Best Bets, Dark Horses and Long Shots for 2021 NFL MVP

Alex KayContributor ISeptember 6, 2021

Best Bets, Dark Horses and Long Shots for 2021 NFL MVP

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Although the 2021 NFL season hasn't begun, it's the ideal time for bettors to consider MVP candidates. 

    Most sportsbooks offer in-season betting on this prop but continually tweak the odds based on player performances. Once it becomes clear who the true candidates are—and this doesn't take long—far less return on investment is available.

    Consider Aaron Rodgers. The reigning MVP is listed at +1000 to defend the award (bet $100 to win $1,000). If he can carry over his play from last year, his odds represent a massive value. Ahead of 2020, bettors could have taken Rodgers at +2400—netting $24 for each $1 staked. But those who waited until late in the season only found -400 odds, putting up $4 to win $1.  

    It's clear why jumping in on the race early can be the most profitable, especially if a long shot or dark-horse candidate emerges.

    Even the favorites can pay dividends, as Patrick Mahomes (+500) is the only player with lower than +1000 odds, and most of the usual contenders are hovering somewhere between +1000 and +2000.

    Here are some players to consider when making your last-minute NFL MVP bets.

Rookie Pick: Mac Jones +9000

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Although unlikely, it is possible that the NFL's most valuable player just entered the league.

    The 2021 draft class was headlined by a slew of quarterbacks who have MVP aspirations, but none is better positioned to win the award this year than New England's Mac Jones.

    The Patriots made headlines last week after cutting incumbent starter Cam Newton, opening the door for Jones to become their QB1. He seems to have a solid grasp on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' complex system, as former New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich said on The Dan and Ninko Show that Jones was helping Newton to learn the playbook before the veteran's release.

    Jones was the last of the five QBs taken in the first round, but he arguably landed in the best situation. He'll be one of three rookie signal-callers starting in Week 1, and unlike Trevor Lawrence's Jaguars and Zach Wilson's Jets, the Patriots have legitimate playoff aspirations.

    Considering no player has ever won MVP playing for a sub.-500 team, Jones has a much stronger chance of checking that box than the rest of the class and would net backers $90 for every $1 risked.

    Only one rookie has ever won the MVP award: 21-year-old Jim Brown in 1957.

    Surprisingly, if Jones does win MVP, the 23-year-old wouldn't even be the second youngest to ever accomplish the feat or the youngest at his position. That honor goes to Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson, who was just 22 when he was crowned MVP in his second season.

Non-QB Pick: Antonio Gibson +8000

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It's not often that a quarterback fails to win the MVP, as it's happened just once in the last 14 years.

    Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's 2012 efforts nabbed him the league's first non-QB MVP since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. All of the last 36 MVPs have been either a quarterback or running back.

    Still, in the modern era, a running back not only has to pound the rock effectively, but they also have to make just as much of an impact in the passing game to take the hardware. To truly be an MVP candidate, a back has to play for a winning team within an offense that doesn't have an elite quarterback stealing the spotlight.

    With those factors in mind, Washington's Antonio Gibson sticks out as a sneaky candidate, and an enticing one at +8000. His odds may not be as strong as the more proven players at his position, but he's ready to make a significant leap in year two. 

    The 23-year-old was a standout rookie, rushing for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 247 yards on 36 receptions.

    Backup quarterback Kyle Allen told reporters during training camp that Washington plans to get Gibson more involved, comparing his role in head coach Ron Rivera's offense to that of former teammate Christian McCaffrey's job with the Panthers:

    "You saw Christian McCaffrey in this offense a couple of years ago. Obviously, one of the best players in the league. But, I think that's where we're trying to push Antonio to go. ... We try and get him the ball in the pass game. We try and run the ball with him a ton. We'll motion him out, we'll use him in different spaces."

    Gibson even told Go Long's Tyler Dunne his first pro season "wasn't that special" and vowed that the upcoming campaign would be.

    Given the free-agency acquisition of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington should have a stable signal-caller following a year in which four different QBs saw the field. The veteran's presence will boost Gibson's receiving numbers while opening rushing lanes with the threat of an effective passing attack.

Long Shot: Sam Darnold +6500

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Those hunting a big MVP payday should consider backing quarterback Sam Darnold.

