Who Are The Top NFL MVP Candidates Right Now?

Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Week 5 (outside of Monday night football) is in the books and certain players are definitely starting to separate from others when it comes to the MVP watch.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘It’s too early to start crowning the MVP’ and in all honesty, you’re probably right. At this time last year, Russell Wilson was the unanimous best player in the league and we all know he didn’t end the year that way—things always change dramatically over the course of an 18-week season.

But MVP talk makes for good content and it’s a roundabout way to talk about elite quarterback play, so alas, here’s my current list of contenders for the prestigious award.

Top Contenders:

1. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

The usual winning formula for an MVP winner is being an elite producer at the QB position with a team that earns a top playoff seed. As a video game machine helming the only undefeated team in football, Murray currently fits that criteria to a tee.

Playing more controlled football than ever before—outside of a few egregious decisions against Minnesota in Week 2—Murray has been nearly flawless five games in, showcasing his breathtaking athleticism and arm talent every possible time he can. Divvying the ball up to numerous open weapons as opposed to just locking in on DeAndre Hopkins, the struggles that caused Murray to dip in play last year don’t appear to be present anymore. If that’s truly the case, he’s the odds-on favorite to win the award come February.

17-game pace (through five weeks): 422/561 (75%), 5141 pass yards, 34 pass TDs, 14 Ints, 374 rush yards, 10 rush TDs

2.  Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can this guy retire already?

Seemingly only gaining arm strength at the age of 44, Brady has looked as good as ever in his second season as a Buc, shredding defenses with a calm demeanor, unreal velocity, and pinpoint accuracy. Averaging three touchdowns per game and only throwing two interceptions all season—0 if you take out drops and hail mary attempts—it’s been a near flawless start for the league’s most flawless QB. Voters might have some fatigue when it comes to voting him as MVP—especially with the future of the league in Murray and Justin Herbert being such tempting candidates—but the Tampa Bay signal-caller is playing the position as good as he ever has.

As much as it pains me to say it, it’s only fitting for the GOAT.

17-game pace (through five weeks): 506/765 (66.1%), 6008 pass yards, 51 pass TDs, 7 Ints, 122 rush yds, 3 rush TDs

3.  Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Herbert has gone from risky draft prospect to promising rookie to elite franchise QB in less than two years, and even describing his transformation like that feels like it’s undercutting his 2021 play.

Outdueling Patrick Mahomes, establishing a dominant connection with emerging star Mike Williams, and gaining complete trust from his ballsy fourth-down-attempting head coach Brandon Staley in just five games, Herbert is producing elite numbers on a nearly undefeated team, leading the most chaos-infused franchise in football to thrilling late-game victories. He’ll need to bump his completion percentage up a bit to compete with Murray and Brady from a statistical perspective, but from a pure impact side of things, there’s arguably no better QB in football right now.

17-game pace (through five weeks): 473/703 (67.3%), 5358 pass yds, 44 pass TDs, 10 Ints, 204 rush yards, 3 rush TDs

4.  Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Maybe the least ‘flashy’ player on this list—and subsequently the one that is all but assured to get the most hate—Prescott hasn’t been perfect this year. A few iffy interceptions and a dominant run game have made many cling to the narrative he’s just operating the Cowboys’ electric offensive ship as opposed to legitimately driving it. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

The catalyst for everything Dallas does and everything brilliant offensive coordinator Kellen Moore designs, Prescott is currently showing shades of Denver Broncos-era Peyton Manning (without the linguini arm) with the way he wins pre-snap and reads defenses. Ezekiel Elliott, a star group of wide receivers, and DPOY candidate Trevon Diggs are the ones taking a lot of the national media attention during the Cowboys’ hot start—which might hurt Prescott when it comes to MVP narratives and hype later in the season—but if they keep this up, there’s only one guy who deserves to be in the MVP conversation.

17-game pace (through five weeks): 415/561 (74.0%), 4651 pass yards, 44 pass TDs, 10 Ints, 204 rush yds, 0 rush TDs

5.  Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

Recency bias and a whopping victory over Kansas City last night might have some thinking that Allen should be No. 1 on this list—and he very well might be by the end of the season—but the fact of the matter is that he was poor in a Week 1 loss and only okay in Week 2 vs. Miami (despite the beating they gave the Dolphins).

Weeks 3-5 have been dominant, however, and Allen is giving off 2015 Cam Newton vibes with the way he’s putting all his physical tools together. Whether it be picture-perfect hurdles, unreal deep shots, or trucking defenders, Allen’s bruting style is something that every fan loves, and no doubt will sway voters his way later in the season should he continue at this pace. Throw in the fact that Buffalo will very likely get the No. 1 seed in the AFC and he could move up this list very fast, very soon.

17-game pace (through five weeks): 388/622 (62.4%), 4658 pass yards, 41 pass TDs, 7 Ints, 640 rush yards, 7 rush TDs

Best of the Rest

6.  Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Keeping the Ravens’ depleted run game afloat while once again showing the haters that he can excel as a passer, Jackson has been terrific in 2021. The five QBs above him have just been a bit better though, and their overall stats (particularly when it comes to passing touchdowns) give them the current edge.

7.  Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

After an abysmal Week 1, Rodgers has been Rodgers. 

8.  Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

Henry is leading the league in rushing by a margin the size of the Pacific Ocean, but he’s also a running back on a middling 3-2 Titans team that recently lost to the Jets. He’s definitely a favorite for OPOY, but it's hard to win an MVP with those types of hurdles.

9.  Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City is a hugely disappointing 2-3 and Mahomes is coming off arguably his worst ever game as a pro against Buffalo, but the Chiefs have already played the four toughest teams in the AFC through the first five weeks. Things will get easier and that’s when I’d expect Mahomes to climb this list.

10.  Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams

After a sparkling start, some inconsistencies have shown up in Stafford’s game over the past few weeks, but there’s still zero doubt that he’s an immense upgrade over Jared Goff. As a great QB leading a 4-1 team, he simply has to be in the MVP conversation, even if he isn’t a ‘serious’ threat for the award yet.

11.  Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

A wide receiver won’t win MVP, but Adams’ dominance is certainly putting him in the OPOY conversation.

12.  Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens

Okay, this is sort of a joke, but after watching 11 missed extra points on Sunday—as well as whatever that Green Bay vs. Cincinnati game was—I just want to fly to Baltimore and give Tucker a big hug. He’s a future Hall of Famer at an increasingly worsening position who has single-handedly won a game for a playoff contender this year. Not even many quarterbacks can say that.