Even though it’s only the beginning of June, it’s never too early to start talking about the season that lies ahead. Some people prefer to talk about team predictions, while others would rather discuss individual achievements. Whatever it may be, it’s always fun to foreshadow.
However, the biggest debate this time of year is who will garner the NFL’s most coveted individual achievement. Players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers always seem to be preseason MVP favorites based on their past successes.
But there is a new breed of young stars in the making. Some of these younger players have been mentioned as potential MVP candidates before, while others haven’t. Let’s take a look at how five young NFL stars can become MVP contenders in 2013.
Sure, some of you may be laughing right now, but don’t sleep on quarterback Russell Wilson.
After a slow start to his rookie season, he was firing on all cylinders deep into the playoffs. In two postseason appearances, he threw for 572 yards, his quarterback rating was an outstanding 102.4 and he completed 62.9 percent of his passes.
Those two fine performances were built off of an incredible regular season. Over the course of his freshman year in the NFL, he showed great pocket presence and kept turnovers to a minimum. In fact, he only turned the ball over 13 times total—10 were interceptions, and three were fumbles lost.
His final statistical line for the 2012 season was 26 passing touchdowns, 3,118 yards passing and a quarterback rating of 100. Additionally, he scored four rushing touchdowns while amassing 489 yards on the ground.
At the end of postseason play, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the fourth-best quarterback in the league.
All of his accomplishments from his rookie campaign will prove to be solid building blocks for a Year 2 MVP run. In 2013, Wilson will need to throw for more yards, more touchdowns and take fewer sacks outside the pocket.
There were times last season where he simply held onto the ball way too long. According to Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) signature stats, Wilson, on average, held onto the ball for 4.18 seconds before taking a sack. Only Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III held on longer.
If Wilson can bring that number down and improve upon his passing statistics, he should have no problem pushing out some of the other elite quarterbacks in the NFL for the MVP award.
Even though defensive end J.J. Watt amassed 20.5 quarterback sacks, 26 quarterback hits and 34 quarterback hurries, he didn’t garner a single MVP vote in 2012—which is mind-boggling based on the fact he had one of the best defensive seasons in NFL history.
Yet, it’s easy to see where the voters are coming from. New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan didn’t even win the MVP award the year he broke the single-season sack record. Moreover, it’s hard to justify that a defensive lineman is viewed as a team’s most valuable player.
However, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If any defensive lineman is primed to do it, it’s Mr. Watt. In 2012, he put on a defensive display week after week. He was the league's best pass-rusher and run-stuffer.
He tallied 72 defensive stops and 42 tackles for loss. His strong performances were recognized when he took home the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. But for Watt, that accomplishment alone wasn't good enough.
He knows that offensive players have an advantage in the MVP vote, yet he firmly believes defensive players affect the game just as much as offensive players do (per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com):
There's obviously a strong lean toward the offensive players, which is understandable. I mean, quarterbacks and running backs touch the ball a lot more. But when you look at a dominant year from a defensive player, I think they can affect the game just as much as an offensive player.
Undoubtedly, Watt will face an uphill battle if he wants to become the first defensive player to win the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor did in 1986. He will have to shatter Strahan’s single-season sack record in 2013, because that appears to be the only logical way he can take the award home as a 3-4 defensive end.
After winning the MVP award in 2012, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will try to do it again in 2013. Only four other players in NFL history have been able to win the MVP award in back-to-back seasons.
Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown did it in 1957 and 1958; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana won the award in 1989 and 1990. Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre accomplished the task in 1995, 1996 and 1997, and Peyton Manning took home the star-studded prize in 2003 and 2004.
As you can see, the last and only running back to ever win the league MVP award two years in a row was Brown. Which means, much like J.J. Watt, Peterson will have to fight an uphill battle all season long. He will have to surpass his 2012 rushing total of 2,097 yards and score more touchdowns than he ever has before.
Eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark for a second straight season won’t be a walk in the park. No running back in NFL history has ever been able to do it—not to mention the Minnesota Vikings signed wide receiver Greg Jennings in free agency and drafted wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round of this year's draft.
It appears as if the organization is actually looking to lessen Peterson's workload. General manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier would like to see a breakout season from third-year quarterback Christian Ponder. This, in turn, would limit Peterson's touches.
Yet fans and media members alike have counted Peterson out before. Few people believed that Peterson would come back and win the MVP award in 2012 after a torn ACL in 2011. So we should err on the side of caution before we count No. 28 out in 2013.
Even though the Detroit Lions only managed to win four games last season, wide receiver Calvin Johnson had one of the best receiving seasons in league history. He hauled in 122 catches for a record-breaking 1,964 yards receiving.
However, his monster season went largely unnoticed for two reasons. Aside from the fact the Lions only won four games, Johnson had a tough time finding the end zone. There were 29 other wide receivers in the NFL who finished the season with more than five touchdown receptions.
His low touchdown numbers came as a surprise because he had managed to put up double-digit touchdown totals in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
However, the reason behind the marginal numbers had nothing to do with him. A lot of the blame should be pointed in the direction of quarterback Matthew Stafford and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Stafford struggled all season long with poor mechanics, and Linehan’s play-calling was often suspect at best in the red zone. Johnson will need them to improve in their respected areas if he wants to see a jump in touchdown production.
Another factor working against the three-time Pro Bowler is the fact that no wide receiver in NFL history has ever won the MVP award, even though San Francisco 49ers wideout Jerry Rice came close in 1987.
In 2013, Detroit will need to find its way back into the playoffs, and Johnson will need to score double-digit touchdowns for the fourth time in his career. This, in turn, will be his recipe for MVP success.
The last name on this list is no stranger to success at 24 years of age. Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller only has two years of NFL experience under his belt, but he has taken the league by storm. At the end of his rookie season in 2011, Miller recorded 11.5 quarterback sacks, 19 quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries.
Without question, he set the bar incredibly high after one year. Nevertheless, those statistical totals proved to be nothing more than a drop in the bucket by season’s end in 2012. Miller pushed the single-season sack record by notching 18.5 quarterback sacks, 16 quarterback hits and 57 quarterback hurries.
Furthermore, he was on the MVP watch list for a short time last season. His four sackless games hurt his bid to overtake Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. Like J.J. Watt, the former first-round pick will need to break Strahan’s record to accumulate enough MVP votes to actually win the award.
He will also need the help of Peyton Manning and the rest of Denver’s offense. When the offensive side of the ball jumps out to an early lead, it provides more pass-rushing opportunities on the defense. The additions of wide receiver Wes Welker and running back Montee Ball are both steps in the right direction.
Also, advancing deeper into the playoffs would help Miller’s MVP campaign. The award is often handed to a player who not only helps his team win regular-season games, but postseason games as well.
No. 58 has proven on the field that he is special enough to change the course of history in the NFL.