Top 10 NFL MVP candidates: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers lead the field

It's tough to find legitimate non-quarterback MVP candidates, but we have four on the list below. They're not all that likely to win the award -- Myles Garrett might have an outside shot -- but they deserve recognition because of their impact on their teams' success.

NOTE: All stats are current heading into Thursday night of Week 5.

Rank
1
Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · QB

Russell Wilson has already thrown 16 TD passes, tying him with Peyton Manning (2013) for the most in the first four games of a season in NFL history. Each of the last three quarterbacks to throw for 14 or more touchdowns in their first four games won the MVP award in that season: Manning, Patrick Mahomes (2018) and Kurt Warner (1999).


Wilson has 250-plus passing yards and two or more passing touchdowns in each of his four games this season, tying the longest such streak of his career (Weeks 11-14 in 2015). He's set career highs through four games in nearly every significant category in the process: completion percentage (75.2), passing yards (1,285), yards per attempt (9.4), passing touchdowns (16) and passer rating (136.7).


Wilson landed atop our deep-passer rankings last week for good reason: He's tied for the league lead in deep-passing completions (11) and ranks first in deep-passing yards (430) and deep-passing touchdowns (seven). Connecting on shots down the sideline has been his modus operandi; Wilson has a 79.1 percent completion rate on passes outside the numbers (first in the NFL), where he averages 10.6 yards per attempt (third). He also leads the league in passing touchdowns outside the numbers (10) and passer rating on targets outside the numbers (150.3).


Seahawks fans wanted Pete Carroll to Let Russ Cook, and Wilson is putting Salt Bae to shame with his play in the first month of the season. No one has a stronger case for MVP than the ninth-year quarterback.

Rank
2
Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

Green Bay is 4-0 for the first time since 2015 because of the play of Aaron Rodgers, who has overcome the loss of multiple key receivers without missing a beat.


Green Bay is currently on pace to set a Super Bowl-era record for scoring, averaging 38 points per game while also racking up 445.5 yards (and nearly 300 passing yards) per contest. The Packers are winning without making crucial errors, completing four straight games of 30-plus points while committing zero turnovers. That's the second-longest such streak of any team since 1940, behind only Tom Brady's 2010 Patriots, who accomplished the feat in seven straight games. Brady won MVP that season.


Rodgers became the fourth player since at least 1948 with 12-plus passing touchdowns and zero interceptions through four games, and the first since Patrick Mahomes in 2018. Unsurprisingly, Mahomes won MVP that season.


The last time Rodgers threw 12 or more passing touchdowns through Week 4, he won MVP (2011).


Rodgers is doing so by consistently finding the best option, targeting open receivers on 50.4 percent of his attempts, but he's also exceeding expectations in other areas. Rodgers ranks third in the NFL in completion percentage over expectation at +6.9 percent, trailing only Wilson and Las Vegas' Derek Carr. His 128.4 passer rating is second only to Wilson, and Rodgers owns the highest total Expected Points Added -- a standardized per-snap value to quantify success of a play and the player's impact on such an outcome with the backing of historical data -- among all quarterbacks at 74.5.


Wilson is the leading MVP candidate after a month of action, but Rodgers is hot on his tail.


Rank
3
Josh Allen
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

In Year 3, Josh Allen has continued to develop from a first-round pick with physical potential and accuracy issues into a playmaking signal-caller the likes of which Buffalo hasn't seen since the days of Jim Kelly. He's accomplishing this by cutting down on his risks and targeting the open man. The quarterback has shortened his attempts, going from 11 air yards per pass as a rookie to 8 in 2020, and he's targeting open receivers on 51.4 percent of his attempts, well above his rookie-year mark of 39.7 percent. Allen's deep passes have dropped in frequency, as well; in 2018, 18.1 percent of his attempts were deep, compared to just 10.1 percent this season.


With this shift has come an increase in expected completion percentage, from 60.5 percent as a rookie (the third-lowest mark in the league) to 67 percent in 2020. For the first time in his career, Allen owns a positive completion percentage over expectation of +4.0, a significant improvement over his rookie-year rate of -7.7 percent, which was the lowest among qualified quarterbacks.


Instead of swinging for home runs, Allen is settling for singles and doubles, producing a boost in every significant category, along with a 12:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Given these numbers, it's easy to see why the Bills are 4-0 after the first month of the season.

Rank
4
Myles Garrett
Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns · DE

Those judging Myles Garrett by sacks are missing an important part of the equation. Garrett is causing problems for opposing offenses even when he's not sacking the quarterback, as evidenced by his six turnovers caused on pressures this season (per Next Gen Stats). That mark matches the league-leading totals compiled by Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree and Tampa Bay's Shaquil Barrett last season -- and we're only a quarter of the way through 2020.


