The 2021 NFL season is fascinating when it comes to looking at the MVP race. The addition of a 17th regular season game changes how we frame what an excellent season is. For instance, the typical metric for an elite QB season would be 5,000 passing yards, now we have six passers who could pass the mark this season if they have a strong final game.
That said, now is the perfect time to evaluate the field. A normal 16 game slate has been completed, so we have a familiar benchmark to work with — but as we’ll get to in a moment, there’s so much more that goes into this season’s MVP than the stats.
No. 1: Aaron Rodgers
352-for-513 (68.6%), 3,977 yards, 35 TD, 4 INT — 111.1 passer rating
This MVP race has been about Aaron Rodgers for a long, long time. While he certainly doesn’t have the most passing yards this season among quarterbacks, there’s no doubt that by the letter of the law he’s been one of the most valuable players to their team this season.
Consider this: The Packers have a varied rushing attach by committee, but nothing that really pops off the stat sheet. When it comes to offense everything flows thought Rodgers. Green Bay have scored 48 touchdowns this season, and Rodgers has thrown 35 and run in three of them.
Without Rodgers there would be no offense. There would be no NFC-best record. The Packers would probably be one of the worst teams in the NFL. For all those reasons he’s the favorite to win this year, and it would take some significant scrutiny of his off-field issues with Covid this season to knock him out of the spot.
No. 2: Tom Brady
456-for-682 (66.9%), 4,990 yards, 40 TD, 12 INT — 100.5 passer rating
When it comes to the top quarterbacks this season you can really flip a coin between Rodgers and Brady depending on what you value. Rodgers is likely more impressive because he has less talent around him, but Brady is leveraging a strong roster and doing remarkable things with it.
When the dust settles it will be a 5,000+ yard season for Touchdown Tom, and the rest is really gravy. I truly could see the MVP going to Brady rather than Rodgers, and the difference could be how big his final game is, or whether he plays at all. The Buccaneers are set to play the Panthers — and it’s not like he’s needed to win that game.
No. 3: Jonathan Taylor
317 carries, 1,734 yards, 18 TD, 342 receiving yards, 2 TD
The MVP mountain is impossible to climb for a running back. I mean, we’re just a year removed from Derrick Henry breaking the 2,000 yard rushing mark, and he didn’t make a dent in voting.
Taylor’s impact has been immeasurable for the Colts, taking them a middling team without amazing QB play, and turning them into a potential playoff team. Scoring 20 total TDs from the running back position is impressive in its own right, which is why I think he has a chance to be MVP, albeit a small one.
No. 4: Joe Burrow
366-for-520 (70.4%), 4,611 yards, 34 TD, 14 INT — 108.3 passer rating
The idea that Joe Burrow would be an MVP candidate would have been preposterous a couple of months ago, but both Burrow and the Bengals have been on a major tear. Considering he’s in a field with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady I don’t think it’s happening this year ... but this is a testament to just how good the second year QB has become.
Everything is clicking for Cincinnati, and I think the sky is the limit for Burrow’s future. It might be a little too soon for MVP talk, but who cares — the Bengals have their franchise QB, and he’s destined to be a staple of the league for years to come.
No. 5: Cooper Kupp
138 receptions, 1,829 yards, 15 TD
Remember when I said winning MVP as a RB was tough? Well, it’s even more difficult at WR. This won’t happen, but Kupp could break the single-season receiving record. It’s been a remarkable year for the Rams’ WR after getting paired with Matthew Stafford, and his breakout has been a huge reason for Los Angeles’ success.
That’s also the problem with MVP talk when it comes to Kupp. His success is so closely linked to Stafford that it’s tough to separate them in the minds of voters.