Peyton Manning. Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady. Adrian Peterson. The usual suspects when it comes to the NFL MVP discussion. But what about some dark horses or sleepers?
Let’s look at five under-the-radar players who have legitimate chances to emerge as MVP contenders this season.
The NFL’s top-rated passer in 2013 was Nick Foles. Although he registered the robust 119.2 rating in just 10 starts, his play was extremely impressive for a second-year pro many wrote off before the start of the season in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Now, I’m not expecting Foles to finish the season with an almost unfathomable TD to INT ratio of nearly 14 to 1 like he had in 2013, but with; Kelly calling the shots, the Eagles bound to run a high number of plays, a stellar offensive line, two dynamic running backs, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, Foles has found himself in a fantastic situation behind center in Philadelphia.
Also, the NFC East defenses are well behind the offenses. The six total games against the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants will provide ample opportunity for Foles to piece together some monstrous games to pad his overall statistics.
If the Eagles handily win their division, Foles very well could have MVP-type numbers in his third professional season.
Tony Romo. One of football’s most polarizing players. From a completely objective point of view, he’s a Top 10 quarterback who’s been a high-volume producer for most of his professional career. Sure, some late-game interceptions and entire team meltdowns haven’t helped his reputation in one of the NFL’s largest spotlights, but not many realize Romo completed nearly 64 percent of his passes last year for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions.
Over the last three years, he’s averaged more than 4,300 passing yards and has thrown a total of 90 touchdowns and 39 picks. Not bad.
In 2014, the Cowboys will need another dazzling campaign from Romo. DeMarcus Ware’s gone. Sean Lee’s out for the year with a knee injury. The defensive line’s weak. So is the linebacking corps and the secondary.
Dallas is a team with a supercharged offense and an a 20-percent-battery-life defense.
Don’t be shocked if the Cowboys find themselves in a handful of shootouts in 2014, outings that’ll allow Romo to pass frequently and accumulate MVP-caliber statistics.
Before going down with an injury last season, Jay Cutler was on pace to set an assortment of career highs under the tutelage of head coach and quarterback guru Marc Trestman. Out wide, the gun-slinging quarterback still has mammoth targets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the 6’6″ Martellus Bennett will still be running up the seam.
( Don’t sleep on Marquess Wilson, another 6’4″ target. )
Also, Matt Forte is one of the better pass-catching backs in the league. He’s made at least 44 receptions in every NFL season. Last year, he had 74 grabs for 594 yards — the most he’s ever had in each stat category.
Add it all up and, well, Cutler has a wide variety of large and established weapons.
If the offensive line holds up, and the Bears get into some high-scoring affairs against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, there’s a decent chance Cutler will generate some lofty statistics. His club will just have a difficult time earning a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive NFC North. Games against the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints won’t be strolls in Lincoln Park, either.
Cam, the Panthers need you. Desperately. After a rather magical 12-4 season in 2014, Carolina lost a great deal. Left tackle Jordan Gross retired. Steve Smith left in free agency. Key members of the backend of the defense departed.
The offensive line and wide receiver contingent leave plenty to be desired. However, that doesn’t mean the Panthers are bound for complete and utter failure this season. Remember, we saw Newton amass some gaudy numbers as a rookie in 2011 when he eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing mark and scored 35 total touchdowns.
In his fourth professional season, don’t be surprised if Newton is a touchdown-scoring machine for the Panthers once again. The NFC South isn’t a cupcake division, and the Saints and Buccaneers defenses are stout, but if the 6’5″, 245-pound quarterback sees a slew of carries near the goal line, he could sneak up on 40 total scores.
With almost everyone expecting the Panthers to regress from their special 2013 season, if Newton leads Carolina to the playoffs again and is a fantasy stud, he may get some serious MVP consideration.
I’ll start with this tweet from NBC Sports’ Evan Silva:
J. Charles only NFL player to lead his team in rushing, targets, catches, rec yds & rec TDs. No O more dependent on a non-QB than #Chiefs‘.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) July 9, 2014
In the offseason, Kansas City added….no one to the receiving corps — well, undrafted free-agents Darryl Surgent and Albert Wilson were brought in, but you get the picture — and waterbug runner DeAnthony Thomas was drafted in Round 4.
Essentially, no legitimate weapons were acquired to threaten Charles’ throne atop the Chiefs offense after a year in which he led the team in a handful of major stat categories. The offensive line took a few sizable hits as left tackle Branden Albert was signed by the Dolphins, and swing guard Geoff Schwartz bolted to the New York Giants. Their departures may shrink the holes through which Charles will be able to run in 2014.
However, if Kansas City, a club that, to many, overachieved in 2013, is able to remain a legitimate AFC playoff contender, it’ll likely be due to a massive year from Charles, similar the way Adrian Peterson carried the Minnesota Vikings to the postseason in 2012.
If that’s the case, like Peterson did two years ago, Charles may very well emerge as an MVP candidate in the late stages of the season.
For perspective on what type of season this speed back could have, last year, he carried the ball 259 times for 1,287 yards (5.0 YPC), caught 70 passes for 693 yards and scored 19 total touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving).
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