The NFL’s Top Darkhorse MVP Candidates


With just one week to go in the regular season, it’s time to look at some players who stood out and carried their teams.  At this point, the NFL’s MVP award will likely go to either Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers or New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of other great performances.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson was tremendous all year long and it’s not his fault that the Cards didn’t make the postseason.  Through 15 games he has 15 100-yard performances (from scrimmage) and he should win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award.  Johnson was excellent and couldn’t have done much more to propel his team.

Matt Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

Matt Stafford lost future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson in the offseason, but that didn’t stop him from having his best year as a pro.  Stafford was clutch all year long and played his best football in the fourth quarter.  He spread the football around and made the Lions an even tougher team to defend.  He will have one more opportunity to win the NFC North as the team will take on the Packers Sunday night.

Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

Sure, the Denver Broncos went from the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs entirely, but that isn’t on Von Miller.  Miller was excellent again, despite having less talent around him as in years past and still collecting 13.5 sacks through 15 games, good for second-best in the league.  Miller’s play often carried the defense, which carried their inept offense to playoff contention all the way until the end of Week 16.  He proved that he was worth every penny of his new contract, and then some.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan’s career was at a crossroads and he responded with his best season as a pro and an NFC South title.  It was unclear whether Ryan was a product of his star receivers prior to this season, but in 2016 he carried them.  The Falcons still don’t have a great defense and plenty of pressure was on Ryan week in and week out, and he responded.

Odell Beckham, Jr, WR, New York Giants

In most situations, the quarterback raises the play of the wide receivers, but this is one of the spots where it works in reverse.  Odell Beckham is the biggest mismatch in the NFL and he makes quarterback Eli Manning a much better football player.  Beckham has saved his excellence for some of the biggest moments of the season and has propelled the Giants to the postseason.

The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

A lot of the MVP discussion has revolved around the Dallas Cowboys, with their pair of stellar rookies in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot.  Although both have had great seasons, the real reason why they’ve been so dominant has been the Cowboys offensive line.  The Dallas line is by far the best in the NFL and they’ve afforded Prescott great protection and Elliot enormous holes to run through.

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders

Unfortunately, we won’t see Derek Carr in the postseason due to his broken fibula in Saturday’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts.  Still, that doesn’t mean that Carr didn’t have a memorable season.  The toughest thing to do in sports in change a losing culture and Carr has been the conduit behind the Raiders first playoff appearance in 15 years.  He has come up big late in the fourth quarter of close games and has given Raiders fans belief that they can win against anyone, anywhere.  The future is bright for Carr.

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Although he’s undersized and was a sixth-round draft pick, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is on anyone’s short list of best in the game at his position.  Despite his size, Brown makes tough catches over the middle, shows a sure set of hands and is the ultimate deep threat.  He has kept his team in the playoff race this season, culminating in his ridiculous touchdown to win the AFC North on Christmas Night.

None of these guys are likely to win the NFL’s MVP award, but they’ve been instrumental to the varying levels of their team’s success and should be recognized as such.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.