    The Carolina Panthers acquired him this offseason following three up-and-down seasons to start his career with the New York Jets. While Gang Green invested 2018's No. 3 pick in the USC product, he never developed into a star.

    Still, the Panthers are an ideal landing spot for Darnold, who is only 24 years old and rife with potential. He has shown flashes of the talent—albeit not consistently—that made him such a lofty draft pick.

    Carolina has an underrated receiving corps that should help Darnold rehabilitate his career. DJ Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr. and Robby Anderson—who already played with the signal-caller from 2018 to 2019—represent a significant upgrade over Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan and Jamison Crowder, the top weapons Darnold had last season.

    The Panthers offensive line is a concern, but Darnold has the underrated mobility to make plays on the run. He racked up 217 yards and two scores on 37 rushing attempts last year while playing behind a Jets line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the league's fourth-worst.  

    Perhaps most importantly, the presence of a healthy McCaffrey will take a significant amount of pressure off the QB. 

    With the possibility to get back $65 for every $1 risked on an MVP award, bettors could do far worse than having a small stake in Darnold's potential rise with the Panthers.

Dark Horse: Kirk Cousins: +3500

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Kirk Cousins has been paid like an MVP—earning over $140 million and counting—but he's yet to assemble a campaign worthy of the award in any of his nine seasons.

    He could change that this year, as the 33-year-old is playing with perhaps his best supporting cast ever. He has a pair of elite wideouts to lean on, with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen among the best at their position.

    PFF ranked Jefferson as the league's No. 2 receiver in his rookie year, noting the first-round pick outperformed even the loftiest expectations. Jefferson should be even better in his sophomore season, especially now that he has experienced a full training camp and preseason to help him prepare. Thielen took a small step back in 2020 but still graded as the NFL's No. 6 wideout.

    Tight end is a question mark after the departure of Kyle Rudolph and season-ending knee injury to Irv Smith Jr., but Minnesota could still have something at the position. Cousins will lean on two fourth-year players in former backup Tyler Conklin and newcomer Chris Herndon, making an unproven but intriguing pairing.

    Dalvin Cook has been a revelation at running back. Now in his fifth year, he has improved in each campaign, culminating in 1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground last year.

    The 26-year-old also became a fixture in the passing game, racking up 97 receptions on 117 targets for 880 yards and a score over the past two seasons. His presence keeps the heat off Cousins and opens things up for the offense.

    Poor play in the offensive trenches has held this team back in recent years.  If the offensive line improves this season, Cousins will have a much easier time joining the upper echelon of MVP candidates. 

    Bolstered by the addition of first-round pick Christian Darrisaw, this line should offer better protection to a quarterback who has been oft-criticized for holding the ball too long.

    Considering his +3500 odds, Cousins represents amazing potential for a massive return on an MVP bet.

Best Bet: Josh Allen +1200

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    Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

    After leading the Buffalo Bills to the AFC Championship Game and finishing second in the MVP race in his third season, Josh Allen is a prime candidate to take the award.

    The Bills also him the league's second-highest-paid player last month, giving him a six-year, $258 million extension.

    He should build on an impressive 2020 in which he completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Allen added a whopping eight scores on the ground, bringing his career total to 25 rushing touchdowns across 44 games.

    During an episode of SportsCenterESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported:

    "There's some sneaky MVP buzz around Josh Allen right now because I've informally polled some execs around the league about who they think is going to win the award. Allen's name has come up a lot because this is a guy who's in a great offense, a team in contention. I'm hearing Allen has been a lot better at mastering the nuances of the game, the pre-snap protections, all those things you need to win at the quarterback position.

    And he's going to have the ball in his hands more than Luka Doncic. This is a guy that they're either going to pass or run, probably more than 700 times or around there this year. So, he's set up to potentially win it."

    It won't hurt Allen's MVP case that the Bills are stacked with talent up and down the lineup. After winning 13 games last year, Buffalo added several pieces.

    The most notable for Allen is the acquisition of veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders. The two-time Pro Bowler accumulated 61 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns last year for the Saints. With Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley still in the mix, this receiving corps will be a force.

    At +1200 odds, Allen is the best bet on the board. Lock it in now, as Allen is primed for a hot start that will quickly reduce his betting line to a much less profitable one.

          

    Odds via DraftKings.           

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