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Russell Wilson the 2018 MVP? Adrian Peterson in perfect spot

Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:

-- Why Adrian Peterson is in a perfect situation with the Redskins.

-- A wise, Dak-friendly decision by the Cowboys.

-- Is Eli Manning set for a career first in his 15th NFL season?

But first, a look at the QB who could be this season's MVP ...

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If you're looking for an early favorite in the NFL MVP race, you should consider Russell Wilson. While the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback didn't receive a vote for the award last year, he was certainly worthy of it after he single-handedly kept the Seattle Seahawks in playoff contention. Wilson will deserve the award if he gets his team into the playoffs this season.

Wilson is unquestionably the face of the franchise as the Seahawks' QB1, but he is playing an even bigger role on the squad this season. The team is no longer defined by its star-studded defense with Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril out of the equation. On offense, the squad is devoid of A-level playmakers outside of Doug Baldwin. In addition, Wilson is playing behind an offensive line that has struggled to keep him clean in the pocket for the past few years and he doesn't have a dominant running game to lean on.

Throw in a new play-caller without a distinguished resume of success, and Wilson will need to overcome long odds to guide the 'Hawks to a playoff berth at the end of the season. That's not a slight to any of the coaches or players referenced with those comments, but the facts are the facts. Seattle's coaching and personnel changes have put more on No. 3's plate and he will have to be exceptional to produce fireworks for the team.

Think about that. I'm suggesting a guy who led the NFL in touchdown passes (34), accounted for 95 percent of the offense's scores and led the team in rushing yards (586) is going to need to do even more to keep the 'Hawks in contention this season.

While there are only a handful of quarterbacks in the league capable of shouldering such a heavy load (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and a few others), Wilson has proven that he is an MVP-caliber player over the past three seasons, when the team gradually shifted from a run-first, defensive-oriented squad to a QB-centric team that increasingly relied on the talents of the quarterback to create big plays on the perimeter.

From his explosive runs on a variety of zone-reads and designed QB runs to his impromptu scramble tosses, Wilson's playmaking skills make the Seahawks' offense go when things don't go according to plan. Those skills could be needed with the team adjusting to coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and his intricate version of the West Coast offense built around a physical running game.

"It's a commitment to that's the style of play and that fits," head coach Pete Carroll said earlier this offseason in an interview with ESPN710 Seattle. "You go back to a couple of years ago when [Schottenheimer] had Mark Sanchez back there and they ran the football like crazy, and they won a couple of championships there really with a young quarterback based on the commitment to the run and playing defense. Well you know us, that's something that we do understand about how you play the game of football. He's committed to it. He gets us."

The idea is to get back to a balanced attack that leans on a 50:50 run-pass ratio instead of the pass-heavy premise the team has relied on for the past few years. The team passed on nearly 60 percent (59.4) of its snaps a season ago, when it missed the playoffs, compared to the 53:47 and 52:48 run-pass ratios from their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances earlier this decade.

While I remain a big believer in the running game as a crucial component of an offense, I'm not necessarily convinced the Seahawks are equipped to thrive in that area with their current personnel, even after the selection of Rashaad Penny in Round 1. The lack of a marquee running back could put the team in more long-yardage passing situations, which puts more pressure on Wilson to make plays against a loaded defense.

Now, a talented offensive line can elevate the play of an average running back, but the Seahawks' front line has been a liability in recent years. That sentiment might change with the team bringing back four starters from a season ago. Duane Brown and Germain Ifedi are back as the starting tackles, with Justin Britt returning at center and Ethan Pocic slotted at guard.

"I think that we actually have a consistency up front right now with the ones in particular, which we've never really had," Wilson said of the offensive line earlier this summer. "We always kind of trade places and put people in, which is good, but then at the same time, there's no consistency. And with the line in particular, those five guys, you need that consistency, you need the nucleus of those five."

If the front line can create a push at the line of scrimmage while also providing better protection for Wilson in the pocket, the Seattle offense can become more potent, particularly when the play-action passing game gets going on the perimeter.

