The 2016 NFL MVP race is shaping up as one of the most unique and interesting contests in recent history. Over the better part of the last decade, the MVP has been dominated by the same star quarterbacks, intertwined with a smattering of elite players at other offensive skill positions.
But 2016 has represented a changing of the guard. The dominant forces over the last decade have receded, opening a grand opportunity for some fresh blood to be crowned the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Arguably the most important shift came way back in March, with the retirement of five time MVP winner Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Fame, who has dominated this particular award in the past 15 years. Elsewhere, Aaron Rodgers isn’t the god-like quarterback he played like from 2010-2014. JJ Watt and Adrian Peterson are both on IR, after barely getting on the field this season. Cam Newton hasn’t reached the lofty heights of his 2015 season, which is partially on his own play and partially the play of his offensive line and awful secondary.
Only Patriots quarterback Tom Brady remains; as arguably the games best quarterback. But his four-game suspension for Deflategate in September may rule him ineligible, as well as the fact that he’s missed a quarter of the season.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has had somewhat of a renaissance season in 2016, recapturing the impressive play from his 2012 season, and propelling his Falcons team towards a likely playoff birth. Third-year Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr has taken an enormous leap forward and is a major reason why the Raiders are currently the number 1 seed in the AFC.
Perhaps even more impressive is the form of Cowboys’ rookie duo, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. To say these two have exceeded expectations in their rookie seasons would be the understatement of the year.
Thanks to a nasty leg injury, Russell Wilson had a sluggish start to the year, but now he’s mobile again he’s got the Seahawks’ offense firing on all cylinders. Is there a more dangerous quarterback in the league than a healthy Wilson?
The league’s leading receiver, Julio Jones is another outside chance of snatching the MVP. The fact that he’s the second Falcon on this list highlights how Dan Quinn has flipped his side around after a disastrous last two-thirds of a season last year. Jones currently leads the league with over 1,100 receiving yards.
With JJ Watt sidelined for the season, the Broncos’ Von Miller has replaced Watt as the league’s premier defensive player. Like every other defensive player, Miller will likely be overlooked for the league’s most coveted individual honor. If 2014-2015 JJ Watt can’t win the MVP then Miller who has continued on his brutal 2015 form this season has a very small chance indeed.
There is no doubt that this particular award is slanted heavily in favor of offensive players and quarterbacks in particular. For that reason alone, if a running back, receiver or defensive player is a chance to nab the MVP he needs to blow his rivals utterly away. See Adrian Peterson in 2012.
If the MVP was awarded right now, Matty Ryan or Derek Carr would be walking away with the title, but fortunately for the chasing pack we’ve still got till December.
For mine, it’s hard to go past one of the pre-season favorites, Russell Wilson. The Seahawks’ quarterback was fairly limited with injuries early in the season, compounded by awful offensive line play. However, in the last month Wilson’s big-play ability, his laser arm and his pocket movement have returned with a vengeance.
Wilson may well be chasing the leaders, but without a clear-cut leader heading into December, Wilson has the ability and the time to make a run for a maiden MVP award.
Since 2013 Wilson has been consistently floated as a top-five quarterback, with admirers and detractors evenly split on his level of play. Many have pointed towards his elite defense, as the reasons for his success. But there can be no doubt in Wilson’s clutch play ability, and his play is certainly trending that way in 2016.