We’re midway through the 2017 NFL season. That’s far enough in to know which teams and players are shaping up to be contenders and which are pretenders this year.
The shortlist of obvious MVP candidates right now is missing the usual suspects. Sure, Tom Brady is good, as usual, but Aaron Rodgers is out with a broken collarbone. Derek Carr was expected to be in the mix, but he hasn’t looked like the player he was in 2016. Matt Ryan has nearly already thrown as many picks this year as he did all of last season.
Right now, the front-runners are Brady, Carson Wentz, and Alex Smith. Wentz is the primary reason the 7-1 Eagles look like they’ll run away with the NFC East this year. He’s tied with the now-injured Deshaun Watson atop the league in passing touchdowns with 19. Meanwhile, Smith is having a career year, with an NFL-best 115.4 quarterback rating. He also, unexpectedly, leads all quarterback in yards per pass attempt and has yet to throw an interception.
This week, we asked each of our NFL team sites across SB Nation to single out the player they would name as their team’s MVP so far this season. Here are their picks, ranked by how realistic they are:
These players are legitimate candidates for NFL MVP
There are a handful of players who have separated themselves from the pack as viable MVP contenders at this point of the season. It was clear that Ryan was a front-runner for the award last year. The Falcons were leading the league with nearly 33 points per game, and he had 19 touchdowns against four interceptions.
These are the players who have put themselves squarely in the MVP discussion at this point.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Carson Wentz
The NFL’s co-leader in touchdown passes has taken a huge step forward in his second season. Wentz is one of the biggest reasons the Eagles have the best record right now, making smart plays and also wowing us with at least one big highlight every week. He’s our pick for midseason NFL MVP.
He’s not even just the team’s MVP. He’s arguably the league MVP. After leading the NFL MVP odds a few weeks ago, Wentz has dropped to second place (behind Tom Brady) ... but he’s still clearly in the conversation.
The majority of SB Nation’s NFL team sites actually voted Wentz as the NFL MVP for the first eight weeks of the season.
New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady
Of course it’s Tom Brady. As long as Brady is playing for the Patriots, he’ll probably always be the team’s MVP candidate. He’s won the award twice in his career, and he’s usually in the running for it. But this year, Brady’s performance looks more impressive because of the way he has had to carry the team despite the defense’s rough start to the season.
Where Brady separates himself from the pack is how he’s had to overcome the Patriots poor defensive performances over the first half of the season.
Through eight weeks, the Patriots rank first on offense in DVOA and 32nd on defense. The 2017 Patriots are the first team since the 2011 Patriots to be first in offense and last on defense, joining the 2002 Chiefs and 2000 Rams as the only other teams to manage the feat in Football Outsiders’ database.
For more, check out the entire entry at Pats Pulpit.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Alex Smith
From the moment he threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns to stomp the Patriots in an upset win in the season opener, it was clear that nobody should overlook Smith in the MVP race. The Chiefs quarterback is playing way better than some thought was possible.
He is on pace for 4,362 passing yards which would blow his career high of 3,502 passing yards out of the water. He already has 16 touchdown passes this season which is already more than he had last season (15). He hasn’t thrown an interception and has just one fumble lost. One turnover from the guy who touches the ball every play? That’s pretty good, I hear.
Seattle Seahawks: QB Russell Wilson
Wilson’s performance in Seattle’s thrilling win over the Texans in Week 8 is just a snapshot of why he deserves consideration.
Yes, he added two scrambles late in the game which gave him 30 rushing yards on the day, but he only pulled that out when he needed to. For the majority of the game, the damage he inflicted came while Wilson was in the pocket. Yes, there were plays where he scrambled or bought himself time with his legs, but Wilson has evolved as a quarterback. While he can still run the read option with lethality, it’s time for defenses to sit up and take note: Russell Wilson is the most valuable member of the Seattle Seahawks. It’s not Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman or Bobby Wagner. It’s not even the team’s defense as a unit, and it’s certainly not the running game.
Russell Wilson is, without question, the MVP for the Seahawks. The only question is whether he will end the 2017 season as the NFL MVP as well.
For more, check out the entire entry at Field Gulls.