Looking at the team's current personnel, Baldwin certainly can win as the team's No. 1 receiver, but the 'Hawks need another playmaker or two to emerge on the outside to alleviate the pressure on Baldwin to make every play. With an A1 quarterback capable of elevating a pass catcher with pinpoint throws to every area of the field, the Seahawks' passing game could be dynamic with Wilson at the helm. The improvisational wizard can extend plays and make magic happen outside of the pocket when he has a group of receivers capable of uncovering on scrambles and broken plays.

Considering how Aaron Rodgers has won games and earned "G.O.A.T" accolades as a run-around playmaker, Wilson could also earn another acronym (MVP) if he is able to win games and spark another playoff run with uncertainty and change on each side of the ball.

RENAISSANCE MAN: Adrian Peterson can be the spark for Redskins

When the Washington Redskins signed Adrian Peterson to a one-year deal for the veterans minimum, the football world appeared to dismiss the four-time first-team All-Pro's chances of making a significant contribution to the team as a bell-cow runner. Despite ranking 12th on the NFL's all-time rushing list after a stellar career that includes three NFL rushing crowns and an NFL MVP award, Peterson's subpar production and performance since 2016 has observers questioning whether he can even make the roster as an RB2 or RB3 for a squad that employs a group of runners with a combined 2,683 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in 6.6 cumulative seasons.


I know Peterson's numbers have drastically declined since his prime years in Minnesota, as evidenced by his 4.9 yards per carry with the Vikings from 2007 to 2016 and his 3.4 yards per carry with the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals in 2017. However, I believe the Redskins offer the perfect situation for him to regain his dominant form. The team has an A-level offensive line with Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff ranking among the top-five players at their respective positions. The duo earned Pro Bowl recognition for their work in 2017 and became the first Redskins' offensive line duo collectively selected to the Pro Bowl in consecutive seasons since Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby earned four straight selections following the 1983-86 seasons.

"I've always been a fan of the offensive line," Peterson told reporters at his introductory press conference. "... I've always talked about playing behind a good offensive line. The last couple of years, kind of struggled in that department. Great head coach, a top-notch organization, so it made sense."

To that point, Peterson certainly didn't play behind a stellar offensive line with the Vikings or Cardinals, and his small sample size of work in New Orleans makes it hard to evaluate his tenure with the Saints. That's why we should ignore Peterson's disappointing rushing average (3.11 yards per carry) since 2016 due to the suspect play of the offensive lines in front of him. Say what you want about Peterson losing a step or falling off a cliff as a runner, but he's only two seasons removed from his third NFL rushing title with 1,485 rushing yards at the age of 30.

Studying the tape from 2017, particularly Peterson's play with the Cardinals, the seven-time Pro Bowl selectee is still an effective runner between the tackles. He still has enough quickness to shoot through creases at the point of attack and his combination of vision, balance and body control allows him to spot gaps in muddy waters. Although Peterson lacks some of the explosiveness and home run ability that made him the most feared runner in the game for a 10-year period, he is a grinder who still has the potential to rack up 100-yard rushing games in a run-heavy game plan built around his talents as a power rusher.

Remember, Peterson posted a pair of 100-yard games with the Cardinals (26 rushes for 134 yards with two touchdowns against the Buccaneers; 37 rushes for 159 yards against the 49ers) with 25-plus rushing attempts in each of those games. In addition, he finished with at least 20 rushing attempts in two other games, including a 20-carry, 79-yard effort against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12.

For a runner over the age of 30 to handle that kind of heavy workload speaks volumes about his stamina and conditioning, which is why Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was excited about Peterson's potential after watching him work out.

"He's actually a physical freak if you want to say that," Gruden told reporters after the team signed Peterson. "Like I said before, at the start of the workout Randy [Jordan] put him through to the end of the workout and he didn't even break a sweat, hardly. He's in great shape, explosive, and that is really what sold us. Sometimes these backs come in for workouts and they haven't been doing anything, and you can tell they're out shape. Some of the backs we had in here were huffing and puffing, keeling over and he's standing straight up. He could have gone for another two hours. That played mostly into it -- his great physical condition."

