NFL MVP: Who's Leading, Who's Lagging, and Who Should Be Turning Heads

T.J. DoneganCorrespondent INovember 3, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 18:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints runs onto the field during player introductions before playing the New York Giants at the Louisiana Superdome on October 18, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After just barely two months of regular season play we've already seen players rise and fall, teams championed one week and dismissed the next, and a host of MVP candidates fall by the wayside.

But as interesting as the twists and turns of the 2009 season have been, the MVP race is shaping up to be an historic one.

We've got great running backs you'd never expect, one quarterback who could shatter the single season yardage mark, another QB who could lead his team to an undefeated season, and another QB is on pace to throw more passes in a single year than anyone before him.

Add to that the fact that the single season interception mark for a defender might also fall (outside shot) and it's looking like one barn-burner of a competition for MVP.

Let's look at the top couple candidates and their cases for being named the league's best expense, while also throwing in a few dark horse candidates who could really turn it on late with easy second-half schedules.

(NOTE: All stats are prior to Week 8 unless otherwise noted)


No. 1 in the Book: Drew Brees

Brees is small for an NFL quarterback at barely over six feet. He can barely see over his offensive line. He was once compared, by Union-Tribune columnist Tim Sullivan, to the writer's dinged, dented, and worn-out Dodge:

"I'll get around to getting a new car right after Marty Schottenheimer gets around to getting a new quarterback.

For now, I'm content with the Breesmobile.

There's a parallel here somewhere, and a certain amount of obstinacy. Like Schottenheimer, I'm wondering why I should go to all of the trouble of breaking in a brand-new model when the old one is almost adequate"

Sullivan wrote that back in 2004 , when the Philip Rivers/Drew Brees controversy was still fresh.

I think it's safe to say the 29-year-old Drew Brees won't be described as "almost adequate" too often this season.

Still, Brees is used to being disrespected, even when he puts up the numbers. Last season, for example, he threw for 5069 yards, a whole 15 yards short of Marino's record. And he did that without a healthy Marques Colston for much of the year.

How many MVP votes did Brees garner for coming 200 yards closer to the record than any QB since Marino set the record (including 2001 MVP Kurt Warner and 2007 MVP Tom Brady)? Nada. Not a single vote . This in a year when Chad Pennington had four votes out of 50.

This year, he's going to be impossible to overlook.

Not when his quarterback rating (a flawed statistic, but useful as a baseline comparison) is a plump 106.9 for the season and he's on pace to, once again, throw for more than 4,500 yards and, despite all the odds, his season is likely to get much better.

Plenty of teams feast on easy early schedules, driving their stars to MVP-calibre stats. Sometimes it's just a matter of beating what's in front of you, sometimes a player benefits from that early opening and fades down the stretch. There are guys in this very list who will fall into each category.

But let's look at who Brees has put up such fantastic numbers against this season:

Week 1: Detroit

Week 2: @ Philadelphia

Week 3: @ Buffalo

Week 4: New York Jets

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: New York Giants

Week 7: @ Miami

Now Detroit is a bit of a soft game for most QBs, but Buffalo, the two New York teams, Philadelphia, and Miami all have pass defenses which are certainly talented and have performed well.

Miami and the Giants can always get after the passer while Buffalo, the Jets, and Philly are all superb cover teams.

It may be why Brees' is "only" throwing for 283 yards/game right now with "only" 14 touchdowns (though that number is skewed by the 6 he threw against Detroit, throwing for exactly 0 scores against Buffalo and the Jets).

The rest of the year the best pass defense he'll have to face is Carolina (twice), but Carolina is giving up heaps of points, though they yield few yards in the air.

What's more enticing is the fact that of the remaining 10 games on the Saints' schedule, seven are played in domes. The other three are played in Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Tampa—hardly the most difficult travel or weather conditions for a QB to throw in.

With all the toughest defenses he'll have to face likely behind him, a healthy and athletic set of receivers, and a solid running game to rely on, Drew Brees can make a real run at any number of single-season records this year, virtually ensuring the MVP candidacy that he more than earned last year.


No. 1 in Your Hearts: Peyton Manning

I'm putting Peyton's odds on par with Drew Brees here because, statistically, Manning is having another phenomenal year right on par with his 2004 season and, let's face it, Manning does have the reputation of owning that team. 

He's leading the league in yards per game, completion percentage (72.6%!) and quarterback rating while blasting through his early season schedule.

(Just to track back to how ridiculous it was that Brees received no recognition for last season, Manning is still on pace to barely crack 5,000 yards and would fall short of Brees' 2008 mark if he keeps it up, yet blows the league average away prior to this weekend.)

Manning still has to face some tough defenses down the stretch, as well. He has the Jets and Buffalo in the final two weeks as well as Denver in week 14, but he also has the benefit of playing at home and in warm weather through most of the rest of the year.

Still, his defense should improve with Bob Sanders returning and he and Reggie Wayne have that same type of connection that Manning used to enjoy with Marvin Harrison.

He's also got some extra help from his receivers, at least compared to Brees. According to Stats LLC, he's benefited from nearly 300 yards more after the catch than his counterpart from New Orleans.

