Nine weeks through the 2020-21 NFL season, there are some clear front-runners for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. But the 2020 NFL MVP race is far from over, with three new players in the Top Ten and some movement of existing players since my quarter season MVP Watch.

If you’re reading this after Week 10, the race may have changed completely. But this is the second installment in a series of four, evaluating the top candidates every four to five weeks.

Will Russell Wilson win his first MVP award? Can Patrick Mahomes win his second? And in a quarterback-driven league, do any other position players have a case as the NFL’s most impactful player?

Previous MVP Watch: Quarter Season

Weekly Power Rankings: Post-Week 1, Post-Week 2Post-Week 3Post-Week 4Post-Week 5Post-Week 6Post-Week 7Post-Week 8, Post-Week 9

Weekly Picks: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9, Week 10

2020 NFL MVP Rankings

1. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

The tape of play-action spear shows Russell Wilson to be MVP candidate -  Field Gulls
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Quarter Season Rank: 1 (-)

Russell Wilson leads an electric Seahawks offense, and very few quarterbacks could fill the role he plays in Seattle. For those reasons, Wilson is my front-runner for MVP once again, just as he was through four games.

Wilson is 4th in the NFL in passing yards with 2,541, but has played one less game than every other quarterback in the top seven on the passing yards list. At this pace, Wilson will finish 1st in the NFL with 5,081 passing yards after 16 games. Wilson also has an NFL-high 28 passing touchdowns along with eight interceptions and a 71.0% completion rate.

Seattle is 6-2 after a couple recent losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, and a few more losses could knock Wilson down the MVP totem pole. But for now, Wilson deserves this award because every ounce of his offense is needed every week. Seattle has scored 274 points so far (2nd in NFL but 1st in points per game) yet has only outscored their opposition by 31 points. For comparison, Mahomes and the Chiefs have scored 286 points, 103 more than their opponents.

Long story short, if you put an average or even good quarterback in Wilson’s place, the Seahawks could easily be 3-3 or worse right now. Wilson embodies the truest spirit of the MVP award: he brings so much value to his team and wins them football games, as opposed to just being a good player on a good team with flashy numbers.

2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Championship - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs
David Eulitt/Getty Images

Quarter Season Rank: 2 (-)

Patrick Mahomes, the 2018-19 NFL MVP and 2019-20 Super Bowl MVP, could be closing in on his second regular season MVP award if he keeps up his stellar play. Mahomes is 2nd in the NFL in passing yards with 2,687, has tossed 25 passing touchdowns (2nd in NFL) and just a single interception. His 115.9 passer rating is second only to Wilson’s 117.1 mark.

The Chiefs are 8-1, playing to Mahomes advantage. While everything I said about Wilson’s raw value to his team is true, not many quarterbacks could operate at the level Mahomes does in Kansas City. Still, if Mahomes were to be replaced by an average quarterback, I would still expect the Chiefs to be a decent team. Mahomes probably adds four or five wins though, something no one outside of this Top Five could say.

If the passing statistic trends between Wilson and Mahomes hold over the course of the season, the final records of the Chiefs of the Seahawks could play a key role in the outcome of the MVP race. If Seattle stops winning the close games they play in and fall out of first place in the NFC West, Wilson’s MVP watch would certainly take a hit. I think the Seahawks could finish with two to four less wins than the Chiefs and Wilson could still be chosen as MVP. But if Kansas City finishes with a dominant record (15-1 or 14-2) and Seattle wins the West but crawls to the finish (10-6) the door could be opened to Mahomes MVP case.

3. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

What Bills' Josh Allen and Dawson Knox were doing in their touchdown  celebration | Buffalo Bills News | NFL | buffalonews.com
Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News

Quarter Season Rank: 3 (-)

Josh Allen may not have moved up from the #3 position on this list, but other the past five weeks, his ranking has certainly been solidified. First of all, the Buffalo Bills are 7-2. Yes, they do have two losses to the Titans and Chiefs that weren’t all that close. But with the second-most wins in the league, the Bills are enjoying a very successful season so far.

