7 Dark-Horse 2020 NFL MVP Candidates Who Could Shock Everyone

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2020

7 Dark-Horse 2020 NFL MVP Candidates Who Could Shock Everyone

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Who will be the NFL's Most Valuable Player this season? This is a question that gets asked every year, and quite often, the winner isn't who you would have expected.

    Last year's MVP, Lamar Jackson, was viewed as an ascending player, but he wasn't widely considered the best player in football. Patrick Mahomes had just one start under his belt before embarking on his 2018 MVP campaign.

    While Jackson, Mahomes or another perennial favorite such as Aaron Rodgers could win the award again, the MVP could just as easily be a surprise player with the right combination of skill, supporting talent and quality coaching.

    With dark horses in mind, we looked at candidates with odds longer than 50-1, according to Caesars Palace.

    So, who might shock everyone in 2020? Let's take a look.

The Favorites

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Before we dig into the list of dark horses, let's take a look at the players with the best odds to win the MVP award:

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Odds: 60-1

    A non-quarterback has not been named MVP since Adrian Peterson won the award in 2012. However, one could argue Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey could have won the honor last year if not for a special season by Lamar Jackson.

    New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley might have done the same in 2018 if not for Patrick Mahomes' spectacular campaign.

    As a rookie, Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards, caught 91 passes for 721 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. If Barkley, 23, can post similar numbers and help push the Giants into the postseason, it will be hard not to consider him the league's most valuable player.

    While 60-1 odds are far from the longest on this list, the fact that Barkley doesn't play quarterback makes him more of a dark horse. Before Peterson won the award, the last non-quarterback to do so was LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Odds: 75-1

    It's not unprecedented for a rookie to win the MVP award—Jim Brown did so in 1957—but it's extremely rare. The odds don't favor Cincinnati Bengals rookie Joe Burrow, but he cannot be ruled out.

    Burrow came out of nowhere last season to lead an undefeated national champion at LSU. He passed for a gaudy 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns with just six interceptions.

    Now, Burrow won't be surrounded by a team that regularly laughs at the talent level of its opponents like he was last year. However, Cincinnati isn't devoid of offensive playmakers. Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green will provide Burrow with firepower.

    If Burrow, 23, can take the Bengals from 2-14 to the postseason in his inaugural campaign, he's going to get MVP consideration. It'll take a remarkable season for him to actually win the award, but Borrow proved last year that "remarkable" is something he can deliver.

Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Odds: 75-1

    While Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has gotten plenty of early MVP buzz, he's not the only second-year quarterback who could sneak in and claim the award. Denver Broncos signal-caller Drew Lock flashed plenty of potential as a rookie and was surrounded by a tremendous supporting cast this offseason.

    Denver brought in dual-threat running back Melvin Gordon III and drafted wideouts Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in the first and second rounds. With budding No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton, pass-catching tight end Noah Fant and two-time 1,000-yard runner Phillip Lindsay already in the fold, Lock could have one of the best supporting casts in the league this season.

    Jeudy believes Lock can harness all that talent.

    "When he talks, everybody listens. That's the type of guy that you need on your team—that does everything by their actions," he said, per Jon Heath of Broncos Wire.

    While by no means a...lock for the award, the 23-year-old could be the breakout star of 2020.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans

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    George Walker IV/Associated Press

    Odds: 75-1

    While detractors may scoff at the idea of game-manager Ryan Tannehill as the league MVP, the reality is that the Tennessee Titans quarterback was more than just a snap-taker in 2019. In his 10 starts, he averaged 259.8 yards and 2.2 touchdowns per game.

    In 16 games, Tannehill was on pace for 4,157 yards with 35 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. Pair those numbers with an impressive 119.6 passer rating and an appearance in the AFC title game, and the idea of Tannehill, 32, in the MVP conversation doesn't seem so laughable.

    Now, Tennessee will likely have to lean a little more on Tannehill and a little less on reigning rushing champion Derrick Henry for Tannehill to win the award. However, with Henry, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries and Corey Davis, the Titans could have one of the top offenses in the AFC.

    If Tennessee is one of the best teams, Tannehill will have a shot to win the MVP award.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Odds: 100-1

    Sometimes in sports, awards are given to the players with the best stories. If Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is in the MVP conversation less than five years after a severe leg injury nearly ended his carer, it would make for one heck of a story.

    Bridgewater, however, shouldn't be considered a viable candidate purely for the sake of narrative. He went 5-0 as a starter with the New Orleans Saints last season while throwing nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions.

    That was in relief duty. Bridgewater has had a full offseason to prepare as a starter and has done so with offensive innovator Joe Brady as his coordinator. We've already mentioned Joe Burrow's special 2019 campaign at LSU, and it's hard not to believe Brady played a huge role—Burrow had just 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions the year before Brady arrived.

    Bridgewater, 27, will have elite weapons at his disposal in Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore. If Brady can work some schematic magic at the pro level, Bridgewater could be the quarterback who shocks everyone with outlandish passing numbers.

Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Odds: 100-1

    The Las Vegas Raiders' Derek Carr was once an MVP candidate—he tied for third in 2016—but he's become an afterthought. There have even been questions about whether head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock are sold on him as their starter.

    Well, Mayock, for one, sounds pleased with the quarterback.

    "I think Derek is just a natural," Mayock said, per Josh Schrock of NBC Sports Bay Area. "I think he gets better every day with Jon in Year 3. That's been awesome."

    Carr, 29, had very good numbers in his second season under Gruden—4,054 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 100.8 rating—and there's little reason to think they won't be better.

    Las Vegas added Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards and Nelson Agholor to a young offense that already included rising stars Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. On paper, this is the best supporting cast of Carr's career, and it's not a stretch to think he'll use it to reenter the MVP discussion.

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

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    Vera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    Odds: 125-1

    Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has the longest odds of anyone on this list, and that could be a reflection of his being teammates with Saquon Barkley. If the Giants have team success, Barkley will likely play a large role.

    This, however, doesn't mean Jones won't make a second-year leap like Lamar Jackson did last season or Patrick Mahomes did the previous year. He averaged 250.8 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception per start as a rookie.

    So, Jones, 23, was on pace for 4,013 passing yards and 32 touchdowns with 16 interceptions in a full season. Those aren't MVP-caliber numbers, but they're outstanding for a first-year player. With a Year 2 leap, Jones could approach 5,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes.

    Even if Barkley is a major contributor, Jones could take the title of New York's—and in turn, the NFL's—most valuable player.