Garrett has forced multiple turnovers as a result of pressure in consecutive games this season, causing three in Week 3 against Washington and two more in Week 4 against Dallas. The only other player to do that in the Next Gen Stats era is Barrett, who did so last campaign. Garrett's 23 pressures lead the league as part of a defense that also is the class of the NFL when it comes to harassing the quarterback (60 pressures as a team).


Oh, and Garrett is thriving in the sack department, as well, posting a league-leading five in four games. He's also the best in the NFL in total disruptions -- the combined total of hurries, pressures or sacks (one per play) -- with 28, nine more than the next closest defender.


Last summer, Garrett spoke of his ambition of winning the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award. He's on track to do that in 2020, and he might just find himself receiving some MVP consideration if the 3-1 Browns keep up their winning ways.


Rank
5
Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB

The Chiefs began 2020 by reversing course in terms of offensive identity, transforming from a big-play unit into one that was getting the ball out faster for shorter completions. Since the first two weeks, though, Patrick Mahomes has shifted back to the style of play that won him the 2018 NFL MVP and Super Bowl LIV MVP awards, increasing his time to throw rate from Weeks 1-2 to Weeks 3-4 by nearly four-tenths of a second and his air yards per attempt from 6.1 to 8. His deep-pass rate also jumped from 3.8 percent to 12.7 percent, which comes somewhat as a result of his increased throw-on-run rate (15.2% to 23.9%).


Mahomes is holding onto the ball longer but getting pressured less, an unlikely pairing of results that has seen Kansas City hit the big play more often. A pressure-free environment is, of course, Mahomes' best working situation; he's posted a passer rating of 132.8 and a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio when not under pressure over the past two weeks.


I was surprised when Mahomes failed to land within the top five in my deep-passer rankings last week. Over the past two weeks, though, he's shifting back to doing what he does best: going downfield. And he's firmly in the MVP discussion as a result.

Rank
6
Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB

The Cowboys are 1-3 and in need of assistance defensively. If that continues to be a problem, the team's fortunes might remove Dak Prescott from this conversation. But Dallas' troubles have not been the fault of the quarterback.


After his Herculean effort to bring the Cowboys back fell painfully short in Week 4, Prescott became the first player in NFL history with 450-plus passing yards in three straight games, breaking 500 in the loss to Cleveland. His 1,424 passing yards in Weeks 2-4 are the most in a three-game span in league history, clearing the previous mark set in 2011 by Tom Brady by nearly 100 yards. Prescott also has thrown for the most passing yards in the first four games of a season in NFL history (1,690), breaking Hall of Famer Kurt Warner's Super Bowl-era record of 1,557 (set in 2000).


Prescott thrived by finding great success downfield. According to Next Gen Stats, Prescott has completed 39 of 64 attempts of 10-plus air yards, gaining 843 yards, scoring seven touchdowns and posting a passer rating of 134.9, while only throwing one interception. He's also doing this while facing the second-most pressures in the NFL (72).


The Cowboys aren't quite "The Greatest Show on Turf," but Prescott is the greatest performer in the NFC East and beyond, even if the wins haven't come yet. No offense in the Super Bowl era has produced as many yards through the first four games of a season as Dallas has (2,038). Unfortunately for them, the Cowboys are the only team in the top four of that historical category to own even a single loss.


If Prescott is to stay in this race, the defense will have to pick up its share of the slack.

Rank
7
Tom Brady
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB

Father Time spares no one -- but he might fear Tom Brady.


With his comeback effort against the Chargers on Sunday, the 43-year-old Brady broke his own NFL record, again becoming the oldest player to ever throw four-plus touchdowns in a game. He also broke another of his records as the oldest player to have consecutive games of three-plus passing touchdowns. Since turning 41, Brady has 11 games of three-plus passing touchdowns, obliterating the previous mark set by Warren Moon and George Blanda, who each had two.


Moon previously owned the NFL record as the oldest player to throw for five or more passing touchdowns, but Brady broke that one as well on Sunday. He also became the oldest to throw touchdowns to five different players in a single game, a record previously owned by Drew Brees.


Brady is in this space because, despite rumblings of a gradual decline, he's actually trending in the opposite direction, improving his passer rating each week, going from 78.4 in Week 1 all the way up to 117 on Sunday. His passer rating has jumped from 79.3 in Weeks 1 and 2 to 116.5 in his last two outings, and he's posted a TD-to-INT ratio of 8:1 in the past fortnight.


