In my opinion, I think this year’s NFL MVP race could be one of the tightest races we’ve seen in years.
You could pretty much select from a group of three or four guys and there would be multiple arguments as to why said player deserves the league’s most prestigious individual regular-season award.
Before we reveal who we’d select as our 2016 NFL MVP, let’s take a look at some of the candidates:
Tom Brady, Patriots
Brady is always in the MVP talk. Apparently even when he misses the first four games due to suspension. And if he were to win his third MVP award, it would be totally called for. New England has the best record in the league (surprise, surprise), and at age 39 Tom Brady is in the best shape of his life. In just 12 games (11-1 record), Brady tossed for over 3,500 yards, 28 touchdowns and has a 112.2 QB rating with just a pair of picks. He doesn’t even have tight end Rob Gronkowski out there catching passes for him. New England, just like they are every other season, is the most dangerous team in the NFL playoffs right now.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (R)
The 2016 fourth-round selection wasn’t even supposed to play this season until Tony Romo got hurt — again — in the preseason. But the former Mississippi State standout, instead, stepped in for the veteran and put up one of the most impressive rookie seasons we’ve seen. The 23-year old will be competing with fellow Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott for Rookie of the Year, and has an outside shot at MVP. Completing his passes at nearly 68% for over 3,600 yards, 23 touchdowns and just four picks is incredible for an inexperienced quarterback such as himself. Not to mention he added another six touchdowns on the ground. Sadly, the sturdy offensive line he has in front of him may work against him when it comes time to decide the MVP.
Matthew Stafford, Lions
Who would have thought that losing All-Pro receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson may have actually led to one of the most impressive seasons in Matthew Stafford’s career? Now that he’s able to spread the ball around a little more, and doesn’t have to worry about throwing into triple-coverage to get the ball to Johnson, Stafford has been making plays all season. He has the Lions back in the postseason and has done everything in his power to lead Detroit to victories. Eight of his nine wins this season have come in fourth quarter comeback fashion. Incredible.
Drew Brees, Saints
Brees, 37, has honestly had one of the best seasons that no one is talking about. Partly because his 7-9 Saints missed the playoffs, and partly because his 5,000 yard season means less now that he’s surpassed that total five times in his career. Brees led the league in completions (471), attempts (673), and passing yards (5,208), and he even added another 37 touchdowns with 15 picks. This season marks his ninth year with 30 or more passing touchdowns. But no playoffs for New Orleans means Brees won’t be adding “NFL MVP” to his résumé.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Rodgers, much like Brady, is always in the MVP talk by season’s end. And for good reason. Despite very little defensive effort and a lacking run game, Green Bay is back in the playoffs. Rodgers’ 40 touchdown passes leads the NFL, and he finished top five in completions, attempts, passing yards and QB rating. Rodgers consistently performs at a high level for Green Bay and always has numbers that could win him the MVP award. Although this year I’m not so sure it’ll be enough to win his third MVP. Competition is stiff this year.
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Can Atlanta be a legitimate Super Bowl contender this year? With Ryan playing the way he has (he’s thrown just seven picks this season), it’s certainly possible. Ryan came just 46 yards shy of his first career 5,000-yard passing season, coming in second in passing yards behind Brees. His 38 touchdown passes came in second behind Rodgers’ 40. But his 117.1 QB rating is this year’s best. Not to mention he’s thrown a touchdown pass to 13 different receivers. Everyone is contributing on offense in 2016-17 for Atlanta.
David Johnson, Cardinals
Everyone is so busy talking about Elliott’s impressive rookie campaign behind a steel-built offensive line, meanwhile Arizona’s second-year back David Johnson is putting up better overall numbers with a much worse O-line in front of him. While Johnson finished seventh in rushing yards (1,239), he sits in second in rushing touchdowns (16) and first in yards from scrimmage (2,118).
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (R)
Elliott has grabbed all of the headlines, racked up all the numbers and came pretty darn close to breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. His 13-3 Dallas Cowboys are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. His 1,631 yards on the ground are enough to top the rushing list this season, and he put up 15 touchdowns on the ground. He did all of this while only 21 years old. The only thing that people will hold against him is his offensive line which, of course, isn’t his fault. But it’ll probably be held against him anyways. If he doesn’t win MVP, I’d at least give him the nod for OROY over his teammate Prescott.
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Bell missed the first four games of the season, yet still managed to produce some pretty incredible offensive numbers for Pittsburgh’s potent offense. How often do you see a runner crack the top five in rushing yards with just 12 games? Bell did so, posting 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground over his 261 carries (4.9 yards/carry). He wasn’t quite as effective as Johnson was as a pass-catcher, but he came pretty close to it. Bell reeled in 75 balls for 616 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 1,884 scrimmage yards is third behind only Johnson and Elliott … but he accomplished this in four less games than Johnson and three less than Elliott. Not bad.
No receivers or defenders
Let’s be honest, there were a lot of great performances at the receiver position, but none this year that would even warrant consideration for MVP. Jordy Nelson caught a league-leading 14 touchdowns, veteran Larry Fitzgerald led the league in receptions with 107, and T.Y. Hilton topped yardage with 1,448. All great performances, but nothing that jumps out at you and hits you in the face.
As for defensive players, MVP performances from a QB-sacking monster only come along every once in a blue moon. If J.J. Watt couldn’t even pull it off a few years back with his bone-crunching 20.5-sack seasons, then no one this year will even come close. The last defender to snag the league’s MVP is still Lawrence Taylor in ’86, and that’s how it will remain for years to come.
Our pick: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals’ RB
With over 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns, I think it’s hard to ignore what Johnson did. He even missed half of his final game of the season, and still managed to out-produce all the other running backs. I’m well aware that he probably won’t actually win the award, and the voters will most likely hand it to Brady or Elliott … or anyone else from a team in the postseason.
But it’s a regular season award, and as a running back he’s not as responsible for his team’s overall performance as a quarterback is. The fact of the matter is, Brady and Elliott both have a much stronger team around them than Johnson did this season. But I’m not going to hold that against him. That’s why the 25-year old is my 2016 Most Valuable Player.
Photo: Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images