Dark-Horse 2022 NFL MVP Candidates to Put Your Money on Right Now

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2022

Dark-Horse 2022 NFL MVP Candidates to Put Your Money on Right Now

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    This time of the year, a wager on who will win NFL MVP can pay big dividends down the road. 

    Around this time last year, Aaron Rodgers was listed as one of the favorites but still had 8-1 odds. As the season came to a close, all of the value had dried up. He was the clear-cut favorite at -400 ($400 bet wins $100) at DraftKings Sportsbook

    With most of the major offseason events out of the way, now is a great time to start looking at who might have great value at this point in the race. 

    All the usual suspects are toward the top of the odds board. Josh Allen (+700), Patrick Mahomes (+900) and Rodgers (+1000) have the best odds. There are 11 realistic contenders who have odds below +2000. 

    While that covers most of the conventional options, there are a few dark-horse candidates worth considering putting a wager on. Each of those players has odds worse than +2000 at DraftKings Sportsbook but still has a shot based on his team situation, the likelihood of a big statistical season and value at his current odds. 

QB Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    MVP Odds: +2200 

    Derek Carr barely made the cut to be a dark-horse candidate at +2200, but considering he has the lowest odds of any starting quarterback in his division, he's a worthy inclusion. 

    Playing against Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and now Russell Wilson in the AFC West, Carr can be the forgotten quarterback at times. 

    But he's an underrated passer. According to Sports Info Solutions, only Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray had a higher percentage of throws that were on target than Carr (79.7) last season. 

    Now many of those throws are going to be to Davante Adams, a top-five wide receiver who was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders earlier this month. Tight end Darren Waller and wideout Hunter Renfrow are already good players but will now get to play without extra attention from opposing secondaries. 

    And Carr certainly doesn't shrink from MVP moments. He's led more game-winning drives than any quarterback in the league since 2015, per the NFL on CBS

    Throw in the addition of former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as his new head coach, and there's a lot to like about Carr as an under-the-radar MVP candidate.   

QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    MVP Odds: +2500

    The case for Lamar Jackson is pretty simple. He's the last guy not named Aaron Rodgers to win the award. 

    Jackson was the 2019 MVP. Three seasons later, he's tied for 13th in MVP odds with new Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who hasn't even played in a year amid a trade request and 22 civil lawsuits filed against him by women alleging sexual assault and misconduct. 

    Those odds aren't flat-out disrespect. Jackson was having his worst statistical season before an ankle injury forced him to miss the final four weeks of the campaign. He threw a career-high 13 interceptions to just 16 touchdowns and absorbed a career-high 38 sacks despite playing in just 12 games. 

    While Jackson did lose his No. 1 receiver in Marquise Brown, who was dealt to the Arizona Cardinals last month after a trade request, the offensive line in front of him should be better. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley should be back from injury, and the Baltimore Ravens signed Morgan Moses and drafted Tyler Linderbaum. 

    The fact that the Ravens were willing to trade Brown shows they understand their identity as a run-first offense that's built around Jackson's unique skill set. In that regard, it's far more important for Baltimore to have an elite offensive line than it is to have a great receiver corps. 

    Jackson's true No. 1 target is tight end Mark Andrews. If 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman is able to step into Brown's role, then the Ravens have a great shot at having a strong offense once again. That redemption arc is only going to bolster Jackson's MVP narrative. 

QB Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    MVP Odds: +4000

    History has told us not to discount an elder statesman of the game from winning MVP. 

    Tom Brady is the oldest player to have won the award. He was 40 years old when he took the title in 2017. Aaron Rodgers was 38 last year. Four players have won the award during their age-37 season, including Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Rich Gannon and Y.A. Tittle. 

    Matt Ryan will look to become the fifth as he plays for a team other than the Atlanta Falcons for the first time in his career. 

    The MVP isn't just a statistical award. The idea is in part a narrative-driven distinction. If Ryan can elevate the Indianapolis Colts from the team that barely missed the playoffs last year to one of the top squads in the AFC while putting up good numbers, he will be in the conversation. 

    According to Sharp Football Analysis, the Colts have the third-easiest schedule this year based on projected win totals for 2022. 