Precision is the name of Brady's advanced-age game. According to Next Gen Stats, on tight-window targets, Brady is exceeding his personal bests since the NGS era began in 2016 in completion percentage (from 36.8 to 50), yards per attempt (4.8 to 9.7), passer rating (73.5 to 117.3) and completion percentage over expectation (from +0.6 percent to +9 percent). The presence of Mike Evans has undoubtedly helped. Since 2016, the big-bodied receiver is tied for fourth in tight-window receptions (57), ranks third in tight-window receiving yards (973) and is tied for second in tight-window touchdown grabs (11). He has three tight-window catches for 35 yards and a touchdown on five targets while playing with Brady.


Attention to detail has long been a hallmark of Brady's game, and -- pick-sixes aside -- Brady is flourishing with his new team. 

Rank
8
Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald
Los Angeles Rams · DT

Aaron Donald has been on MVP lists for the last few years, and he's here again for the same reasons.


When we covered Myles Garrett's impact as a disruptor above, we mentioned how he owns a nine-disruption lead over the next-closest defender. That's where Donald, who is tied with Shaquil Barrett at 19 disruptions, comes into play. Donald has 3.5 sacks through four games, aided in large part by his power and explosion, which can be best measured by his 0.85-second average get-off, best in the league among interior linemen. That's been the best get-off rate at his position group in the NFL for some time now, and it proves Donald hasn't lost a step at 29, even if he's grown a little stale in the minds of those frequently considering the best in the game at all positions.


Much like someone else lower on this list, defensive tackles are rarely considered for the league's highest honor, but Donald is as consistently disruptive as they come. He's well worth his hefty salary ($22.5 million per year).

Rank
9
George Kittle
George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers · TE

One needn’t look further than George Kittle's Week 4 performance to understand just how valuable he is to the 49ers.


Even in a loss, Kittle was outstanding. The tight end caught all 15 of his targets for 183 yards and a touchdown Sunday night, returning from injury with great emphasis. He also made a little history for himself, reaching 3,000 receiving yards in his 47th game, tying Rob Gronkowski as the second-fastest tight end to do so since the 1970 merger. The only tight end to get there faster was Kellen Winslow, whose bronze bust resides in Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Kittle also recorded his ninth career game of 100-plus receiving yards, tied for the third-most 100-yard games by a tight end in his first 50 career games since 1970. He's also only the fourth tight end with 15-plus receptions in a game since 1948, and the only one to gain 170-plus yards in the process.


Kittle will struggle mightily to receive MVP attention, considering the nature of his position, but his value as both a pass-catcher and a blocker has been well-documented. He's as reliable as they come at the position and instantly transforms San Francisco's offense, even with backups throwing him the ball.

Rank
10
Wyatt Teller
Wyatt Teller
Cleveland Browns · OG

Look, no one will ever vote for a guard to be MVP, so Wyatt Teller isn't winning this award. But the third-year pro's improvement in his first season under the direction of offensive line coach Bill Callahan is undeniable. Teller has gone from replacement-level guard sharing snaps with Eric Kush in Cleveland last season to one of the NFL's best in a short amount of time, and it's a big reason why the Browns are both 3-1 and own the best rushing offense in the NFL.


Cleveland revamped its offensive line in the offseason, adding right tackle Jack Conklin and drafting left tackle Jedrick Wills in Round 1, but Teller (who made nine starts in 2019) has been the best new full-time starter. Cleveland leads the NFL in expected rushing yards (479) and, thanks to the play of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, has gained 250 yards over expectation through four weeks. Right now, the Browns are expected to gain 3.8 yards per carry and are getting 5.8 per tote, and Cleveland running backs have scored seven rushing touchdowns (tied with Minnesota running backs for the league lead).


Baker Mayfield has faced the eighth-lowest total of quarterback pressures (24, tied with Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill) and the eighth-lowest pressure rate (19.8 percent of all dropbacks) as a result of excellent pass protection and a scheme that is designed to roll Mayfield away from rushers. Teller has played a large role in this, effectively handling single rushers and picking up blitzes with little trouble. This video from Establish The Run's Brandon Thorn displays precisely how well Teller has handled pressure from multiple angles:

Teller is Pro Football Focus' highest-rated guard in terms of offensive grade (94.1), which has been heavily influenced by his league-best run-blocking grade (93.7). He's allowed just three quarterback pressures in four games and is playing at a premier level, serving as a pleasant surprise on Cleveland's reworked line.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

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