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Rising NFL Stars Approaching MVP Status

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterDecember 23, 2016

Rising NFL Stars Approaching MVP Status

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Plenty of stars exist in this well-marketed NFL we all love. Heck, the NFL Network is running their top 100 players during the offseason and many of you could name another 100 who might have earned a spot somewhere on their list.

    But there can be a world of difference between being an NFL star and an NFL MVP. There are stars everywhere in the sky. There is only one MVP—well, two if you divvy it up by selecting one for offense and one for defense.

    This slideshow takes a look at the NFL's rising stars who can elevate their game in 2014 to an MVP level. We break down one player at each position, starting with a prodigy at quarterback and finishing with someone who "Don't Care" at safety.

    None of them have won an MVP before, but each could do so in the near future.

Quarterback Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Clearly, Andrew Luck is already a star. He was drafted that way and hasn't disappointed in his first two seasons. He got his completion percentage over 60 and kept his interception total in single digits in his second year.

    Year 3 can be a breakthrough to NFL legend.

    We already saw a glimpse of it in his playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs this January. Luck willed the Indianapolis Colts to victory with 443 yards, four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Performances like that one might wind up being mentioned in his Hall of Fame credentials someday.

    Luck has gone 11-5 in each of his first two seasons, and he hasn't quite had a supporting cast worthy of those records. The Colts might be even tougher next season, and statistically Luck should be his best yet with the cast he has been given. He should go over 4,000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns—numbers you have to reach to be an NFL MVP, especially if you are competing against Peyton Manning.

    Heck, making people forget about Manning is already an achievement you can check off Luck's to-do list. No one in Indianapolis would trade Luck for Manning now.

Running Back LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

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    USA TODAY Sports

    LeSean McCoy is already the reigning rushing champion, but that status alone doesn't win you an MVP in this league—not in this pass-happy era. McCoy is a game-changer in the fastest-paced offense in football, something that can make him a touchdown machine.

    The Philadelphia Eagles are going to score a lot of points, and they will do it often times on the legs of McCoy. He is an incredible talent in arguably the best situation possible to succeed.

    Even if McCoy doesn't match his 1,607 rushing yards from 2013 and even if he loses targets and pass receptions due to the addition of Darren Sproles, McCoy is still a good bet to go over 2,000 combined yards.

    The touchdowns, though, can be what sets him apart as an MVP candidate. McCoy has already totaled 20 touchdowns in a season once (2011). He can reach and even pass that plateau again as the bell cow in one of the most quick-striking offenses the league has ever seen.

Wide Receiver A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

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    David Kohl/Associated Press

    A.J. Green doesn't have the career cachet of a Calvin Johnson. Nor does he have as pass-happy of an offense as the Detroit Lions or a quarterback who will challenge for 5,000 yards passing every year like Matthew Stafford.

    Still, as a talent, Green is capable of competing with anyone. The Cincinnati Bengals are going to be a real good football team, too.

    Andy Dalton is unlikely to draw the kind of respect other quarterbacks like, say a Russell Wilson or Tom Brady, get. For a wide receiver to be an MVP, you have to have a situation where you won't just be quick to pin the passing success on the talents of the quarterback.

    That could certainly to be the case for Green in Cincy in 2014. The fourth-year receiver is a physical marvel, one capable of going over 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns for the first time in his career. The 25-year-old is just scratching the surface of his ability.

Tight End Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos

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    You might think to yourself: A tight end will never be an NFL MVP. But, if a kicker can be a league MVP (like Mark Moseley in 1982), why can't a tight end?

    Jimmy Graham would immediately come to mind as a tight end who could achieve that, but the equally impressive 2013 breakthrough of Julius Thomas in Denver was something to witness a year ago. After posting just one catch for five yards through his first two seasons, Thomas erupted for 65 catches 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    He accomplished those numbers while missing two games, too.

    A fully healthy campaign, coupled with his maturation and still-developing rapport with Peyton Manning could get Thomas up to 80 catches for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. The loss of Eric Decker, even if you like Emmanuel Sanders and second-rounder Cody Latimer, should at least move Julius Thomas up Manning's pecking order for targets among Bronco receivers.

    Again, Thomas is a long shot to win the MVP award as a tight end, but that won't stop him from being the glue that makes the most prolific offense in NFL history run so smoothly.

Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

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    Here is how good No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney can be: He is already in the potential discussion for an MVP award here, and he hasn't played a down of NFL football. That's some praise.

    Clowney won't even be the best defensive player on his own team. That designation belongs to former Defensive Player of the Year and fellow defensive end J.J. Watt. But Watt's presence will draw a lot of attention from opposing blocking schemes. That should free up Clowney, a once-in-a-generation freak of an athlete, to make a lot of plays throughout his rookie year.

    Jevon Kearse was once called "The Freak." Clowney will be "The Freak Show," as he attempts to break Kearse's NFL record 14.5 sacks for a rookie. If he does that, and the Houston Texans return to the postseason, Clowney will get some MVP love.

Outside Linebacker Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    It is hard to get noticed playing for the Buffalo Bills, but Kiko Alonso did just fine for himself as a rookie inside linebacker a season ago. He won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, handed out by the Pro Football Writers Association, and was third in the NFL with 159 tackles.

    Alonso now will move to outside linebacker, according to a tweet from ESPN's Mike Rodak, which could free him up to blitz more and/or get involved as a pass defender. More sacks and/or turnovers could lead to some defensive touchdowns.

    Tackles are nice and all, but sacks, turnovers and resulting defensive touchdowns are the kind of plays that garner MVP votes.

Cornerback Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Joe Haden is no Richard Sherman. He is as talented, yes, but less outspoken or arrogant. And he also hasn't been thrown at in years.

    Perhaps that is the No. 1 reason the Cleveland Browns decided cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State would be their first draftee this May, even over eventual first-round quarterback Johnny Manziel. Gilbert will be a work in progress, but if he lives up to his scouting reports, opposing quarterbacks will be less and less inclined to avoid throwing toward whomever Haden is blanketing.

    MVP awards are not given to players who are so good they are ignored in the game. That is not the way this all works. If teams finally begin to test their luck against Haden, big plays are going to come for arguably the best cover man in football.

Free Safety Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

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    MVPs usually are household names. Tyrann Mathieu might be even more than that with the nickname he gave himself: The Honey Badger.

    The honey badger, through YouTube, became a pop-culture phenomenon—if not an icon. After an impressive start as a rookie, Mathieu can be an iconic free safety in this league, although he will have to overcome a major knee reconstruction in Year 2.

    The Arizona Cardinals defense is better than most people think, and if Mathieu comes back to his pre-injury form in short order, he can emerge as one of the best defensive back playmakers in football. Like everyone in this slideshow, he isn't at the top of the heap now, but he sure is rising fast.

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.

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