This player would be a legitimate candidate if not for a devastating injury that we’re still not over
Houston Texans: QB Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson is everything we hoped he’d be in the NFL. That’s what makes his ACL injury so tragic. He was just seven away from tying the rookie passing TD record...with nine games still left this season. The Texans are only 3-4, but they’d be 5-2 if Bill O’Brien had trusted Watson a little more and probably 1-6 if they had never benched Tom Savage.
Deshaun Watson, with help from Bill O’Brien, has changed everything about the Houston Texans. Houston’s offense has mutated from something one-dimensional and gruesome to something multifaceted and beautiful. Through the first half of the 2017 NFL season, there’s no doubt he’s the Texans’ MVP.
These players won’t win MVP but deserve to be celebrated for helping their teams to winning records
A team’s success lives and dies with the play of all the guys on the field. These players are key for their respective teams. They’re not going to get the league MVP nod at the end of the season, but their contributions on the field deserve to be recognized.
Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Cameron Heyward
It’s Heyward’s consistency on defense that singles him out as the team’s most important piece.
For an outsider looking at Heyward’s stats, you might think I have lost my mind, but if you watch Heyward closely you would know exactly why he is the team’s MVP.
Through 8 games, Heyward has 27 total tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 5 tackles for loss. Some players have flashier numbers, but Heyward has been dominant, but more important — consistent.
Buffalo Bills: S Micah Hyde
The Bills’ above-.500 start to the season has been a total team effort, so it’s hard to give the award to just one player. One reason why they’re winning is because they have the best turnover margin in the league. That’s why Buffalo Rumblings chose Micah Hyde, the NFL’s leader in interceptions.
From a statistical standpoint, safety Micah Hyde is a clear choice. He currently leads the NFL with five interceptions, four of which have come in the last four games. He’s already two clear of his previous career high and could challenge the team record of ten, set by Billy Atkins in 1961 and tied by Tom Janik in 1967. (The post-merger record is a four-way tie with nine, most recently by Jairus Byrd in 2009.) It hasn’t been all luck with him, either; Hyde is always in position to make a play, especially as a centerfielder on deep passes.
Carolina Panthers: LB Luke Kuechly
Kuechly is consistently one of the best players on the field. The only thing holding him back has been concussions, but when he’s healthy, he’s dominant. And in an up-and-down season for the Panthers, he’s easily the MVP.
Kuechly currently leads the Panthers in tackles and has played 1.5 fewer games than his defensive teammates. He missed the Panthers’ Week 7 game with the Bears in Chicago after suffering a concussion during the first half of their Week 6 Thursday night clash with the Eagles, but if no one told you that before last week’s game against the Buccaneers then you wouldn’t have known. Kuechly came back with a vengeance with eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass defensed. Not to mention he still holds the team lead for tackles by a country mile.
New Orleans Saints: CB Marshon Lattimore
The rookie corner has been everything the Saints needed him to be. This is a pass defense that’s hovered around the bottom of the league in recent memory. Lattimore’s presence alone has helped the Saints become competitive again.
I mean, why even bother throwing against him? Per the Pro Football Focus charting, it shows that quarterbacks are better off throwing a pass in the dirt than challenging Lattimore. Furthermore, they chart the Ohio State product with just a 17.2 passer rating against since Week 2. They also say that Lattimore has not allowed a reception in two weeks, recording an interception and three passes defensed in that time.
Atlanta Falcons: DT Grady Jarrett
No, it’s not Ryan or Julio Jones. It’s Grady Jarrett, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft who’s agile enough to rush the passer from the interior of the line and is a run thumper to boot. You may remember him from his record-tying, three-sack game against Tom Brady in the Falcons’ crushing Super Bowl LI loss.
Jarrett has been one of the team’s most dominant players. He’s done well as a pass rusher, but his bread and butter has been stopping the run, and he’s among the league leaders in tackles for loss and running backs helplessly slaughtered at the line of scrimmage. With Dontari Poe beside him and in the midst of his third year in Dan Quinn’s scheme, Jarrett has become a dominant presence, and one of the primary reasons this defense has fared better on balance than it did a year ago.
For more, check out the entire entry at The Falcoholic.
