Breaking Down The NFL’s MVP Race In The Season’s Second Half

If the 2016 Presidential race didn’t get the blood pumping perhaps the NFL MVP race will. The traditional names on this list have been supplanted with some new candidates, thus making for a multitude of intrigue. There are numerous deserving contenders for the award this year but only a few players have stood out among the pack. Let’s look at the candidates, from front-runners to dark horse threats.

Front Runners

Atlanta Falcons’ Quarterback Matt Ryan: When Matt Ryan was taken third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, he was touted as being the next great quarterback. Equipped with the fourth largest QB contract in the NFL (despite never throwing an NFL pass) and multiple endorsement deals, the pressure was on from the start. He didn’t disappoint in his rookie year completing over 60 percent of his passes and throwing for over 3,400 yards. He also led his team to the playoffs. Since 2008, Ryan has been up and down, but this year he seems to have put it all together. He is on pace for over 5,000 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions (all would be career-high marks).

Ryan has thrown for at least three touchdown passes in five games of his nine games this year. Also, his total adjusted QBR is 83.8, which is third best in the NFL – 50.0 is considered league average. ESPN also tracks a stat called Points Added, which is the number of points contributed by a quarterback over the season; accounting for QBR and how much he plays, above the level of an average quarterback. Ryan’s Points Added are a staggering 40.6. The league average is 18.5 and the next closest player is Dak Prescott’s 36.2. Maybe he is starting to fulfill all the hope that Atlanta placed in him back in 2008?

New England Patriots’ Quarterback Tom Brady: Part of me doesn’t want to include Brady on this list (even though most analysts have Brady as leading the pack) because of Deflate Gate, but what Tom has done coming off of his four-game suspension has been absolutely remarkable. Brady is completing 73.1 percent of his passes which is almost five points higher than his career-high. He is also averaging 9.84 yards per attempt, also a personal best. Brady hasn’t thrown an interception, and boasts a ridiculous QBR of 92.9 (best in the NFL). The Patriots are 4-0 since his return and are averaging a whopping 34 points per game with him under center. In other words, to not acknowledge that Brady’s campaign is legitimate would be simply ludicrous.

Detroit Lions’ Quarterback Matthew Stafford: Matthew Stafford’s career didn’t start off as planned. His first two seasons ended with him on injured reserve, with the 2010 season ending with a shoulder injury. Then in 2011, Stafford became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards and the Lions made playoffs for the first time since 1999. The ability has always been there, but the consistency hasn’t.

Part of that inconsistency was on Lions’ management, but part of it was on Stafford also. But something miraculous happened in 2015, Jim Bob Cooter took over offensive play calling duties in Detroit, and Stafford has been on an absolute tear ever since.  He’s always been a gunslinger, but somehow Cooter has been able to turn Stafford into a more efficient passer.  Since Week 10 of last season, (Cooter’s first game calling plays) Stafford has thrown for 4,552 yards, 37 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. More importantly, the Lions are 11-6 during that stretch. But this is about this season, not last, and Stafford is checking the same boxes this year: 18:5 TD–INT ratio, 67.3 completion percentage (best of his career) and 7.46 yards/attempt (second best mark of his career). The Lions, who are in the thick of the NFC North race (not to mention possibly hosting a playoff game for the first time in 14 years) have five wins and Stafford has led the team to come back victories in each one.

Dark Horse Candidates

Arizona Cardinals’ Running back David Johnson: Cowboys’ rookie Ezekiel Elliott and the Titans’ DeMarco Murray are having excellent seasons at the running back position, but the most electric performer has been David Johnson. Watching David Johnson cut through defenses is a thing of beauty. Blessed with 4.4 speed and a 6’1”, 224 pound frame, Johnson is the perfect blend of speed and power. This has translated into 1,112 total yards from scrimmage, a 4.5 yards/carry average and 35 catches.  Johnson has accounted for over 37 percent of Arizona’s total yards of offense, (according to ESPN’s John Clayton) and also has eight total touchdowns. This is all behind an offensive line that ranks in the middle of the pack (17th) on Pro Football Focus.

Oakland Raiders’ Quarterback Derek Carr: Derek Carr has been an above average quarterback since entering the NFL in 2014. Most pundits say that the third year is when you really know what type of player you have. Well, Carr is showing Raider Nation that they may have their best quarterback since Rich Gannon, who won the MVP award for Oakland in 2002. Carr’s numbers aren’t breath taking, but he has shown remarkable improvement as a game manager and has the Raiders at 7-2 and in first place in the AFC West (the toughest division in the NFL). He is taking care of the football (three interceptions) and has also set the NFL single-game record with 500+ passing yards and four TDs accounted for in one game; Ben Roethlisberger (2014 Steelers) & Y.A. Little (1962 Giants) are the only other quarterbacks to have accomplish such a feat. In addition, Carr has thrown at least one TD pass in every game except one (last week against Denver). In the Denver game, he showed that he can lead a team to a victory without playing great, something that can’t be quantified with statistics.

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