Again though, when the name P. Manning is on the ballot and his team is undefeated, he's going to give most voters a myopia that only breaking Marino's record could cure.


Already Being Overlooked: Aaron Rodgers

Call this the "dark horse candidate that nobody is noticing."

The only numbers that seem to be associated with Rodgers' name right now are these:

Two losses to the Vikings. Sacked more times than any other quarterback (25 total). Meager 4-3 record after yesterday.

If you polled the average, casual fan right now you'd probably think his former teammate Favre's having the better season. 

First in the league in yards per attempt (the most underrated stat there is for a quarterback) with 9.3 yard per throw, a full half yard better than anybody else and nearly two yards better than Favre.

Sixth in total yards (Favre's eighth, just 14 yards behind...after 45 more throws). More dropped passes (19) than any other QB has had to endure except Carson Palmer.

Mammoth 110.9 QB rating (again, a flawed stat, but it's flawed for everyone, its flaws are less magnified given a larger sample size, and it's well-understood so I'll stick with it), second in the league, just 4 points behind Peyton Manning, despite being sacked 23 more times than the Indy man already this year.

65.8% completion percentage, with just two interceptions.

The reason I compare him to Favre so much in this little writeup here is because I will stake that, barring a minor statistical miracle like Green Bay winning out their season schedule while the Vikings go into the tank, Favre will finish with more MVP votes than Rodgers.

Based on the stats both have put up thus far, that would be a huge mistake.


The Rest of the Pack

I originally was going to through each other candidate in-depth but, having looked at the numbers and based on history, I don't see anybody but a QB coming out of the field right now.

Still, let's look at some of the guys who certainly deserve some recognition for the great work they've done so far. I'll go through just some guys I feel deserve more recognition for their phenomenal work thus far.

Safeties Darren Sharper/Brandon Meriweather

Both have taken on leadership roles for teams who had poor pass coverage last year, yet both teams have improved markedly in that department through great offseason acquisitions.

Meriweather only has two interceptions to Sharper's league-leading six (prior to Week 8, as Sharper is still playing as of this writing), but both are just dominating those around them.

Hanging on QB rating still, Sharper is holding opposing QBs to a 28.7 when they throw at him, Meriweather to a phenomenal 19.4, both top-10 in the league for safeties.

Meriweather already has 21 tackles, seven assists to Sharper's 14 and two. Just great work all around from two guys playing at a very high level.

CB, Jabari Greer

Sticking with New Orleans, people just keep picking on this man. The offseason addition from Buffalo has been thrown at 46 times, seventh-most in the league. Yet despite that, he's allowed just 150 yards total from all those passes, has missed just two tackles, has personally defensed eight passes, and has one interception.

Outstanding. Simply outstanding.

OLB, James Harrison

I'm going to be a bit unfair here and not separate between 3-4 and 4-3 OLBs, but Harrison destroys any of his 4-3 compatriots anyway, so it doesn't have much real effect.

In the OLB game, pressure on the QB is key.

There are guys who have more sacks. There are guys who have more QB hits. There are guys who have more QB pressures.

Nobody (although DeMarcus Ware is right behind him) has his combination of the three.

Now, he does play for a better defense than most other OLBs, but he's likely earning his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award.

Key word: earning.

RB, Cedric Benson

It'd take a miracle for this to turn into an MVP season, but comeback player of the year (were it a non-Tom Brady recovery year), much?

Benson is out to prove something to someone. I haven't seen somebody this out for blood since Twilight. Not that I saw Twilight or anything...Moving on.

Pop quiz: who leads the league in yards, yards after contact, and attempts?

If you answered Adrian Peterson, you'd be wrong. It's Cedric Benson. Surprised? You shouldn't be, I listed his name maybe five lines above this in bold.

But still, I mean...Cedric Benson. If he keeps this up for the rest of the season, I won't have to say it (well...write it) like that anymore.

RB, Adrian Peterson.

Is he necessarily earning it (relative to his peers) yet? Not especially.

Could he? Certainly, he's as capable as anybody of destroying the second half of his schedule.

Do I care that he's not really leading any single category? Obviously not.

He's the most exciting player in the league. You'll tell your kids about the time you saw him play. You'll tell your wife. She'll roll her eyes. You'll tell your husband. Then you can high-five about how awesome Adrian Peterson is. He'll bring your family closer together.

But on the level, he's one of the few players in the league you simply can't turn away from.

Seriously, just watch this . Oh, and you may want to check out this.

But the best one? This.

Jimmy Hoffa didn't get buried that deep in the turf.

Just watch at the 20-25 second mark. That was the Steelers sideline he was standing on as he screamed like he just beheaded someone. Now that takes gumption.

Actually, he may have actually separated head from body. Did anyone check on William Gay after the play or was there even enough for a positive identification?

So that's who I'm looking at for MVP so far. Of course there are other candidates, so feel free to shout them out in the comments.

Unless you're Adrian Peterson, you don't have to crush William Gay's body into a fine powder before doing so.


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