NFL Honors: AP MVP

The Associated Press NFL MVP is the prize jewel of all awards handed out at the NFL Honors in February, and this year’s race is bound to create a fair amount of drama. There are plenty of worthy candidates, mostly quarterbacks, while a rookie running back is made quite the case for himself.

The award is voted on by 50 sportswriters who casted their ballots on Jan. 4. Keep in mind, this means the winner is decided before any postseason play, eliminating any of Aaron Rodgers incredible throws from the consideration of writers. In the past 10 years, eight of the winners have been quarterbacks, the remaining two have been running backs. In the last three years, all the winners have been QB’s.

The NFL Honors will take place the night before the Super Bowl on Feb. 4. You can check our website for instant updates and reactions to all the winners. For now, we take a look at all the candidates of the AP NFL MVP award.

Tom Brady – New England Patriots

There is quite an elephant in the room when Tom Brady’s name is brought up for the MVP award. The four-time Super Bowl winner was suspended for the first four games of the season, a stretch of time where his team still managed to go 3-1 without him. Two of the teams the Patriots beat went on to play in the AFC playoffs.

There is a case that Brady isn’t as valuable to his team as the other candidates, but his numbers propel him to a spot on the ballot. In 12 games, he passed for 3,554 yards and had the best touchdown to interception ratio in league history, giving just two takeaways to opponents. His 83.1 QBR was good enough for second best in the NFL, behind Matt Ryan.

One thing that stands out about Brady is his ability to raise the play of other players. The Patriots have no true star wide receiver, and their best offensive weapon, Rob Gronkowski, missed eight games.  Despite all of this, New England still had the fifth best offense in the league. Brady has won the AP MVP award just twice before, and it is hard to envision him adding a third after a shortened season.

Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys

The last running back to win the award was Adrian Peterson in 2012. In that season, Peterson rushed for over 400 more yards than Ezekiel Elliott and averaged more yards per carry. Peterson certainly had a more historical season in 2012, Elliott shouldn’t be tossed aside so quickly.

The MVP goes to the most valuable player in the league, and Elliott was certainly the most valuable player on his team. Dak Prescott impressed many in his rookie campaign, but without Elliott, the Cowboys’ offense would not have been the same. He rushed for 1,631 yards and reached the end zone 15 times. He won the rushing title in just 15 games, beating out the closest opponent by over 300 yards.

Elliott would be the youngest winner in NFL history, and the first rookie to win the AP MVP award since it first was handed out in 1961. Elliott’s toughest hurdle will be defending the fact that he had the league’s best offensive line, one that helped Darren McFadden reach over 1,000 yards in 2015.  Elliott seems like a top-three finisher but may not have what it takes this year. The upside? His career is just getting started.

Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan put together one of the best seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. He shined in a season where the Falcons put together an 11-5 record and won the NFC South by two games. He threw for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and had a 69.9 completion percentage. His seven interceptions were the lowest in his division by a full seven.

His overall QBR was 83.4 percent, the best in the NFL. Ryan had to endure the toughest schedule of opposing defenses in the league, the Falcons were also tied for first in difficulty of schedule in the NFL.

If there is any sort of front-runner in this race, Ryan appears to be the guy. He was voted to the AP NFL All-Pro Team first-team, receiving 29 of 50 votes. Those votes come from the same exact writers who vote on the MVP award. In addition, he was already named the Pro Football Writers’ of America MVP choice. Anything can happen, but Ryan is certainly the top candidate.

Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders

Derek Carr didn’t put up numbers nearly as good as the other candidates, but what he did with the Oakland Raiders this season was spectacular. Carr changed the culture in Oakland this season and created an AFC powerhouse for seasons to come. Not all of his stats pop off the page, but his seven fourth quarter comebacks certainly do.

Carr was one of the m0ost clutch QB’s in the game this season. He led an offense ranked sixth best in the league, and had a defense that was unreliable, allowing the fourth most yards in the AFC. Carr’s injury was a major blow to Oakland, and his value was seen in their brutal 27-14 loss to the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round.

Carr received just one All-Pro vote, making it nearly impossible for him to win the MVP award. He changed the way football is viewed in Oakland but didn’t have a season good enough for serious consideration.

Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers

Out of all the QB’s on this list, I think the voting will come down to Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. Rodgers will be a tricky pick due to the struggles the Packers faced in the middle of the season, but his finish was incredible.

Rodgers led Green Bay on a six-game win streak where he threw 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. In other words, he was untouchable for almost the entire second half of the season. During the entire season, Rodgers threw for 40 touchdowns, more than anyone on this list, and he only threw seven interceptions.

When comparing his overall stats to Ryan’s, the Falcons’ QB still edges him out by a little. An argument could be made that Rodgers had a weaker running game and less offensive help. Rodgers lacked in All-Pro votes, accounting for just five, 10 less than second-teamer Tom Brady. If postseason play was considered, Rodgers could have been a runaway, but his slow start hurt his chances.

You can follow Pro Player Insiders on Twitter at @playerinsiders. You can follow Matthew Lively on Twitter at @livelyasu.

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