October 22, 2021

Handicapping the 2021 NFL MVP Race

The NFL constantly surprises each and every week. The number of superstars across the league is staggering, and the overall level of play over the last two decades has continued to rise. 

The standard for an MVP has excluded all positions besides quarterbacks. Adrian Peterson was the last non-QB to win the MVP and that was back in 2012. Prior to that, just three rushers had won the award since 1999 (Marshall Faulk in 2000, Shaun Alexander in 2005, and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006). We may have a back finally capable of stealing the award in 2021 but his odds are long.

With Week 7 looming, we're handicapping the top 2021 NFL MVP candidates. Each of these players has its own set of pros and cons and we'll break them all down with odds courtesy of DraftKings.

Tier 1: The Favorites

These superstars shouldn't surprise anyone as they each have the blend of production, team success, and an overall narrative needed to win. There's value in this tier but get in soon if you're sold because these odds could drop out of our favor even more.

Dak Prescott (+450)

A slam dunk to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year already (-300 on DraftKings), Dak Prescott has been phenomenal after signing his massive extension this past offseason. Surrounded by an elite cast of blockers and playmakers, Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore have blended their skills to create a fearsome unit. They're possibly the scariest offense in the NFL. 

Prescott has an absurd 73.1% completion rate, second in the NFL, 16 touchdowns to just four picks, and has the platform to steal this award. The Cowboys will cruise to an NFC East title and could land the top overall NFC seed at this rate.

Kyler Murray (+450)

Kyler Murray has taken the leap after a splashy, but inconsistent start to his career in Arizona. The Cardinals are the best story of the season thus far. At 6-0, Murray is leading a devastatingly effective passing attack and he, in particular, seems unstoppable.

He leads the NFL with a 73.8% completion rate and is second in the league at 8.9 yards per attempt. Murray has also added three scores on the ground and is a constant threat to make plays with his legs. It's actually a good thing he's cut back on his runs and focused on passing.

Admittedly, he might be the biggest risk of this tier because he's new to the level of expectation. Can the diminutive star continue all year long?

Josh Allen (+550)

I'm a little surprised Josh Allen is in this tier, but he has a great narrative after dragging the Bills to a big win against the Chiefs and an exciting, but brutal loss to the Titans. He's a fun player to watch and incredibly important to a franchise that is desperate to win. The Bills will also cruise to an AFC East divisional win.

My concern is Allen won't win the stats race. He's a lesser-passer than every quarterback named on this list, both statistically and in terms of his process. I respect Allen as a star but think he's overvalued here.

Tom Brady (+800)

No one ever believed Tom Brady would be 44 years old and leading the NFL in passing yards. Yet, Brady is completing 68.5% of his passes and has 17 touchdowns already. He's on pace for what would by far be his best statistical year yet, which is absolutely insane.

The Buccaneers have a fantastic offense to support Brady. He deserves credit, but Brady could see the team scaling it back as the season progresses in order to protect their passer. He does have some solid value though and will have a tremendous narrative created.

It's Tom Brady, of course, so he is going to be in consideration. 

They Got Next

Consider this tier as a strong hedge play. Each has a great argument to be a favorite, and small steps back from their peers could lead to an emergence as a favorite.

Another six players exist between Brady and the cliff after Derrick Henry (+2000). All six don't have the same potential resumes as each other, though.

I've picked out my favorite three and left Aaron Rodgers (+1200), Patrick Mahomes (+1800), and Henry on the sidelines. Those three players will obviously be in the running because their stats are so impressive. We are looking for hidden value as we get further down the list.

Lamar Jackson (+1200)

No single quarterback has improved as much as Lamar Jackson. He's making a ton of great throws all over the field as the Ravens' offense has transitioned from a dominant run-first unit to a spread attack. That includes the throws outside the hash that plagued Jackson in previous years.

It's all so much more consistent with Jackson now. His stats don't even do him justice for how reliable he's become. Jackson is completing 67.5% of passes despite attempting a ridiculous 8.7 yards per attempt. The Ravens, for my money, are the best overall team in the AFC despite some injuries. Jackson could explode after the team gets a bit healthier at receiver.

Justin Herbert (+1400)

Justin Herbert is a darn good quarterback already. I do think he's been crowned a bit early though and is clearly behind the more seasoned passers in the AFC. That does not mean that he has not been extremely impressive for a quarterback his age.  

Herbert makes the occasional splash play but is largely featured as an incredibly gifted game manager. He ascends beyond that when needed, but his role isn't the same as his peers yet. He's still been wonderful, completing 65% of passes for 14 touchdowns, but a disappointing 7.2 yards per attempt. 

He is still very young and even being in consideration is promising. 

Matthew Stafford (+1200)

The Rams offense has been supercharged by inserting Matthew Stafford in for Jared Goff. It's even scarier to think what the team would look like if they had the rushing effectiveness of 2018. This Rams team doesn't have the blocking in place to help Darrell Henderson produce as Todd Gurley did when he was in his prime. 

It hasn't mattered as the Rams and Stafford have been a perfect marriage thus far. His efficiency is through the roof and has arguably been the best in the league to this point. He's completing 69.5% of passes, is fourth in the league in yards, has a league-leading touchdown rate, and is tops in the league in air yards per attempt and yards per completion.

I think he's the best value play even if he's slept on a bit. The Rams will continue to win and I don't foresee a big drop coming for Stafford anytime soon.

Photo: Getty Images