Top-5 MVP Candidates Heading Into Week 18

Aaron Rodgers still has the Bears in his grasp - Chicago Sun-Times
(Chicago Sun-Times, Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

This year’s MVP race has been one of the tighter ones that we’ve seen in recent years. While we’ve seen some great quarterback play this year, nobody has put together a 2007 Brady, 2013 Manning, or 2020 Rodgers type of season. This has allowed two non-QB’s to join the MVP conversation, despite the fact that the award typically goes to the best quarterback. Here’s a look at my top-5 MVP candidates as we head into the regular season finale.

5. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Cooper Kupp has a chance to break both the single-season receptions and receiving yards records on Sunday against the 49ers. When asked about these possible milestones, Kupp said “We’re playing 17 games of football a year, and a lot of the stuff that happened before that, those records hold a different weight, being that they were played in those 16 games.” If that isn’t the most humble statement a wide receiver has ever made, I don’t know what is.

With 138 catches, Kupp needs 12 on Sunday to break Michael Thomas’ record of 149 set back in 2019. Kupp’s 1,829 receiving yards are 135 short of Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 in 2012. With a monster game, Cooper Kupp could become the first player to reach 2,000 receiving yards in a season. The Pro-Bowler also leads the league with 15 receiving touchdowns and 84 receiving first downs. If he’s able to have a record-breaking performance Sunday afternoon, Kupp’s chances of getting some MVP votes would increase significantly.

4. Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

With nearly 1,000 passing yards, 8 touchdowns and a 145.6 passer rating over his last two games, Burrow has catapulted himself into MVP consideration. The second-year QB out of LSU leads all quarterbacks with an eye-popping 8.9 yards per attempt. He’s also 2nd in passer rating (108.3) and is the only quarterback with a completion percentage above 70%.

For the Bengals to go from being the laughingstock of the AFC North the last two years to winning the division in 2021 is quite remarkable. Yes, he’s surrounded by elite offensive weapons and the defense has overachieved, but Joe Burrow is clearly the catalyst for this turnaround. He and his LSU buddy Ja’Marr Chase have put the rest of the AFC on notice, and they could be one of the best QB-WR duo’s in the league for years to come.

3. Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With some key injuries (and sideline meltdowns) down the stretch, Brady’s had to carry the load more than he had to last year. At 44 years young, TB12 is the only quarterback in the league with 40-plus passing touchdowns. With 4,990 passing yards, he’ll easily surpass 5,000 yards for the second time in his career. Drew Brees is the only other QB with multiple 5,000-plus yard seasons.

Despite leading the league in passing yards and TD’s, there’s a couple reasons why I don’t have him higher on this list. One, he’s thrown the ball 68 more times than any other quarterback. Just looking at total yards can be deceiving, as Brady is just tied for 12th in yards per attempt (7.3). And two, he’s had the best pass-protecting offensive line in the league and has been sacked a league-low 21 times. That said, Tom Brady’s still had one heck of a season and has the Bucs in prime position to contend for another Super Bowl.

2. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

There’s absolutely no way the Colts would be in playoff contention if not for Jonathan Taylor. Everyone knows he’s getting the ball, as he’s the only running back with over 300 carries. Despite defenses stacking the box, he’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has 1,734 yards on the ground. That’s over 500 yards more than the number two rusher in the league. Taylor also leads the league in 20-plus yard rushes (13), rushing TD’s (18), and rushing first downs (104). To put that into perspective, that’s 43 more first down carries than any other running back.

Taylor’s having a very similar year that Henry had a season ago, and should at least win offensive player of the year. If he has another great game against Jacksonville and clinches a playoff spot for the Colts, he could become the second running back to win MVP in the last 15 years.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Despite being the “biggest jerk in the league”, Aaron Rodgers has been pretty dang good on the football field. Ever since the Packers Week 1 meltdown against the Saints, Rodgers has been lights out. The only other Packers losses were a 13-7 defeat in Kansas City when Rodgers was out and a 3-point loss in Minnesota in which Rodgers threw for nearly 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s led Green Bay to second straight first-round bye and has done so without Robert Tonyan for the majority of the year, without David Bakhtiari, and without arguably their two best defenders in Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith.

Rodgers’ 35/4 TD/INT ratio is by far the best in football, and he’s the only quarterback with a passer rating above 110. He also ranks in the top-5 with 7.8 yards per attempt and a 68.6 completion rate. With back-to-back MVP’s on the horizon and a good chance at a second Super Bowl win, Aaron Rodgers has a great opportunity to significantly enhance his already-illustrious legacy.

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