Friday, June 2, 2023

2021 NFL MVP watch: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still lead, but Kyler Murray is making it a three-man race

We’re through the first 13 weeks of the 2021 NFL season, which means it’s once again time for our weekly check-in on the MVP race. We have been and will continue to use this space over the next several weeks to take the temperature of our rotating panel of experts, trying to get a feel for who is in the lead, who is in contention, who is hanging on the fringes, and how those groups are changing from week to week. 

Each of our experts was asked to submit their top-five MVP rankings. Five points were awarded for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote, three for a third-place vote, two for a fourth-place vote, and one for a fifth-place vote.

At the moment, we appear to have a two-man race between two extremely familiar candidates. In a somewhat surprising development, we also had a running back crack the top five of the voting. This has been an extremely quarterback-heavy award over the last few years, so that’s certainly an interesting note. 

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Without further ado, let’s get to the voting…

The panel of voters: Jonathan Jones, Will Brinson, Ryan Wilson, John Breech, Jared Dubin, Tyler Sullivan, Jordan Dajani, Bryan DeArdo, Josh Edwards

The full MVP leaderboard

1. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (37)

2. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (34)

3. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (23)

4. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (16)

T-5. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (8) 

T-5. Steelers DE T.J. Watt (8)

7. Bills QB Josh Allen (4)

8. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (2)

T-9. 49ers Total Freak Deebo Samuel (1)

T-9. Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs (1)

T-9. Rams WR Cooper Kupp (1)

Most first-place votes:

  • Tom Brady (5)
  • Kyler Murray (2)

Most second-place votes:

  • Aaron Rodgers (5)
  • Kyler Murray (2)

Most total ballots: 

  • Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers (9 out of 9)

  • Kyler Murray, Jonathan Taylor (6)

Positional representation:

  • QB (6)
  • WR (2)
  • RB (1)
  • DE (1)

  • CB (1)

So who will actually win?

Brady is both the current (narrow) leader in our poll and a heavy betting favorite to win the award. At Caesars Sportsbook, Brady is +150, while Rodgers is +550 and Mahomes and Murray are next at +900 and Allen is +1000. Prescott is next at +1400, followed by Taylor, Matthew Stafford, and Justin Herbert at +1600. Lamar Jackson rounds out the top 10 at +2000.

Of course, a whole lot can change over the next few weeks. There are still five weeks left in the regular season, and a lot of these players’ teams play against each other during that time. As we noted last week, the race at the top of the NFC seems likely to play a huge role in the result of the MVP race. 

Brady, Rodgers, Murray, and Prescott all are quarterbacking teams that are in contention for the No. 1 seed in the conference; whichever of them gets it figures to have a leg up on the others. Murray’s team has the lead at the moment, but it also went 2-1 in three games without him, which could work against him in the eyes of some voters. Arizona plays the Rams, Colts, and Cowboys in three of its next four games, so he has a chance to knock off some of the other contenders over the next few weeks. 

The Packers have the second-easiest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL, so Rodgers has a chance to end the season on a really nice run. Prescott, meanwhile, has not been as good in recent weeks as he was early in the year, but it’s easy to see him rising up the leaderboard if the Cowboys close the season strong. Particularly if the Cowboys can win that game against the Cardinals (their toughest remaining opponent by far), that would do him a lot of good. 

Our top AFC candidates are Taylor, Mahomes, and Allen. With the Bills falling further behind the Patriots in the AFC East, Allen’s chances of winning seem to be declining. If the Chiefs keep on winning, Mahomes would seemingly have a pretty good shot, but the inconsistent performance of the offense is not helping him. It’s worth noting that Taylor continues to rank highly in our poll (he even got a first-place vote this time around) but not as highly in the betting odds. A running back has not won MVP since 2012 and a non-quarterback has won only four times this century, so that makes a certain degree of sense. 

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