Allen has been the key force driving the Bills offensive results. Similar to Wilson’s situation in Seattle, Allen often has to put up 25, 30, or more points to secure victory. Allen has passed for 2,587 yards (3rd in the NFL) as well as 19 touchdowns and five interceptions, with a 68.9% completion rate. Allen’s rushing ability can’t be underrated though, as his 241 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground have propelled the Bills offense to new heights.

4. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Sean McDermott says Bills will 'get creative' defending Kyler Murray
Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

Quarter Season Rank: Unranked

Kyler Murray looks like the next big thing in the NFL. He was unranked at the quarter-season mark, due to a couple shaky starts and a 2-2 record. Now, sitting at 5-3 and emerging as possibly the best dual-threat quarterback in the game, Murray is firmly entrenched in the MVP race.

The Cardinals quarterback has passed for 2,130 yards, 16 touchdowns, and five interceptions, with a 68.1% completion rate. On the ground, Murray has amassed 543 yards (8th in the NFL) and eight touchdowns (3rd in the NFL.) Read that sentence again. Murray ranks highly in total rushing yards and touchdowns among all players, not just quarterbacks.

The more wins Arizona finishes with the better, as the Cardinals have been a little inconsistent through eight weeks. It will be hard for Murray to leapfrog Allen, Mahomes AND Wilson, but I think he should seriously still be considered a candidate to take home the award.

5. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

In 2020, as Aaron Rodgers goes, so will the Green Bay Packers
Dylan Buell | Getty Images

Quarter Season Rank: 4 (-1)

After the top four players; game-changing talents who really can’t be replaced, you start looking at the teams with the best records in the league, and who is driving their success. Despite a recent disappointing loss to the Vikings, Green Bay holds a strong 6-2 record, tied for the best mark in the NFC.

Aaron Rodgers, of course, drives the Packers offense. The veteran has 2,253 passing yards, a little low at 10th in the NFL, but more impressive results in touchdowns (24, 3rd in NFL.)

An elite record and some more passing numbers might help elevate Rodgers’ case, but for now, he’s the next best thing after a very impressive Top Four.

6. Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady, Buccaneers toughen up, erupt in rout of Panthers - The Boston  Globe
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Quarter Season Rank: 5 (-1)

Tom Brady‘s passing numbers may not top the charts, but the three-time NFL MVP has made an unmistakable mark on the Buccaneers franchise already. Last year, Tampa Bay finished 7-9 with Jameis Winston leading the league in passing yards. This year, they’re 6-3 through nine weeks, needing just one more win to reach last year’s total.

Brady’s case is slightly hampered by his two losses to the Saints, which leaves winning the NFC South out of Tampa Bay’s hands, as they must rely on Saints losses. Making the playoffs is probably enough a jump to propel into the MVP race, but an NFC South title would be icing on the cake.

Brady has 2,398 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, as he completes passes at a 65.3% rate. The future Hall of Fame quarterback has also punched in two scores on the ground.

7. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

With Dalvin Cook, run-first formula paying off for Vikings – Twin Cities
St. Paul Pioneer Press/John Autey

Quarter Season Rank: Unranked

The first six players, and eight of the Top Ten, are all quarterbacks. Quarterbacks impact the game’s outcome so much more than any other position, so for a running back or wide receiver to take him the trophy, they need to post a season with transcendent impact. The last player to do so was Adrian Peterson in 2012. He was instrumental in achieving the Vikings 10-6 record, rushing for 2,097 yards (2nd in NFL history) and 12 touchdowns.

Eight years later, a different running back is dominating the Vikings offense: Dalvin Cook. Cook has played in seven of the Vikings games so far, amassing 858 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground (already tying Peterson’s MVP mark.) He’s also caught 16 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown.

If Cook plays in 15 games this season at his current pace, he’ll finish with 1,839 rushing yards (16 games would be 1,962, for reference) and 26 rushing touchdowns (the NFL record is 28.) If Cook stays on pace and hits these marks, it will be a historic season. But with a more thank likely losing record, voters probably won’t be inclined to put Cook in their Top Five.

8. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

8 great Ben Roethlisberger quotes | Steelers Wire
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Quarter Season Rank: 10 (+2)

Being a quarterback for one of the most successful teams in the league is usually an automatic berth in to the MVP conversation. With his Steelers sitting at an NFL-best 8-0, Ben Roethlisberger has earned some consideration for this year’s award.

With such an elite record, you might think Big Ben should be higher. But while the likes of Wilson, Mahomes, Brady, and Rodgers seem irreplaceable, I don’t doubt that other quarterbacks could succeed in Roethlisberger’s shoes. Roethlisberger has passed for 1,934 yards (18th in the NFL) and 18 touchdowns (7th in the NFL.) He’s only thrown four picks, and completes 68.1% of his passes (12th in the NFL.)

Long story short, without stand-out numbers and undeniable impact on the outcome of games, Roethlisberger could go 16-0 and still fail to break the Top Five in MVP voting.

9. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees free agency rumors: Quarterback re-signs with New Orleans Saints  - DraftKings Nation
Chuck Cook / USA Today Sports

Quarter Season Rank: Unranked

Drew Brees falls into a similar category: his team is doing well, he’s the starting quarterback, and he deserves to be in the MVP talk. Brees actually has superior numbers: 2,120 passing yards (16th in the NFL,) 17 touchdowns (8th in the NFL) and a league-leading 74.0% completion percentage.

The Saints are 6-2, leading the NFC South and tied for lead in the entire conference. That certainly helps Brees’ case, but with so many quarterbacks having historic seasons, Brees’ current numbers are simply not good enough.

10. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

Titans-Raiders preview: Derrick Henry poses huge problem
Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Quarter Season Rank: 7 (-3)

In the quarter season rankings, Derrick Henry was the lone running back to appear in the Top Ten. He’s still one of the most impactful players in the league, driving much of Tennessee’s offensive success.

But when we last ranked MVP candidates, Henry easily had the highest rushing yards per game average and the Titans were 3-0. Now, Tennessee has slid to 5-3, and while Henry’s average hasn’t changed much (106.3 to 105.1,) the 7th-ranked Dalvin Cook is averaging 122.6 yards per game. Cook also has scored four additional ground scores and one receiving score, as Henry isn’t much of a pass-catching threat.

Don’t get me wrong: Henry is among the most valuable players in the league. But without a clear claim to being the league’s top rusher, along with some losses since the last MVP check, Henry’s MVP stock takes a small hit.

Honorable Mentions

  • Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
    • Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards, with 2,746 yards through the air, or 305.1 passing yards per game. He’s thrown for 15 touchdowns with five interceptions, and gets a nod due to pass-happy offense. The Falcons are 3-5, and Ryan probably wouldn’t even crack the Top Ten unless Atlanta had a winning record.
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
    • Dak Prescott threw for 1,878 passing yards through five games: 371.2 yards per game, on pace for a record-breaking 5,939 yards over 16 games. Prescott is done for the season, and didn’t play enough games to merit serious consideration. But with Dallas going 0-4 since Prescott’s injury, his value couldn’t be more clear/
  • D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
    • I like the idea of wide receivers being in the running for MVP, but it’s so much harder to stand out at this position as compared to a quarterback. I don’t have any in my Top Ten this week, while last week Deandre Hopkins was the only wideout in the race. This week, I see D.K. Metcalf as the most irreplaceable receiver: 788 yards and eight touchdowns through eight games has kept the Seahawks offense churning.
  • Deandre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
    • The Cardinals offense is getting more consistent, and Hopkins is a huge part of Arizona’s success. Hopkins has caught 60 passes for 734 yards and three touchdowns from fellow MVP-candidate Kyler Murray. His low touchdown total keeps him out of the Top Ten, after appearing sixth on my Quarter Season MVP Watch.
  • Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
    • It doesn’t look like there will be back-to-back MVP campaigns for the Ravens dual-threat quarterback. Lamar Jackson sits 27th in the NFL in passing yards with 1,513, along with a pedestrian 12 touchdown passes (19th in the NFL) and four interceptions. Of course, you can’t forget about Jackson’s value as a rusher (469 yards, three touchdowns, one fumble lost) or team leader: Baltimore is 6-2, losing only to the best two teams in the NFL (in my opinion.)

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