you prefer – statistical dominance, eye test, team success, positional value – Ryan checks the box. He’s the MVP right now, and it’s weird that anyone would argue otherwise.

What has caused the turnaround? Ryan credits a better working relationship with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Last year was Shanahan’s first season in Atlanta. In his second season he knows more about Ryan’s strengths, like using more no-huddle offense, and Ryan understands the scheme at a higher level. And Ryan is simply playing better. He is throwing a much better deep ball and making better decisions. It’s a complete turnaround from last season. The Ryan we saw shine in 2012 is back, and perhaps he’s even better.

I’m not sure if Ryan can keep this up for a full season, but there’s no reason to believe his hot start is a fluke either. At this very early date, he’s clearly the MVP. Try to find anyone who saw that coming.

Matt Ryan is the early MVP leader (AP)
Matt Ryan is the early MVP leader. (AP)

MVP rankings

1. Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan — Last week he strengthened his case, though it didn’t come in a win so many people will ignore it. He was 27 of 42 for 335 yards, three touchdowns and one interception (which went off Julio Jones’ hands) for a 102.8 rating at Seattle, the toughest place to play in the NFL. When you can do that to an unbelievable Seattle defense, a week after ripping up the Broncos’ great D, people need to take notice.

2. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady — I understand why he’d be favored to win after only two games. He has 782 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 135.5 rating in two convincing wins. Nobody has ever won the NFL MVP award missing four games, but Brady seems to be on that path.

3. Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott — It’s hard to deny a running back for a 5-1 team who is averaging 117.2 rushing yards per game. I still might vote “Dallas’ offensive line” for MVP over Elliott, but that’s not how this works. I can understand the argument for Elliott, but I don’t think he has played better than Ryan and I don’t think he’ll beat Brady if Brady keeps up anything near this pace. So he’s third.

4. Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson — Johnson is one of two new faces since last week’s top 5. Ben Roethlisberger dropped out due to his injury, and let’s be honest – Von Miller needs to go above and beyond to win it – if J.J. Watt couldn’t win MVP in 2014, no defensive player should have any hope – and Miller is no longer leading the NFL in sacks and his team is on a two-game losing streak. Johnson has been red hot lately, and his three-touchdown game against the New York Jets last week gets him on the list. Keep this in mind: Johnson has more yards from scrimmage and more touchdowns than Elliott.

5. Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones — Jones is putting together an insane season on a first-place team. He’s the only receiver with at least 20 catches who has a 20-yard average. He leads the NFL in receiving yards and 20-yard catches. He has turned 77.4 percent of his catches into first downs, a fine percentage for someone who gets the ball as often as Jones does. There’s no argument against him being in the top five.

Defensive player of the year: It’s still Von Miller, and I fully expect him to be the talk of the NFL on Monday night after the Broncos play in prime time against the Houston Texans. He likes the big stage. Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander gets on the list due to consistency (at least a half of a sack in every game) and because he leads the NFL in sacks. He’s on pace for 21 sacks. He’s providing a ton of big plays for a Bills team that is one of the hottest in football. Time for him to get some attention.

The ballot: 1. Miller. 2. Kansas City Chiefs CB Marcus Peters. 3. Alexander.

Coach of the year: Jason Garrett moves into the top three, because he has managed this season very well. The big test will be how he manages the Tony Romo-Dak Prescott quarterback decision when that call needs to be made.

The ballot: 1. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. 2. Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. 3. Garrett.

Offensive rookie of the year: We’re seeing some cracks in Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. And that’s totally normal for a rookie … and makes you appreciate Dak Prescott more. Is Prescott ever going to have a bad game?

The ballot: 1. Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. 2. Prescott. 3. Wentz.

Defensive rookie of the year: Ramsey had a tough first half against Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery, then played very well after halftime and sealed a win with a fourth-down pass breakup late in the game. He’s going to be a great player.

The ballot: 1. Oakland Raiders S Karl Joseph. 2. Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey. 3. Atlanta Falcons S Keanu Neal.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!