The NFL has now passed the midway portion of the season and once again is showing more-and-more weekly parity. Similarly the MVP race is truly up in the air as well…unlike in years past. No one player or team has separated themselves from the entire pack, making for one of the closest MVP contests in recent memory. What is even more peculiar is the amount of candidates that have been lost to season ending injury. Last years runner up Aaron Rodgers, will most likely miss the remainder of the season with a broken collar bone and rookie sensation Deshaun Watson lost his vote when he suffered non-contact injury, later being diagnosed with a torn ACL.
At this rate, whom ever collects the accolade of 2017’s best player, will most certainly be deserving.
Five Midseason NFL MVP Candidates
Carson Wentz (Quarterback) – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have been the “most surprising” success story of the year and it has been largely impart to their sophomore QB. Wentz began his rookie season in similar form but failed to keep up his success. The Eagles finished the year at 7-9 and Wentz never truly looked comfortable after their third game. So far in 2017 they have already surpassed their last seasons win total.
Holding an 8-1 record, Wentz has bumped the Eagles into the top tier of NFL teams in just his second season as a starter. His stats tell the story. Through nine games this season, Wentz has thrown for the fourth most yards, holds the fourth best passer rating and has thrown more touchdown passes than any other QB. Not to mention his team holds the best record in the NFL. The offseason acquisitions of Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and the emergences of Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor have given Wentz versatile hands to throw to all over the field. He is also using his legs just a bit more, surpassing his total yards rushing from last season already.
Wentz has defiantly been one of the leagues best players and has undoubtedly been the best player on the NFL’s most winningest team.
Alex Smith (Quarterback) – Kansas City Chiefs
Before the Eagles held the NFL’s best record, the Chiefs held the leagues longest unbeaten streak. Starting the year at 5-0, Kansas City beat both the Eagles and stomped the defending champion New England Patriots in the first two games of their young season. The most impressive part of their team being Alex Smith.
The end seemed inevitable for Smith when the Chiefs traded up 17 spots to draft rookie QB Patrick Mahomes in April’s draft; spelling the end for his time in Kansas City. Smith has forever been tagged as nothing more than a game manager and Kansas brass looked to be getting impatient. However, the way Smith responded had everyone shocked.
In his thirteenth NFL season, Smith is doing something completely new for him: leading the league in passer rating. Smith holds a 113.9 passer rating through nine games, thanks to keeping the ball out of his opponents hands. It took Smith eight games and a streak of 298 passes (bleeding in from last season) before he threw his first INT of the year — the fifth longest streak in NFL history.
Whatever Smith has found in himself over the 2017 season, is what former Niners GM Scott McCloughan saw in him when San Francisco selected him first overall in 2005. Smith is using the entire field, completing the second most passes and throwing the second most completions of 40+ yards. The combination of his deep ball and rapid wide receiver Tyreek Hill have become perhaps the scariest play in football.
Smith is having his greatest season ever and if the Chiefs can break their 1-3 slump over the past four games and go on a tear, he will easily cement his place in MVP talk come February.
Calais Campbell (Defensive End) – Jacksonville Jaguars
Defensive players never seem to get enough recognition when it comes to MVP talks but Campbell and the Jacksonville defence have been great this season. They currently sit in third in total defence, fourth in points allowed and have the NFL’s best pass defence by a mile. The Jaguars lack playmakers on the offensive side of the ball but the defence has picked up the slack. The Jags currently own a 5-3 record and sit tied with Buffalo for the two remaining wildcard spots.
The entire Jags defensive unit has had a special year and Campbell – the anchor – should certainly garner MVP consideration at this rate.
Campbell came over from Arizona during the offseason and has been everything and more for Jacksonville. The nine year veteran signed a four year, $60 million deal, giving the Jaguars quick return on their investment. Through the first half of the season, Campbell leads the league with 11.0 sacks and has propelled Jacksonville’s pass rush to an elite level. The entire Jags defence finished with 33.0 sacks in 2016 and has already surpassed that in 2017 — totalling 35.0 over their first eight games.
Campbell hasn’t been the sole reason the Jags defence has done a complete 180 in 2017, but he has become their face. If Campbell is able to tie or beat Michael Strahan‘s record of 22.5 total sacks in a season and Jacksonville makes the playoffs with a top-three defence, it might be hard not to select Campbell for MVP. It is never easy for a defensive end to take home MVP honours but Campbell has set a furious pace over the first half of the season.
Todd Gurley (Running Back) – Los Angeles Rams
Gurley is back and looking for vengeance. After a stellar first season, the 2015 offensive rookie of the year felt the effects of the sophomore slump in 2016. Despite starting three more games in 2016, Gurley would finish the year with 221 less rushing yards and four less touchdowns. Teams were able to stack the box against Gurley due to the Rams one-dimensional offence and he was held helpless. It was obvious what the Rams needed to find a fix to let Gurley reach his full potential and in 2017 they have upgraded significantly.
Gurley is currently fourth in rushing yards, leads the league in yards from scrimmage and has scored the most touchdowns between runners and receivers. Needless to say Gurley has changed his fortunes; excelling in new head coach Sean McVay‘s offence.
Much like the Jaguars defence with Campbell, the Rams offence isn’t all thanks to Gurley, but he is out performing all of his competition. LA is 6-2 and owns the leagues hottest offence thanks to the chemistry between Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff. Gurley’s improvements in the receiving game flew under the radar in 2016 — where he nearly doubled his reception yards from the prior season. In 2017 he has already surpassed last season’s total of 327 yards and has bumped his yards-per-catch up to around 12.0.
The only other running back that is close to Gurley’s level right now is the Chiefs Kareem Hunt. However, Hunt as stumbled during his last two games and will find it hard to win MVP with Smith running the show at quarterback. Gurley is the class of NFL running backs and has distanced himself from his competition at the midway point of 2017.
Tom Brady (Quarterback) – New England Patriots
The golden boy. Could there really be an MVP conversation without Tom Brady?
Brady and his Patriots got off to a less than stellar 2-2 start (by their standards), but have rebounded very convincingly. The slow start was mainly chalked up to the poor chemistry on defence; leaving the offence in tough situations on a weekly basis. But Brady has been piloting the Pats offence near flawlessly considering the amount of injuries they have endured on their side of the ball.
Thanks to Brady, the Patriots offence is currently ranked number one in total offence (YPG) despite missing their best receiver: Julian Edelman. Brady himself, is leading the league in total passing yards (2,541) and holds a 106.5 passer rating — only trailing Alex Smith (113.9). Getting the most out of what he is given has been a Brady and Belichick special over their tenure, turning Brandin Cooks into a true top-level receiver and effectively utilizing Chris Hogan in all passing scenarios to maximize his potential.
The Pats hold a 6-2 record through nine weeks and look to be on pace to claim another AFC East title. They might not go undefeated like few predicted, but Brady is showing he does not need an top-10 defence to have success. At 40 years old, Brady might be having his best season ever and like most seasons, should look for his name to be in MVP conversations when the season concludes.
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