Given his superb conditioning and stamina, the Redskins could use Peterson as an early down runner to soften up the defense and create big-play opportunities in the passing game off play-action passes. Although it might take a couple of reps in the team's final two preseason games to determine his role, the Redskins certainly have an idea of what they're getting in the rugged running back.

"I'd like to see where he is after contact, want to see the explosion in the hole. His vision. All that good stuff," Gruden said. "I don't think he's going to lose that; it's just a matter of taking hits play after play after play and see where he stands as far as stamina goes.

"You have a good idea of what he's good at based on his career, and we have all those runs he's been successful with. It makes our play-action game a little better ... and your play-action bootleg game a little better. We understand the skill set Adrian has."

With that in mind, I believe we could see Peterson enjoy the kind of renaissance in Washington that will remind longtime 'Skins fans of John Riggins. The one-time All-Pro helped the team win Super Bowl XVII as the bell-cow of the offense and he led the league in rushing touchdowns in back-to-back seasons (1983-84), when he was in his mid-30s.

I know that's a big statement based on Riggins' place in Redskins lore, but Peterson could be the missing piece on an offense that sparks a surprising run in the NFC East.

TWO-POINT CONVERSION: Quick takes on developments across the NFL

1) Jerry Jones adamant Cowboys' offense be "Dak-friendly." I don't know why the football world is up in arms with Jones after the Hall of Fame inductee recently suggested the Dallas Cowboys' offense will be more "Dak-friendly" in 2018. Most teams build around the talents of their franchise quarterback, and the Cowboys are finally stealing a page from Chapter 1 of the NFL's team-building manual to help their young quarterback thrive in his third season.

"The quarterback has the toughest job on the field," an NFL head coach told me in the offseason. "You want to do everything in your power to lighten the burden on his shoulders. Whether it's putting him in a scheme that allows him to play fast and effective or surrounding him with enough playmakers to spread the responsibilities throughout the team. You want to make sure he is comfortable because he is the only player who touches the ball on every play, and how well he plays typically decides how well the team performs."

With that in mind, I applaud the Cowboys for building around Prescott's talents as a QB1. Despite the narrative surrounding his play, the third-year pro has been one of the most impressive young players at the position, as evidenced by his 22-10 career record and 95.5 passer rating. Sure, No. 4's game took a dip in 2017 when Ezekiel Elliott missed six games due to a league-imposed suspension, but his 16 games with a passer rating of at least 100.0 since 2016 puts him on par with Tom Brady (16) and ranks only behind Drew Brees (20) in terms of pass efficiency.

Considering how Brady and Brees are viewed as the gold standard at the position, the Cowboys would be wise to build a system around a young quarterback showing enough promise to be mentioned in the same conversation as the greats, right?

"You are trying to have a system that is comprehensive enough and flexible enough that you can fit players in it and play to their strengths," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told reporters this offseason. "No position does that apply to more than the quarterback position. We have always felt that way whether a quarterback is comfortable throwing certain routes or doing certain things in his drop. If he is better outside the pocket or inside the pocket, you always want to play to his strengths and in some way minimize things he doesn't do quite as well."

To that point, the Cowboys have made a concerted effort to tweak the offense to better suit No. 4's game. The team has shown a number of spread and empty formations in preseason games with a number of crossing routes and quick-rhythm concepts designed to get the ball into the hands of the team's playmakers within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. In addition, the Cowboys sprinkled in a few bootlegs and naked passes to get the young passer some easy completions on the move. Granted, the defense hasn't overreacted to the run (yet) with Elliott on the sidelines, but the sight of No. 21 in the backfield will create more movement from the defense when the regular season begins.

