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Alex Smith, Tom Brady lead MVP race through first quarter of '17

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With four weeks of action in the books, I thought I'd take an extremely early peek at the race to be MVP of the 2017 NFL season. There is obviously much still to be determined, with a stunning 13 teams knotted up at 2-2 (that's eight more than we had at this point last season). But the players below have stood out for their individual contributions and should have an edge on taking home some hardware.

NOTE: To compile this list, I considered both the recent past and what each player might accomplish as the season goes on.

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1

Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs

Smith is having the best season of his career. On "Monday Night Football," he helped the Chiefs come from behind to remain the only undefeated team in the NFL, completing 73 percent of his passes against a Redskins defense that ranked eighth coming in. Smith's 8.8 yards-per-attempt mark is indicative of elite quarterback play. Yes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and a strong defense are obvious factors in Kansas City's success, as is the emergence of rookie back Kareem Hunt (see below). But right now, Smith is playing the supremely important quarterback position to textbook perfection, and it's hard to overstate the value of that. In fact, to my eye, Smith's performance this season has helped open things up for Hunt more than Hunt has helped open things up for Smith.

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2

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

At 40, Brady would be the oldest player to win the MVP award -- but if he keeps this sensational pace up, that'll seem less like a historical oddity and more like an inevitability. Though he's without Julian Edelman, and though the Patriots have the 32nd-ranked defense, Brady is having one of the best seasons of his 18-year career. For him to play with the high level of enthusiasm and mobility he has at this age is incredible.

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3

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

I spent time visiting the Lions during training camp, and I came away thinking that Stafford could nab this award if Detroit were to enjoy a good season. Well, the Lions are 3-1 and very easily could be 4-0 -- and Stafford has been a driving force behind this strong start. The 29-year-old QB has established himself as a leader and go-to personality on this team, finding ways to win despite the absence of left tackle Taylor Decker and Detroit's 19th-ranked running game. Look for the Lions to make a legitimate push for the NFC North crown.

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4

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

Like Stafford in Detroit, Rodgers is making it work in Green Bay despite a lackluster running game ( ranked 28th) and injuries on the line (to both starting tackles). As usual, Rodgers excels at improvising on the field and is probably the best I've ever seen when it comes to drawing opponents offside. Rodgers is off to a better start than he was through four games last season and is on pace to finish with 4,584 yards and 40 touchdown passes, which would both be the second-highest single-season marks of his career. I just have a hard time getting a feel for this Packers team as it deals with multiple questions, including a banged-up receiver corps.

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5

Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

The Rams have 142 points through four games -- just 82 less than they managed all of last season. Gurley has been the engine behind both Los Angeles' offensive success and the success of second-year QB Jared Goff. Last year at this time, Gurley had just two rushing touchdowns and zero through the air. Heading into Week 5, Gurley has already registered four on the ground and three as a receiver. He looks much more enthusiastic this year than he did in 2016 -- he looks like the player who was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, except he's added a receiving element to his game. If Gurley wins the MVP award, he should split it in two and give half to new coach Sean McVay, who has implemented a great system that has really boosted Gurley's play.

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6

Drew Brees, QB, Saints

Without Brees, the Saints would likely still be looking for their first win of the season. Adding Adrian Peterson and drafting Alvin Kamara was supposed to help take some of the load off the 38-year-old field general, but the Saints are still throwing much more than they're running, with 152 pass attempts ( sixth-most in the league) and 93 runs ( 24th).

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7

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks

As with Brees and the Saints, Wilson has probably saved the Seahawks from an 0-4 start. Yes, the offense stumbled out of the gate a bit, but Wilson has kept himself and his team within striking distance in the NFC West. If Seattle suddenly goes on a completely plausible five-game win streak, then Wilson will definitely vault into the top of this conversation.

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8

Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs

The Chiefs snagged Hunt in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but when you go back and look, you see some pretty positive signs on his college resume, including a per-carry mark of 6.3 yards in 44 games at Toledo. His vertical jump (36.5 inches) at the NFL Scouting Combine also indicated explosion and lower-body strength. Hunt has the second-most rushing yards in a player's first four career games in NFL history, behind only Billy Sims' 539 in 1980. He's also on pace for 2,008 yards, which would obliterate the rookie record set by Eric Dickerson in 1983 (1,808). Yes, Hunt and Alex Smith make each other better -- but Hunt slots here because quarterback is simply a more important position than running back. Without Smith making the passing game go, opponents would be able to focus on shutting down Hunt, which would greatly diminish the Chiefs' ability to win games. That's also why Hunt is behind Brees and Wilson.

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9

Luke Kuechly, MLB, Panthers

Off to an eyebrow-raising 3-1 start, Carolina continued to surprise observers with Sunday's win in New England -- and the Kuechly-led defense ( fourth in the NFL) deserves a ton of credit for that. Kuechly acts like a choirboy off the field, but on it, he's a tone-setting demon. Kuechly has great reaction and is an outstanding competitor who can play the run or drop into pass coverage. His leadership is such an asset; people admire him for his play. I just don't think we'll see a middle linebacker, whose impact is admittedly more limited than that of a quarterback, win the MVP award anytime soon.

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10

Von Miller, OLB, Broncos

The Broncos are the top-rated defensive team overall and against the run, and Miller is the main reason. He might not be leading the sack category at this point, but Miller clearly means so much to his unit, as a highly competitive guy who brings the wood. Miller showed what he can do in the Broncos' Week 2 win over Dallas, notching two sacks. He moves from side to side in an effort to match up against the other team's weaknesses. That said, it's hard to place him much higher on this list, considering that in 2016 -- when Miller collected 13.5 sacks and came within a vote of winning the Defensive Player of the Year award -- poor quarterback play and deficiencies in the run game caused Denver to miss the playoffs.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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