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Top 20 2018 NFL MVP candidates

In any given season there are about five legitimate NFL MVP candidates at the end of the year. Those names obviously include primarily quarterbacks. Last season saw Tom Brady earn the game’s top individual honor for a third time.

Fellow future Hall of Fame signal caller Drew Brees has not yet won the MVP. As shocking as that might be, a non-quarterbacks has won the award just one time over the past decade-plus.

As youngsters at other positions grow into their roles among the game’s best players, we’re expecting a more wide open field heading into the 2018 season. Sure most of those listed here will be quarterbacks. But as we take a look at the top 20 NFL MVP candidates for the 2018 campaign, make sure to check out those whose names have not necessarily been in the conversation before.

1. Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots

Given just how dominant Brady and the Pats have been for a good 18-year stretch, it is rather surprising that he’s coming off just his third MVP performance. Here’s a guy that’s been the face of the Pats for nearly two decades. He’s been dominating without elite-level skill-position players on offense outside of Rob Gronkowski. Even then, Brady has put up 96 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions en route to leading New England to a 36-8 record over the past three seasons. Even with reinforcements coming on offense this offseason, there’s no reason to believe Brady isn’t the top MVP candidate heading into the 2018 campaign.

2. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers

We fully expect Rodgers to be back to his old self after an injury-plagued 2017 campaign that saw him miss all but seven games. Green Bay added an elite-level red zone threat in Jimmy Graham while moving on from the washed Jordy Nelson back in March. That’s going to be huge for Rodgers. The team also has a solid young rushing attack in the form of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. This should help the Packers put up a more balanced offensive performance in 2017. That’s the key. When Rodgers is tasked with doing too much, he’s good. When he has help on offense, he’s nearly unstoppable. A former MVP himself, Rodgers has put up 125 touchdowns compared to 26 interceptions over the past four seasons. He’s legitimately one of the game’s best, and will be a top MVP candidate in 2018.

3. Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints

For as accomplished a passer Brees is, it’s absolutely shocking to realize he has never won an MVP award during a Hall of Fame worthy 17-year career. Here’s a dude that has earned 11 Pro Bowl appearance and has been named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year twice. He also boasts an NFL record 66.9 completion percentage and could very well pass Peyton Manning on the all-time passing yards list within the next two seasons. With his Saints now legitimate Super Bowl contenders, Brees’ status as a top MVP candidate is etched in stone. There’s no other way to go about it.

4. Le’Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers

The first of nine non-quarterbacks in this article, Bell’s numbers speak for themselves. He’s averaging nearly 1,600 total yards per season during what has been a dominant five-year career with the Steelers. Last season alone, Bell recorded 1,946 total yards and 11 scores. He also touched the ball a whopping 406 times (39 percent of the time). There’s little doubt that Bell is the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL. And should he continue to dominate in what will be another contract year, expect this All-Pro performer to get a ton of play as an MVP candidate.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys

Despite being suspended six games last season, Elliott still found a way to record 1,252 total yards and nine touchdowns. Projected over the course of 16-game slate, that’s north of 2,000 total yards. It also came on the heels of a rookie campaign that saw Elliott gain 1,994 total yards and a whopping 16 scores. As we saw with him sidelined last season, quarterback Dak Prescott relies a great deal on his running back. Should Dallas show itself to be competitive with Elliott in action this coming season, he’ll surely garner some MVP votes. There’s no doubt about that.

6. Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

If Wentz had not gone down to a torn ACL 13 games into his sophomore campaign, he likely would have challenged Brady for the NFL’s top individual honor. Here’s a guy that threw for 3,296 yards with 33 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions en route to leading Philadelphia to an 11-2 mark and an average of well over 30 points per game in 13 starts. He did so without a single running back or wide receiver going for 1,000 yards. That’s insane stuff right there. Should Wentz show himself to be at 100 percent and lead the Eagles to Super Bowl contention once again in 2018, he’ll be a top MVP candidate.

7. Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers

Carolina deciding to actually get Cam some help this offseason will only enhance the team’s chances in the NFC South. Though, it might also limit the possibility Newton actually earns the MVP award. That’s the issue here. Adding running back C.J. Anderson as well as wide receivers Torrey Smith and D.J. Moore will help Newton big time. But he’s not going to put up the eye-opening numbers other signal callers in this article will put up. Last season saw Newton pass for 3,302 yards with just 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He’ll have to improve on those numbers to be considered a top-end MVP candidate.

8. Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Let’s ignore Garoppolo’s small sample size for a minute. What he did in five starts for San Francisco after being acquired from the Patriots last season was nothing short of amazing. The recently extended franchise quarterback took over a team that was 1-10 and averaging 17 points per game. In five starts, Garoppolo boasted a perfect record en route to leading San Francisco to an average of 28.8 points per game. That included wins over three playoff teams. The likes of Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor took off big time in those five games, catching a combined 75 percent of their targets with Garoppolo under center. With a whole offseason to learn Kyle Shanahan’s offense and some more talent on offense, Garoppolo will be a legit MVP candidate in 2018.

9. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

Ryan took a major step back under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian in Atlanta last season. He threw just 20 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions a year after earning the NFL MVP award. In order for Atlanta to take that next step to legit Super Bowl contention in 2018, Ryan will have to get back to what made him the game’s top individual player in 2016. Even with a star-studded supporting cast that includes Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones, this type of performance would put Ryan squarely in the MVP conversation this coming season.

10. Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

One of just two receivers in this article, Brown’s numbers speak for themselves. He’s averaging 114 receptions for 1,550 yards and 10 scores over the past five seasons. Extrapolated over the course of another decade, that would put Brown in Jerry Rice company. It really is something to behold. Last season alone, Brown caught 101 passes for 1,533 yards. Should he build on those numbers for a potential Super Bowl contender this coming season, Brown will certainly be among the top-10 MVP vote getters. That’s for sure.

11. Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

There might not be another player outside of Tom Brady more important to his team than Wilson. In fact, this Super Bowl champ accounted for 86 percent of Seattle’s yardage and was the team’s leading rusher last season. That’s just insane for a quarterback. The only thing really holding Wilson back from legit MVP consideration is Seattle’s standing in the NFC West. It was surpassed by Los Angeles last season and could very well see San Francisco take over the No. 2 spot in the division this coming season. Should that not happen, Wilson will certainly gain some MVP consideration in 2018.

12. Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams

After a substandard sophomore season back in 2016, Gurley made his name known and a whole lot more this past year. In helping lead Los Angeles to a surprising NFC West title, the former top-10 pick tallied NFL highs in total yards (2,093) and total touchdowns (19) en route to earning NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. The next logical step is for Gurley to become a true MVP candidate. Should Los Angeles improve off last season’s stellar performance and hold off the resurgent 49ers out west, Gurley will certainly be a top non-quarterback MVP candidate.

13. Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston Texans

If Watson had not suffered a torn ACL in just his sixth career start as a rookie last season, there’s no telling just how things would have turned out for both the Texans and their young franchise quarterback. Watson put up 21 total touchdowns compared to eight interceptions in the equivalent of six full games. He also tallied nearly 2,000 yards while leading the Texans to a 3-3 record and an average of 33 points per game. In the 10 games Watson did not start, Houston boasted a 1-9 record and averaged 14 points per game. If that’s not MVP material, we have no idea what is.

14. Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants

We saw just how lost the Giants’ offense was without OBJ for the vast majority of last season. It also showed him to be among the NFL’s most valuable non-quarterbacks. Despite not being completely healthy prior to suffering a season-ending ankle injury, OBJ caught 25 passes for 302 yards in four games. The Giants averaged 20 points per game in those four outings. They would ultimately finish the season second-to-last in scoring at 15.4 points per game. That’s Beckham’s importance to the offense. Statistically, he entered the 2017 campaign averaging 96 receptions for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons.

15. Philip Rivers, quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers

If we were looking at naming an MVP for the final three quarters of last season, Rivers might very well have earned those honors. After watching his Chargers start their initial season in Los Angeles with a 0-4 record, they won nine of their final 12 and barely missed out on the playoffs. During that 12-game span, the Chargers averaged nearly 25 points per game with Rivers accounting for 22 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. It was the best stretch of games for Rivers in what has been a borderline Hall of Fame career. With the Chargers facing conference championship expectations this coming season, Rivers will certainly be bandied about as a top MVP candidate.

16. David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals

Having missed all but one game last season to injury, Johnson’s absence in the desert proved him to be among the game’s most valuable players. Here’s a guy that put up 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore back in 2016. It helped Arizona finish in the top six in scoring and in the middle of the pack in rushing. With Johnson sidelined 15 games last season, the Cardinals finished 25th in scoring and 30th in rushing. Now that Sam Bradford will be under center this coming season, we can expect Arizona to rely a lot on Johnson. Should he help the team to contention in a vastly improved NFC West, there will be MVP talk surrounding the dynamic young back.

17. J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans

The biggest question surrounding this three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year recipient is injuries. When healthy, Watt has proven himself to be this generation’s most dominant force on that side of the ball. It was just two short years ago that Watt racked up 17.5 sacks, eight passes defended and three forced fumbles en route to being a legit MVP candidate. Sadly, he’s played just eight games over the past two seasons. Should Watt prove himself to be healthy and the Texans earn a playoff spot with the above-mentioned Watson under center, Watt’s name will again become synonymous with MVP.

18. Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit Lions

Despite his Lions failing to make the playoffs last season, Stafford might have put up the best performance of his career. After becoming the richest player in the league, this former No. 1 pick completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 4,446 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Without any balance on offense, this performance went for naught. Now that the Lions have added LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson to the backfield, we don’t expect this to be an issue. And should the team contend in the NFC North, Stafford will be bandied about as a true MVP candidate.

19. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams

The last defensive player to win the NFL MVP award was Lawrence Taylor all the way back in 1986. That’s five years before Donald was even born. Though he plays a much different position than LT did, Donald is about as disruptive for opposing offenses. Legitimately the best defensive player in the game, Donald is averaging 10 sacks and two forced fumbles through his first four NFL seasons. As underpaid as they come, another stellar performance in 2018 would set him up to become the game’s highest-paid player and potentially earn him some MVP votes. That’s how good Donald is.

20. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders

When the Raiders actually decide to let Mack pin his ears back and go after the quarterback, he’s the most dominant EDGE rusher in the game. A former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Mack has put up 36.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles over the past three seasons. Now fully expected to be a three-down pass rusher under new Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, we would not be shocked if Mack challenged Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. If so, he’ll certainly be an MVP candidate.