The Cowboys will also sprinkle in some zone-read and quarterback designed runs (QB draw) into the game plan to take advantage of Prescott's athleticism and running skills. They've typically utilized these plays in the red zone in the past, but we could see more of these plays in the middle of the field when defenses aggressively come after Elliott with loaded boxes.

We will see if Garrett and coordinator Scott Linehan can get it done schematically, but Jones is certainly pushing for a more "Dak-friendly" approach when he explains his vision of the Cowboys' offense to the masses.

"It's an offense that lets him be unpredictable. It gives him the best way to be hard for the defense in the sense of game-planning for him," Jones said earlier in the offseason. "I'd certainly love for him to be able to hurt them from the pocket. We'd love for him to be able to hurt them on the run -- and to run. We're not necessarily interested in increasing the number of runs. I think we've got a lot more options as far as how to get him on the run in the passing game, and giving him a better pocket and having better blocking. You might say protection, but the way to get that done is to be imaginative in the running game. Some of the college stuff needs to be thought about here. That's a big part of the conversation that's going on at the office."

In a quarterback-driven league where QB1s decide games each and every week, it's sensible for the Cowboys to build the offense around a young playmaker who has shown some promise as a franchise player. Like it or not, No. 4 has earned that right from "America's Team" and we will soon find out if it helps the Cowboys make an unexpected run in the NFC.

2) Can Pat Shurmur teach an old dog new tricks? That's the question New York Giants fans should ask the head coach when they bump into him at a local coffee shop or grocery store after he suggested Eli Manning's completion rate could top the 70-percent mark. Although it is commonplace for coaches to set lofty goals for their star players to help them raise their level of play, I think Shurmur might have his work cut out for him when he attempts to transform a career sub-60-percent passer into a "gold standard" playmaker at the position.

No disrespect to the two-time Super Bowl MVP, but he's never been an efficient passer in regular-season play. In 14 NFL seasons, Manning has only posted a completion rate of 60 percent or better eight times and his career high (63.1 percent in 2014) is well below the goal set by the offensive guru. In addition, No. 10 has led the league in interceptions three times and he's never posted a passer rating above 100.0 for a season.

In fact, he's only finished a season with a 90-plus passer rating on four occasions, which is ridiculously low for a veteran quarterback with a pair of Super Bowl wins on his resume.

Given Manning's history as a scattershot passer, I'm a little surprised he set the bar so high for his new QB1. Sure, Shurmur has enjoyed success with Sam Bradford topping the 70-percent mark (71.6) in 2016 with the Minnesota Vikings and Case Keenum posting a 67.6 percent completion rate after being a sub-60 percent passer for most of his career, but Manning hasn't sniffed that rarified air as a player and it is hard to imagine an older quarterback becoming more efficient when it has never been a part of his game.

That said, the Giants certainly have put together an all-star supporting cast with the talent and playmaking ability to elevate Manning's game in a system that will feature a number of catch-and-run concepts underneath coverage. Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram are spectacular playmakers on the perimeter with the speed, quickness and explosion to turn short passes into big gains. Saquon Barkley is also a game-changer as a hybrid running back with receiver-like skills out of the backfield. He will give Manning a dependable but explosive option to target on check-downs and screens to take advantage of the soft coverage opponents might use when attempting to slow down OBJ on the outside.

Shurmur will look at the talents of his playmakers and the strength of his QB1's game to create a playbook that puts everyone in the best position possible to make the kind of plays that suit their skills. He was part of a coaching staff in Philadelphia that made Nick Foles look like a legitimate MVP candidate in 2013 and he recently helped Keenum become a big-money quarterback by creating a system that maximized his talents as a pop-gun thrower from the pocket. Shurmur also helped Bradford stay clean in the pocket behind a shaky offensive line that struggled mightily against traditional rushes and blitz pressures.

If Shurmur can elevate those journeymen through scheming, he can certainly put Manning in a position to succeed, right? It really comes down to No. 10's discipline and judgment. If he leans on his playmakers and avoids the "hero" throws that routinely result in interceptions, Manning could make his coach look like a prophet this season.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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