Dallas Cowboys: DE Demarcus Lawrence
The Cowboys desperately needed to improve their pass rush this year, and they have. That’s thanks in large part to Demarcus Lawrence, who leads the league with 10 1/2 sacks.
Simply put, Lawrence has been a beast this year. And his play is rubbing off on his linemates. David Irving has five sacks, Tyrone Crawford has four, and overall the Cowboys have 25 sacks. That ranks them fifth in the NFL.
Miami Dolphins: S Reshad Jones
The Dolphins missed Jones’ versatility on the field last season, and it’s easy to see just how much with his performance this year.
After missing much of last season with a shoulder injury, safety Reshad Jones is back to looking like the Pro Bowl player he is. He leads the team with 46 tackles (tied with linebacker Kiko Alonso), he has 0.5 sack, two fumble recoveries, and an interception this year. He is back to playing both as a coverage defensive back and as an extra linebacker up in the box. Jones has been everywhere on the field, and the Dolphins defense is clearly better simply because he is back out there.
For more, check out the entire entry at The Phinsider.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Adam Thielen
Case Keenum needs all the help he can get. Thielen, who trails only Antonio Brown in yards among NFL receivers, has been a reliable target for Keenum and could help the Vikings take over the NFC North.
Thielen has been consistent. He’s getting open and giving Case Keenum a target that can consistently bring in tough catches and move the chains. Honestly, it seems like Thielen has at least one or two “how in the hell did he catch that ball” receptions every week. He’s among the NFL leaders in “contested catches” as well, meaning that even when he’s not “open,” Keenum (and Sam Bradford, when he was healthy) has enough confidence in Thielen to put the ball up there and believe that he’s going to come down with it.
For more, check out the entire entry at Daily Norseman.
Los Angeles Rams: LT Andrew Whitworth
This one was an easy call for the folks over at Turf Show Times. The proof is in Jared Goff’s performance and Todd Gurley bouncing back from a down year in 2016. The only problem is that if anyone from the Rams wins MVP, it’s going to be Gurley over Whitworth.
The proof? Gurley’s 2016 season.
Last year, Todd Gurley ran for just 885 yards in 16 starts, averaging just more than 55 yards per game. We know why. A combination of horrible offensive line play and horrible offensive system design limited Gurley’s ability to make the most out of his talents on the field.
A year later? That line play is much. That system design is much better. And where the latter rests clearly on the shoulders of Head Coach Sean McVay and Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur, the former is on the collection of five guys who have played nearly every snap up front. And none of them has been better than Whitworth.
Tennessee Titans: QB Marcus Mariota
We thought Mariota might be firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation heading into this season. An injury derailed that, but he still should get credit for what he’s done when fully healthy.
Mariota’s numbers aren’t great to this point, but in the full games that he’s played at full strength, the offense has really popped. They’ve scored 16, 37, and 33 points. He was able to lead the Titans to 36 points against the Colts with a bum hammy, too.
We can’t ignore the game against Cleveland here, but it does seem to be the outlier of the group. That score looks a lot better if the Titans are able to punch in that touchdown on the goal line or if Marcus hits that easy toss to Delanie Walker.
These players also deserve to be celebrated for helping their teams, even in losing efforts
Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green
This was an easy call for our friends at Cincy Jungle. Green is one of the best receivers in the league and is undoubtedly the best player on the entire Bengals roster.
Green will probably always be the MVP of this team unless John Ross ever becomes a star receiver as well. Dalton could enter the argument, but right now Green is responsible for four of Dalton’s 11 touchdowns. He also accounts for roughly one third of Dalton’s passing yards. It is hard to see the Bengals anywhere close to 3-4 without Green on the field.
For more, check out the entire entry at Cincy Jungle.
Detroit Lions: S Glover Quin
Quin has been a bright spot for the Lions, even as they’ve struggled over the past three games. He has two forced fumbles and three picks, one of which he ran back for a score.
And for someone who is known mostly for his coverage and ability to read quarterbacks, he is also completely unafraid to get his nose dirty. He is currently third on the team in tackles, despite playing mostly as a free safety.
Quin has not only been the Lions’ MVP in the 2017 season, but he has been perhaps their best free agent pickup in the history of the franchise, right up there with Dick LeBeau.
