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NFL MVP race comes down to three: Aaron Rodgers, Cooper Kupp and Jonathan Taylor

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  • Indianapolis Colts
    Indianapolis Colts
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Los Angeles Rams
    Los Angeles Rams
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Aaron Rodgers
    Aaron Rodgers
    American football quarterback
  • Jonathan Taylor
    Jonathan Taylor
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Cooper Kupp
    Cooper Kupp
    American football player

With three weeks left in the season, the NFL’s brightest stars will make their final pushes to position their teams for the best possible postseason scenarios. Meanwhile, they’re also making their final bids for Most Valuable Player honors.

This season has featured some truly eye-popping bodies of work by some of the league’s elite. As a result, it’s a crowded field jockeying for position in that MVP race.

Historically, quarterbacks have dominated this award. And the year’s field includes a number of MVP-caliber passers. But there are also a number of non-quarterbacks delivering heroics that make them worthy of consideration for the honor.

Here’s a look at the leading MVP contenders (both traditional and unconventional) and how things could shake out.

The traditional candidates

Again, it’s a quarterback-dominated award. Passers have won MVP in 13 of the last 14 seasons. And the names on the lips of NFL insiders when asked for their predictions for MVP are quite familiar.

Aaron Rodgers: After all the turmoil of the offseason and ugly season debut, Rodgers flipped the switch, returned to his dominant form and again has the Green Bay Packers on schedule for a deep playoff run. Will it culminate in a Super Bowl appearance? Once again, he's on pace to top the 4,000-yard passing mark, and currently has 30 touchdown passes and just four interceptions while leading the NFL with a quarterback rating of 110.4. Most importantly, Green Bay boasts the best record in the league, which means, if they’re able to maintain it, the Packers would earn home field advantage throughout the postseason.

Tom Brady: Father Time has yet to sink his clutches into Brady, who has kept an injury-plagued Bucs squad’s Super Bowl repeat hopes alive. The 44-year-old leads the NFL in passing yards (4,348), yards per game (310.6).

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Patrick Mahomes: His numbers haven’t been quite as prolific as years past, however, after a slow start, Mahomes has steadily regained his usually impressive form, helped carry the Chiefs back to the top of the AFC standings and has restored them as Super Bowl favorites.

Lamar Jackson: The Ravens have endured one wave of injury after another. Their top two running backs got hurt to start the year, and their top wide receivers have been in and out of the lineup all year long. Yet, Jackson has kept them afloat averaging 240 passing yards and 63 rushing yards a game.

Outside the box candidates

There are definitely some non-quarterbacks that NFL talent evaluators, coaches and players believe deserve to be a part of the MVP conversation.

Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor: He has almost single-handedly saved the Indianapolis Colts’ season while leading the league in rushing - by a mile. Taylor boasts 1,518 rushing yards (424 more than the second-leading rusher) and 17 rushing touchdowns (five more than second place). After a 1-4 start, the Colts turned to Taylor to help alleviate the pressure on struggling offseason addition Carson Wentz, and Taylor has delivered. With games on the line, Taylor has put his team on his shoulders and gashed the opposition. After that slow start, the Colts have gone 7-2 behind Taylor’s heroics.

Jonathan Taylor is having a breakthrough season for the Colts, leading the NFL in rushing yardage.
Jonathan Taylor is having a breakthrough season for the Colts, leading the NFL in rushing yardage.

Pittsburgh Steelers LB T.J. Watt: Leading the NFL in sacks for a second straight season, Watt has a new career high (17.5 and counting) while pacing a Steelers defense that has largely kept them in games this season.

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett: Putting up career numbers, Garrett has 15 sacks, 48 tackles and a fumble recovery while serving as the catalyst for a defense that ranks fifth in the league and has helped the Browns weather adversity on offense.

Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp: Not only has the fifth-year wideout shattered his own personal best, he also broke the Rams' single-season receiving yards record previously held by Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce, and his 1,625 yards, 122 catches and 14 touchdown catches all lead the NFL by a healthy margin. It took Kupp no time to become the go-to guy for new quarterback Matthew Stafford, and he has helped compensate for the loss of reliable possession receiver Robert Woods. Eight times this season, Kupp has recorded 115 receiving yards or more.

Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons: The Cowboys thought they were drafting an impact inside linebacker out of Penn State. But injury to others forced them to give Parsons a shot at edge rusher. proven he's just a defensive game-changers regardless of where he lines up. His 12 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and 57 tackles are a big reason for Dallas’ defensive improvement.

The outcome

Although all impressive, three of these candidates are truly delivering at the most elite level: Rodgers, Taylor and Kupp.

However, Rodgers is the favorite to ultimately take home the award. That means he would repeat as league MVP and win the honor for the fourth time of his career, (tying him with Peyton Manning) and putting him in company with Manning, Brett Favre and Jim Brown as the only players in NFL history to win MVP in consecutive seasons (Favre won it three straight years from 1995-97).

Rams WR Cooper Kupp leads the NFL in all major receiving categories.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp leads the NFL in all major receiving categories.

Rodgers continues to deliver at an elite level, topping the 30-touchdown mark for the seventh time in his career. And his ability to take care of the football (just four interceptions) is impressive, as is his ability to elevate the talent around him.

Rodgers and Brady seemingly had been neck-and-neck in this race, but the Saints’ shutting Brady out at home last week appears likely to have opened the door for Rodgers to pull away.

Now, if the voters opt to break from tradition and give a non-quarterback the award, Taylor is most deserving. If successful in pulling off this upset, he would become the first non-quarterback MVP since Adrian Peterson won the award in 2012.

Kupp is having a dynamic campaign and has indeed elevated this Rams offense. But Taylor’s contributions have had a more dramatic impact.

Perhaps Taylor’s strongest statement came last week against the New England Patriots when with 2:01 left in the game, and the Colts needing to maintain possession to run out the clock and protect a 20-17 lead against a very good Patriots defense, the 5-foot-10, 226-pound running back ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run. With that play, he slammed the door on the Patriots, lifting Indianapolis to a 27-17 victory.

Three games remain, meaning Rodgers and Taylor and their competitors have a few more opportunities for statement performances. Will Rodgers add another chapter to his legendary career? Or, can the Colts’ unlikely hero overtake the favorite, and one of the all-time greats for the NFL’s most prestigious awards?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL MVP race: Aaron Rodgers leads; Cooper Kupp, Jonathan Taylor trail