2021 Dark Horses to Win Most Valuable Player

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) greets Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) prior to their AFC Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens in Nashville on January 10, 2021. Titans Ravens 036

With OTA’s coming to a close and team’s mandatory minicamps getting started, it’s time to take a look at the candidates for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award. With last year’s winner Aaron Rodgers still not making an appearance in Green Bay, the list of possible winners may be longer than you think.

FranchiseTagged.com writers Andrew Waters, Hayden Remillard, and Aaron Miller gave their thoughts on this week’s episode of the Pre-Snap Motion Podcast. With favorites like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and Josh Allen leading the way, the guys also gave their top underdog contenders to win the award.

Here is a look at some of the dark horse candidates who could hear their name called come February.

Ryan Tannehill – Tennessee Titans

With the addition of Julio Jones to an offense that already had A.J Brown and Derek Henry, the Titans have one of — if not the — best offensive trio in the league. And who’s going to benefit the most from that? Ryan Tannehill. 

Last season, Tannehill threw for over 3,800 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He also had his second-best overall PFF grade receiving a 90.3. Keep in mind, Tannehill did this in an offense that handed the ball off to Derrick Henry nearly 24 times per game, and wide receiver depth that was okay at best with Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Kalif Raymond just to name a few.

The Titans have a fairly good offensive line in front of the eight-year-vet. Players like Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, and Taylor Lewan will ensure Tannehill stays upright. If some quick chemistry can be developed with Julio Jones, and A.J. Brown continues to build off of his stellar 2020 season, Tannehill has a shot to be this year’s MVP. 

Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks

For a quarterback who has won a Super Bowl, and also has seven Pro Bowl appearances, you’d think he would have received at least one vote for the MVP award in the past, right? Well, that’s not the case with Russell Wilson. Although it’s certainly not due to a lack of trying. 

During the start of the 2020 season, Wilson was likely on track to receive some serious consideration for the award. But the “let Russ cook” movement seemed to come to a grinding halt about halfway through the year, which inevitably hurt his chances. Wilson still finished with over 4,200 yards, 40 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and the second-best overall PFF grade of his nine-year career.

The case for Wilson to win the most valuable player in 2021 is quite simple. The receiving duo of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett give Russ two very reliable options down the field. Paired with a shaky defense that is going to put the offense in a position to fight from behind, and Wilson — as Aaron says in the podcast episode — has the ability to put up “ serious video game numbers” this year.

Kyler Murray – Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals improved offensive line, which Andrew pointed out as a key factor in picking Murray as a dark horse candidate. The team resigned left guard Justin Pugh, and added center Rodney Hudson who played last season for the Raiders. However, the key piece is D.J. Humphries, PFF’s fifth-highest ranked tackle with an 88.3 overall grade. 

Murray had 3,971 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns last season for the Cardinals. Not to mention his over 800 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. He also saw his completion percentage increase from 64.4% in 2019 to 67.2% in 2020, a positive sign in a quarterback’s second year. 

Kyler will have no shortage of offensive weapons. The addition of A.J. Green to a wide receiver room consisting of three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk gives Murray plenty of playmakers through the air. Throw in the effectiveness of his run game, and the third-year quarterback makes an intriguing MVP underdog.

Matthew Stafford – Los Angeles Rams

There may be no team with more offseason hype than the L.A. Rams. The moment they traded former first-round pick, Jared Goff, to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford fans recognized the franchise is in a “win now” mode. 

Stafford has thrown for over 4,000 yards in 8 of his 12 seasons in the NFL. The Lions only had a winning record four times during the Stafford Era, largely with a mediocre supporting cast for most of his career. 

A fresh start will be good for the 33-year-old quarterback. An offensive line that consists of Andrew Whitworth, David Edwards, Brian Allen, Austin Corbett, and Rob Havenstien will keep the quarterback clean. Plus, he’s entering an environment that has the best wide receiving core that he’s seen throughout his career. Pass catchers like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, and tight end Tyler Higbee have to get Stafford excited. Sorry to say Lions fans, but your former franchise quarterback has a real shot at winning MVP.