Chicago Bears: DE Akiem Hicks
The Bears are just 3-5, but they have been better than expected, thanks largely to a top-10 defense. Hicks had led the way and has already tied his career high in sacks with seven.
Hicks has set the tone for the improved Bears defense this year, and his numbers just tell part of the story. His presence has made things easier for the other players on Chicago’s front seven. The extra attention Hicks has been getting has helped nose tackle Eddie Goldman already hit a career high 26 total tackles. When the Bears lost defensive captain Jerrell Freeman to an injury, Hicks was awarded the Captain’s C in his place.
Indianapolis Colts: CB Rashaan Melvin
There’s not much for Colts fans to be excited about right now, but Rashaan Melvin is definitely a highlight of this season. Melvin is 28 and is in the middle of the best season of his career.
Melvin was a huge boost for a team that had just lost Vontae Davis to injury before the season started, and was filling most of their secondary positions with fresh-faced rookies.
He’s posted 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended and 23 tackles in 7 games this year according to Pro Football Reference. He continues to make play after play, making it very tough for quarterbacks to throw to his side of the field.
For more, check out the entire entry at Stampede Blue.
Los Angeles Chargers: OLB Melvin Ingram
The writers at Bolts from the Blue also considered Joey Bosa and Russell Okung but ultimately went with Bosa’s pass-rushing partner, Ingram.
Garrett Sisti writes:
This is tough, the two guys already mentioned, Russell Okung and Joey Bosa, have been great but I'm gonna go with Melvin Ingram. Though Bosa & Ingram are tied in sacks with 8.5 each I think a lot of Ingram's plays came in bigger situations and made more of an impact. The biggest coming at the end of the Giants game with the strip sack, fumble, recovery on Eli to help seal the win.
New York Jets: FS Marcus Maye
Maye is a rookie, and he’s already a cornerstone of the Jets defense. He’s tied with Terrence Brooks for the most interceptions on the team with two so far this season.
I think during the first eight games, Marcus Maye has been the most consistent player on the team. He has had a few hiccups here and there. A few of them have been big plays. But I can’t think of a game where he was just terrible.
The Jets have also put a lot on his plate. Playing the deep middle as the last line of defense isn’t easy for a lot of veterans. If you stick a rookie into that role, the results can be catastrophic sometimes as we learned with Calvin Pryor three years ago.
Cleveland Browns: CB Jason McCourty
Nobody’s playing better on Cleveland’s defense than Jason McCourty right now. And the best part is he was kind of an afterthought for the Browns in free agency.
In 6 games (he missed the past two due to an ankle injury), McCourty has 24 tackles, 3 interceptions, 9 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 touchdown return. When Cleveland cut CB Joe Haden before Week 1, fans were in shock — but McCourty has played at a higher level than Haden has in years, so much to the point where it seems like a major head-scratcher why the Tennessee Titans didn’t retain him.
Washington: RB Chris Thompson
Thompson is a multi-purpose threat who has become an invaluable weapon for Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense.
In the passing game, CT25 is leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, plays over 20 yards, first downs and Yards After Contact. In the rushing game, Thompson leads all running backs in yards per carry (Kirk does have him beat), first downs (Kirk also leads), and total rushing yards. This means that our guy is the ENGINE for this offense. He gets it done in all facets of the game, and returns kickoffs to boot (please stop putting him back there please).
For more, check out the entire entry at Hogs Haven.
Oakland Raiders: DE Khalil Mack
Mack won’t win Defensive Player of the Year again, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the most important player on the field for the Raiders.
There’s no question the Raiders are terrible on both sides of the ball. Mainly because Mack is unable to carry the team on his back. He puts forth a valiant effort though. He leads the Raiders’ front seven with 42 combined tackles (32 solo), and leads the team with 9 tackles for loss, 12 QB hits, and 4.5 sacks.
New York Giants: OL Justin Pugh
The Giants offensive line hasn’t been anything to write home about this season. But Pugh is the lone lineman worthy of recognition for his play at two different positions.
The 27-year-old Pugh is not the league’s best left guard. Or, its best right tackle. He is, however, really good at guard. And he’s been fine at tackle this season. He has gone from guard to tackle back to guard and then out to tackle again without complaint. All the while doing a good job.
