Somehow, in spite of COVID-19 outbreaks and the weekly shuffling of the schedule, the NFL has made it through six full weeks of the 2020 season. NFL MVP awards aren’t won on five or six games alone, but the leading candidates are starting to build their cases. So who is deserving of consideration through this point in the season?
A panel of eight analysts voted on the top 10 players in the MVP race. We then used those eight sets of rankings to determine our top five candidates overall, using Heisman Trophy-esque scaling for each ranking. We’ll also look at a few names who have seen their MVP stock either spike or plummet in the early going. Here are the top five players off to an MVP-caliber start.
1. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
2020 stats: 1,502 passing yards, 19 TDs, 3 interceptions (plus 153 rushing yards) in five games
Seattle’s offensive philosophy has changed in 2020, and it has Wilson at the top of the MVP standings as the unanimous No. 1 candidate among our eight voters. The Seahawks’ quarterback has never received a single vote for the award but is looking to change that in his ninth season.
His most recent outing gave us one of many MVP-caliber moments. While he threw for only 217 yards in Week 5, Wilson led his team on a 94-yard, 102-second drive down the field late in the fourth quarter, while converting twice on fourth down, to come from behind and beat the Vikings in thrilling fashion.
Wilson has 19 passing touchdowns in his first five games of the season and needs four more on Sunday against Arizona to break the record Peyton Manning set in 2013 for the most through a team’s opening six contests (22). Wilson also leads the NFL in passer rating (129.8) and touchdown percentage (11.2%), and ranks second in completion percentage (72.8%).
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
2020 stats: 1,699 passing yards, 15 TDs, 1 interception (plus 165 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD) in six games
Mahomes became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 90 passing touchdowns (in 37 games) after he threw two of them in a Week 6 win over Buffalo. He started the 2020 season right where he left off, after winning a Lombardi trophy and Super Bowl ring eight months ago.
But the scary part is the Chiefs don’t need their elite QB playing at an MVP level every week to win games. Kansas City leaned heavily on its rushing attack to beat the Bills. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs’ 46 rushing attempts on Monday are tied for the most in a game by an Andy Reid team in his career as a head coach. In spite of teams trying to take away the Chiefs’ biggest strength, Mahomes still has the third-most passing touchdowns (15), ranks second in QBR (86.9) and is on pace for more than 4,500 passing yards this season.
3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
2020 stats: 1,374 passing yards, 13 TDs, 2 interceptions (plus 45 rushing yards) in five games
Rodgers looked awful against the Bucs in Week 6 and was caught off guard — throwing two interceptions, which the Packers quarterback referred to as “an anomaly.” If that’s the case, we should expect to see him bounce back to where he was during his first four games — a stretch that included a 13-0 TD-INT ratio.
This season is shaping up to be special for the Packers, and Rodgers is still very much the engine that makes Green Bay’s offense go. He’s maximizing the talent around him, from Davante Adams to Aaron Jones, and ranks top-five in touchdowns, passer rating and adjusted yards per attempt, the latter of which is a great sign for the Packers’ offense considering Rodgers’ willingness to sling the ball downfield. Through five games, Rodgers has 19 passes of 20-plus yards and five of 40-plus yards.
4. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans
2020 stats: 1,368 passing yards, 13 TDs, 2 interceptions (plus 77 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD) in five games
Many expected Tannehill to decline after his career-best season in 2019. So much for that. Since replacing Marcus Mariota as the starter in Tennessee, Tannehill has led the Titans to an 11-3 record while throwing for 3,062 yards and compiling a 31-6 TD-INT ratio.
The Titans rank fourth in offensive efficiency this season, and though a lot of their wins have come on the back of Derrick Henry, don’t overlook the type of performances Tannehill has strung together. That includes going 30-for-41 for 364 yards and four touchdowns in a wild win over Houston to get his team to 5-0.
5. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
2020 stats: 1,711 passing yards, 16 TDs, 4 interceptions (plus 143 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs) in six games
Allen had bad showings in back-to-back losses to the Titans and Chiefs but remains in the MVP mix for now. The Bills QB led his team to a 4-0 start and emerged as an early favorite for the award upon completing 70.9% of his passes for 1,326 yards (9 yards per attempt) and 12 touchdowns along with a 122.8 passer rating. The way Allen performed early, albeit while beating up on teams like the Jets, Dolphins and Rams, had him in the same sentence as Wilson, Mahomes and Rodgers.
But as of late, that hype has dwindled. Though he has shown considerable improvement this season, Allen can’t turn in performances like he did against the Chiefs and the league’s 23rd-ranked defense (14-of-27 passing for 122 yards, 2 TDs, INT) if he wants to stay in the MVP conversation.
Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams: The 2018 Defensive Player of the Year is always in the mix here, though defensive tackles are rarely ever given the league’s highest honor. At 29, Donald hasn’t slowed down and leads the league in sacks with 7.5. He has been one of the most disruptive players in the NFL for years, ranking third in sacks through 100 games, and will continue to be in the conversation for the MVP as long as he has outings like he did against Washington (four sacks). That performance marked his fifth career game with at least three sacks, the most by any player since he entered the league in 2014.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: Henry led the league in rushing in 2019 and has shown no signs of slowing down after signing a mega-extension this offseason. The 247-pounder rushed for 212 yards (an average of 9.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns against the Texans, which was his third game with 200 yards rushing since 2018. Meanwhile, the rest of the NFL has had just three players reach that feat in the same span. He is looking to become just the fourth running back to earn MVP honors since 2001. The fact that Tennessee’s offense flows through Henry will continue to bolster his chances, and many could argue that Tannehill is a strong early MVP candidate himself because of what Henry has done to keep Tennessee undefeated entering Week 7.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben finished just outside of the top five after playing just six quarters last season. Roethlisberger’s arm strength isn’t where it was when he led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 — his 7.0 air yards per attempt are his lowest through the Steelers’ first five games since this was first tracked by ESPN in 2006 — but the way he’s playing has the Steelers off to a 5-0 start and in the conversation of the NFL’s best team. The Steelers QB is completing 69.1% of his passes (his best through five games since 2015), has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception and posted his eighth-highest QBR (60.3) through five games.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens: The reigning MVP doesn’t look like he did last year at this point but looked more the part in the Ravens’ Week 6 win over the Eagles. Jackson rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the 30-28 win, which was the first time this season when his running ability appeared to be as big of a threat as it was last season. His passing has been all over the place, from a 275-yard, three-TD performance on 20-of-25 passing in a Week 1 win over the Browns to completing just 51% of his passes for 180 yards and 2 TDs in a victory over Cincinnati in Week 5.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals: Murray took down San Francisco, last year’s Super Bowl runner-up, in Week 1 and has become a stealth candidate for the MVP award over the past few weeks. After dismantling the Cowboys on Monday night, the type of game he needed to further himself in the MVP mix, Murray became the third player in NFL history to record 30 passing and 10 rushing touchdowns in his first 25 career games.
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots: It may not be time for the Patriots to hit the panic button, but the same can’t be said for Newton’s MVP chances. He looked as though he was back to his 2015 MVP form in New England’s first three games, even in a loss to the Seahawks in which he threw for 397 yards. Newton said he was “extremely frustrated” with his play after a Week 6 loss to the Broncos, and it’s not difficult to understand why. He’s an MVP-caliber player and isn’t consistently playing like one. His five rushing touchdowns and 56.3 rushing yards per game are great, but his passing is a mixed bag. He has just two passing TDs in four starts and ranks 27th in ESPN’s adjusted QB rating.
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