Six most underrated NFL MVP candidates

By Vincent Frank
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The normal list of names will be bandied about as NFL MVP candidates next season. Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes join new Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady in that category.

Though, there’s underrated candidates we must take into account. Can Deshaun Watson continue his upward career trajectory this coming season? What about one of the game’s best running backs in Big D? I am also intrigued to see how a certain Super Bowl quarterback looks this coming season.

These are among the six underrated NFL MVP candidates heading into the 2020 season.

Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston Texans

The onus is definitely going to be on Watson this coming season after Houston shockingly traded former battery mate DeAndre Hopkins. In reality, this youngster doesn’t have the same supporting cast that has defined his first three seasons in the NFL. That means he’ll have to step up big time.

The good news? Watson has more than proven his worth as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. He’s averaging nearly 4,500 total yards to go with 64 touchdowns and just 21 interceptions over the past two seasons. He also has decent support at the skill-positions in recently required running back David Johnson and wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

Philip Rivers, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

Rivers, 38, signed with Indianapolis for one reason. He wants to win a Super Bowl before hanging up those cleats and continuing to build that football team of a family. He more than has an opportunity with how well the Colts have surrounded the potential future Hall of Famer with talent this offseason. That includes stud rookies, running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., as well as All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Rivers is coming off a disastrous final season with the Chargers that saw him throw 23 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions. Though, he was among the best statistical quarterbacks in the NFL back in 2018, throwing for 4,308 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Rivers is more than capable of repeating that feat in 2020.

Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys

Each of the past seven NFL MVP winners have been quarterbacks since running back Adrian Peterson took home the award following the 2012 season. In fact, AD is the only non-quarterback to win the award since 2006. This just goes to show us who is valued in the modern league.

With that said, Elliott has to be considered an underrated candidate to bring home the hardware this coming season. He’s averaging nearly 1,800 total yards and 12 touchdowns in four seasons. Elliott has led the league in rushing twice. He’s also put up north of 350 total touches three times, the only exception being a 2017 season that was cut short to suspension.

Kyler Murray, quarterback, Arizona Cardinals

The natural progression for this former No. 1 pick from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign seems to suggest the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year will be in the MVP conversation. That’s how good the electric Murray was for the Cardinals last season.

Murray gained nearly 4,300 total yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a first-year player. Now that Murray has All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins catching passes from him and the Cardinals are expected to be much better in 2020, there’s an off-chance he could gain some MVP traction. It will be all about competing with the defending conference champion San Francisco 49ers in a difficult NFC West.

Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints

Long shot? Sure. No wide receiver has come away with the MVP award since its inception back in 197. That’s insane given the seasons we’ve seen the likes of Jerry Rice and Randy Moss put up in the past. It leads many to believe that NFL Offensive Player of the Year is Thomas’ ceiling after he won that award last season.

Not so fast. Thomas is doing things from a statistical perspective we never saw from Rice and Moss. Only four years into his career, Thomas has caught 470 passes for 5,512 yards and 32 touchdowns. Last season alone, Thomas led the NFL in receptions (149), receiving yards (1,725) and catch percentage (80.5%). If he’s able to turn in a record-breaking campaign for the Saints this coming season, there’s no reason to believe Thomas won’t be considered for the NFL’s top individual honor.

Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Despite leading his 49ers to a shocking 13-3 record and a trip to the Super Bowl last season, there’s been recent speculation that Garoppolo might not have a long-term future in San Francisco. His team was linked to Tom Brady ahead of the six-time Super Bowl champ signing with the Buccaneers. Regardless of whether said interest was primarily on Brady’s part, that has to be concerning.

It’s also ridiculous. Garoppolo put up one of the best statistical seasons for a quarterback in 49ers franchise history, compiling nearly 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s also entering his second full season in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. It would be ignorant to ignore the fact that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan earned the MVP in his second season under Shanahan. Look for a dramatic step forward and potential MVP consideration for Garoppolo in 2020.