Pugh can be a free agent in the offseason. He has, undoubtedly, earned himself a ton of money.
For more, check out the entire entry at Big Blue View.
Denver Broncos: NT Domata Peko
It might not show up on the stat sheet, but Peko helps his teammates get their jobs done just by being on the field.
Both Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis have become run-stopping beasts, but the biggest factor in that has been Domata Peko Sr. and his ability eat up blocks inside.
According to Pro Football Focus, he has graded a 75 or above in all but two games this season against the run and is currently the highest graded interior defender on the team ranked above both Wolfe and Gotsis with a 82.4 grade.
San Francisco 49ers: DT DeForest Buckner, WR Pierre Garçon
DeForest Buckner, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, has given the 49ers some hope that their rebuild is well on its way. Unfortunately, their midseason offensive MVP, Pierre Garçon, just went on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season.
Buckner does not pile up sack totals, but he has been among the league leaders in tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He also has been regularly among the league leaders in quarterback pressures. He has taken a step forward his second season, and right now is the best player on defense. Sacks will eventually come, but in the meantime, he is providing some semblance of push into the backfield.
On offense, Garçon has been far and away the most consistent pass catcher on the roster. He leads the team with 40 receptions for 500 yards, putting him on pace for the highest reception and yardage totals since Anquan Boldin had 83 receptions for 1,062 yards.
For more, check out the entire entry at Niners Nation.
Well, everybody had to name an MVP
It was difficult for some teams to identify an MVP, usually because their best player is injured or because the team they follow has been so bad this year that it’s hard to single out anything good. Here are the players (and a coach) who were named MVP by default.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DC Todd Wash
A coach isn’t going to win MVP. And we might have gone with Calais Campbell instead. But Big Cat Country’s approach here is perfectly fair. The Jaguars defense is on pace for 75 sacks and Wash has turned it into a fearsome unit that’s carrying the entire team.
Wash has done this year what good coaches do — focus on what your team does well, tailor your schemes to what you have on the roster, and let the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. The Jaguars haven’t been able to stop the run (yet) but it’s not affecting the team’s ability to win because Wash has a defensive line that knows how to rush the passer. He’d rather see them bend but not break, giving up first downs on the ground until the other team makes a mistake in the passing game.
Green Bay Packers: LB Blake Martinez
On a roster decimated by injuries, and in a season that Rodgers isn’t a possibility, Martinez makes sense. But we all know he won’t even be in the conversation for league MVP.
Aaron Rodgers could get the nod and Aaron Jones or Davante Adams would be worthy as well, as would Kenny Clark (probably my #2) or Clay Matthews, but Martinez has an unrivaled level of consistency and most importantly this season, availability. In the first half, he was the standout player of an underrated and improving defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston
The Bucs are just 2-5 right now and Winston is still brilliant one minute, maddeningly careless the next. He’s made some progress; just not enough to get the Bucs on the right track.
The Bucs have won just two games this season, though, so being MVP isn’t as significant as it may otherwise be. Hopefully Winston’s improvement will lead to actual wins sooner rather than later.
For more, check out the entire entry at Bucs Nation.
Baltimore Ravens: C Ryan Jensen (offense); CB Jimmy Smith (defense)
The Ravens have had their issues on offense, even though they’re coming off a 40-0 win over the Dolphins. Baltimore Beatdown still came up with a player on offense and another on defense who deserve recognition.
Jensen is having a phenomenal season. He has been a huge surprise. Jensen has been one of the most consistent players on the offensive line. The offense, so far, has been a huge disappointment. However, Jensen has been dominant in almost every game this season.
Smith is having one of, if not the best, season of his career. He is continuing to lock-down whoever he is matched up with.
Arizona Cardinals: QB Carson Palmer
What a season for Carson Palmer. Now he’s on injured reserve with a broken arm, but he’s still easily been the Cardinals’ best player this year. Larry Fitzgerald probably takes the honor with Palmer out for the rest of the season.
A horrendous offensive line, inconsistent receivers (outside of Larry Fitzgerald) and a historically bad running game all could have allowed Palmer to continue to coast, make it through the season and put up meaningless, empty numbers.
Yet, for six games he found a way to put the team on his back and push forward.