The winner of the MVP award for the 2012-13 NFL season is sure to come down to only a few players who are considered favorites. However, there are other candidates outside of the leading names that deserve to be in consideration after outstanding seasons this year.
The two favorites likely to bring home MVP honors are Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Both men incredibly overcame serious injuries to put together great seasons and lead their teams to the playoffs.
However, the next group of players should also earn respect for being incredibly valuable throughout the season. With a weaker field, these men could have taken home the league's top award. Still, they deserve recognition for a great season.
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
It is almost unfair to compare J.J. Watt's season to other defensive players' seasons. He was simply far and away better than his competition.
The defensive end led the league with 20.5 sacks, but his contributions did not end there. His 81 tackles were by far the most for a defensive lineman, as were his 16 passes defended.
For good measure, he also forced four fumbles and recovered two.
Houston may have struggled toward the end of the regular season, but the Texans still had an excellent season and finished with a 12-4 record. Watt was the major reason that this was possible.
He was constantly able to disrupt opposing offenses almost single-handedly, and he gave the team a chance to win almost every week.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
There were three rookie quarterbacks this season that should all have been considered for MVP. Each of them took his team to the playoffs after finishing with a losing record the year before.
However, Robert Griffin III had a more impressive year than either Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson.
Wilson had the advantage of the No. 1 scoring defense in the league to keep the pressure off. Meanwhile, Luck often hurt his team with 18 interceptions, which contributed to a low passer rating.
On the other hand, Griffin was almost flawless this season for the Redskins. He had the third-best quarterback rating in football, while also being ranked No. 6 in Total QBR.
When he was beating teams with his arm, Griffin also had the most rushing yards for a quarterback with 815.
Injuries might be a problem for the young player in the future, but he was incredibly valuable as a leader of the turnaround in Washington.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
It is rare for a Pro Bowl quarterback of the team with the best record in the NFL to be underrated, but that is what happened this season.
Matt Ryan led the Falcons to a 13-3 record and eventually to the NFC Championship Game, but few gave any respect to the talented squad.
Many doubted Atlanta's ability to compete with great teams due to the No. 24 defense and No. 29 rushing offense. However, this further highlights how impressive Ryan was this season.
The quarterback finished in the top five in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdowns and was usually able to come through when the team needed him.
Ryan was a prototypical MVP candidate this season, but as usual it is tough to break into the elite group with Manning, Rodgers and Brady. Still, he was as good or better than each of these fellow quarterbacks in 2012.
Justin Smith, DT, San Francisco 49ers
Although he might not have the numbers to match up with the other players on this MVP list, there is no denying the impact that Justin Smith has on the San Francisco 49ers.
In only 14 games, the veteran finished with 66 tackles, which ranked third among defensive linemen. Impressively, eight of them were for a loss.
However, one only has to look at the team since his triceps injury to see his value. Smith missed the final two games of the regular season and has played while hurt for the two playoff games.
Over that span, the 49ers have allowed 27.5 points per game. Prior to the injury, they allowed only 15.6 per game. In addition, Aldon Smith has not registered a sack in those four games after totaling 19.5 before the injury.
San Francisco is set to play in the Super Bowl without a single player standing out in the stat book. However, Smith is the most valuable player on the team and one of the most valuable in the entire NFL.