By Nick Forbes Asst. sports editor
As the 2016 NFL season finds itself in the closing stages of the regular season, it is time once again to start narrowing down the finalists for the coveted Most Valuable Player award.
As per usual, a handful of quarterbacks lead the pack, putting up career numbers with their respective teams and boasting some of the best records in the NFL. Lurking right behind the usual quarterback suspects is a rookie phenom who has taken the league by storm. Here is the MVP case for the current frontrunners in the tightest race in years.
According to ESPN rankings released on Nov. 30, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is the favorite to win the award. The third year quarterback, who has eclipsed 3,000 yards passing every year since entering the NFL, has given Raiders fans something they can finally cheer about: a winning season.
2016 marks the first time Oakland will experience a winning season since 2002 when they won the NFC. In 2016, Carr has been nothing short of electric, promoting hope in the Bay area.
Through 12 weeks, Carr has totaled 3,115 yards with 22 touchdowns and a 100.5 passer rating. But with Carr, hiding behind the numbers do not really do him justice. The passion and desire to win that Carr plays with is almost unrivaled.
His most recent victory over a surging Carolina Panthers squad featured Carr dislocating his pinky in two places before reentering the game to toss the game tying touchdown in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
Carr then led the Raiders on an 82-yard drive to set up what would be the game-winning field goal.
Carr is looking like the real deal, and regardless of the outcome of this years MVP race, it is safe to say that Carr will be one of the next elite quarterback in the NFL.
Behind Carr sits a man who is no stranger to the MVP conversation, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady, who could logically be included in this conversation every year, is no doubt better than Carr, but a four-game suspension at the beginning of this year has hindered his numbers and his legitimacy as an MVP candidate this season.
But while the numbers were hindered, they don’t lie. The Patriots are 9-2 entering week 13, and in the seven games he has played thus far, Brady has thrown for 2,201 yards.
What’s more impressive is his 18 touchdowns compared to just one interception during this time span. And to think that Brady has performed this well given the Patriots’ offensive adversity, with injuries to all-pro tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, Brady’s case gains a little credibility.
Brady’s fire has burned extra bright this season because Brady is not only playing with a chip on his shoulder, but rather the entire boulder. The asinine four-game suspension handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell due to the infamous “Deflategate” scandal enraged Patriots and NFL fans alike.
An MVP award would be the second-biggest middle finger Brady could give Goodell this season.
Behind Brady is Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Yeah, his numbers are pretty on paper—3,516 yards with 26 touchdowns—but the Falcons are still just 7-4, and in an offense featuring one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones and a more than solid running back-by-committee, it’s hard to say that Ryan is the most valuable player.
Plus, Ryan’s just kind of boring so we’re going to skip him and talk about someone more exciting.
Ezekiel Elliott. Just wow. The Cowboys’ rookie running back has lit up the field this season like no one has before. His 1,199 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns through 11 games are reminiscent of Adrian Peterson’s breakout rookie season in 2007.
Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones has said there are no plans to decrease Elliott’s workload in the home stretch of the season, meaning it’s likely Elliott will surpass the marks set by Peterson in his rookie campaign.
Despite the power, the numbers and the overall flash of Zeke Elliott, he will not win the MVP vote. Why? Not just because he is a running back in a league that puts quarterbacks on the highest pedestal, but rather because Elliott is working behind one of the best offensive lines in NFL history.
There is an argument to be made that you, the person sitting at home reading this right now, could rush for 1,000 yards behind this powerhouse offensive line.
There you have it, the case for the top four frontrunners in the MVP race.
But who knows, with a lot of football left to be played, the NFL has taught us that anything can happen.