    They already have one of the best rushing attacks anchored by Jonathan Taylor and a mauling offensive line. Now they have a quarterback who can take advantage of the heavy boxes they are bound to see. 

    The result could be a career renaissance for Ryan.

    He doesn't have a great group of receivers in Indianapolis, but he led the Falcons to seven wins with Russell Gage as his No. 1 wide receiver as Gage recorded 770 yards and four touchdowns. This was despite the fact that Atlanta didn't have a running back who rushed for 650-plus yards.  

WR Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    MVP Odds: +5000

    The obvious drawback to Deebo Samuel is that he doesn't play quarterback. The MVP award has gone to a player at that position every year since running back Adrian Peterson won it in 2012. 

    After watching Cooper Kupp receive just one vote after racking up nearly 2,000 receiving yards last season, it would be understandable to avoid non-quarterbacks entirely. 

    But Samuel's unique skill set and the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback situation could create an interesting situation.

    For one, he is a unique offensive weapon given what he's able to do as both a runner and a receiver.

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the 26-year-old wideout asked for a trade and was unhappy with his usage as a running back, but if Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan can find a way to still utilize him as a utility player, Samuel could have a shot at winning MVP.

    The quarterback quandary in San Francisco could actually help his case. 

    The team is in a good position to hand the reins over to Trey Lance after trading up to take him at No. 3 in the 2021 draft; however, it still has Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported Monday the club still plans on moving the quarterback eventually.

    So either Samuel will have an unproven second-year quarterback throwing to him or a combination of Garoppolo and Lance. Either way, he's going to be given a lot of the credit if he's able to improve upon his 1,770 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage last season.   

QB Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    MVP Odds: +4000

    Tua Tagovailoa has yet to put up anything remotely close to MVP numbers, but he's not had the supporting cast he will enjoy in 2022 with the Miami Dolphins. 

    For starters, new head coach Mike McDaniel is going to bring a different offensive approach. The former 49ers assistant is revered for his offensive mind, and he raved about the quarterback's "untapped" potential on Good Morning Football in March.

    The third-year signal-caller is going to have every chance to prove it in 2022. The Dolphins made a serious investment in putting a great team around the southpaw. Tyreek Hill is the biggest addition after coming over in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, but Tagovailoa is also getting Cedrick Wilson Jr. as a new receiver and a remade backfield featuring Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. 

    Most importantly, Miami addressed the offensive line. Terron Armstead and Connor Williams are both upgrades on the left side. 

    A common criticism of Tagovailoa is his arm strength. It's true that he rarely throws the deep ball. According to Johnny Kinsley of the Deep Ball Project, Tagovailoa had just 18 attempts last season that traveled more than 21 yards. He completed 10 of them. 

    Tagovailoa just has to have incremental improvement in that department, though. According to Sports Info Solutions, his average depth of throw last season was 6.7, the same as that of Patrick Mahomes. Hill and Jaylen Waddle's ability to create after the catch will bolster Tagovailoa's numbers enough to make up for a lack of deep-ball connections. 

QB Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    MVP Odds: +8000

    Jameis Winston is the biggest long shot on the list, which makes sense because he's coming off an ACL injury and hasn't finished in the top three of the MVP voting in his career. 

    But we got to see a glimpse of a more efficient Winston before the ACL injury ended his season. After leading the league in interceptions with 30 in his final campaign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, he threw just three to 14 touchdowns in seven starts last year. 

    The New Orleans Saints went 5-2 in that stretch. 

    Now Winston is returning as the presumed starter and with an improved receiving corps. Michael Thomas, the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year, should be back after sitting out last season with an ankle injury. The team also drafted Chris Olave in the first round and recently signed Jarvis Landry. 

    That's not to mention the Saints have one of the best pass-catching backs in the league in Alvin Kamara, who should be available for most of the season. The league could suspend him for at least six games under its personal-conduct policy after he was arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of battery causing substantial physical harm.

    Despite the loss of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees in back-to-back offseasons, the Saints should be considered the second-best team in the NFC South behind Tampa Bay. The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons could be contenders for the top pick in next year's draft. 

    That clears the way for the Saints to be surprisingly good in 2022, and if Winston leads that charge, he could be a sneaky MVP candidate. 


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