Analysing the MVP candidates

As we arrive upon Week 11, this season’s MVP candidates are now coming into full view, so it’s a good time to take a deeper look at some of the favourites for the award to see if they’re truly indispensable, or simply elevated by players around them and generous media coverage.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

I’ll preface this by saying Matt Ryan has been spectacular to watch this season. The Atlanta Falcons are the top scoring offense in the league and you simply can’t do that without strong quarterback play. His chemistry with Julio Jones has reached a new echelon and it seems like he makes throws to new receivers every week. It’s unbelievable to think this is the same Matt Ryan who threw redzone picks for fun last year.

However, while Matty Ice deserves a Most Improved Player award, he’s not playing at an MVP-calibre level. MVPs are players who can lift their team out of bad situations almost single-handedly and, with this dynamic offense, Ryan is never going to be on his own. He has the best wide receiver in the league (and one of the best of all time) in Julio Jones, along with versatile tailbacks in Telvin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, who can even create mismatches in the superhuman Denver secondary. Center Alex Mack has quietly enjoyed the best season of his career, too, creating gaping holes and giving Ryan sufficient time to execute Atlanta’s exciting play-action-heavy offense.

Verdict: I’m sorry, Matt.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Now, this is a tough one. For the last few years, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has reached almost legendary status. In fact, they’re so great that Dallas were happy to let DeMarco Murray leave after leading the league in rushing. His replacement, Darren McFadden, managed over 1000 yards from scrimmage in 2015, even though Tony Romo’s absence made it glaringly obvious to defenses that a run was coming more often than not on first and second down.

Darren McFadden is now behind Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris on the Dallas depth chart and, Elliott, in his rookie season, has already rushed for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. They’re astonishing statistics for anyone, never mind a rookie fresh out of college.

If we can somehow ignore the outstanding Dallas O-line for a minute, Elliott is an incredible running back. His breakaway speed makes him tough to tackle and, even after contact, he’s often able to spin or stumble forward for extra yards. In the preseason, even Seattle Seahawks safety and destructive tackler Kam Chancellor praised Elliott’s toughness. He doesn’t have the shape of a prototypical power running back such as LeGarrette Blount or Adrian Peterson, but his phenomenal speed and quick decision-making mean he’s yet to be properly held in check.

Verdict:
Maybe. Ezekiel Elliott is putting up extraordinary numbers, but MVP status is questionable when he’s behind an offensive line that helped Ryan McFadden put up 1,000 yards with Kellen Moore and Matt Cassel at quarterback.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Being Donald Trump’s BFF and having a seemingly irrational intolerance of strawberries is enough to disqualify most people from an MVP race, but it’s Tom Brady we’re talking about here.

From his return in Week 5 to the Seahawks game last week, Brady was playing at an MVP level. A healthy Rob Gronkowski helps, obviously, but the Patriots’ playbook relies on their quarterback’s fast release and reliable accuracy. Fast, efficient route runners such as Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan depend on the ball landing in exactly the right area and Brady was delivering week after week.

Then, the Seahawks came along. After throwing for at least two touchdowns in each of his first 4 games, Brady struggled against the Seahawks pass-rush and didn’t throw a touchdown for the first time this season. Is there anything to worry about? Probably not. Brady was still able to throw over 300 yards and the game was extremely competitive, but it’ll be interesting to see if other teams can replicate Seattle’s formula.

Verdict: For the time being, Brady is a candidate, but he will need to deliver in almost every game after missing the first four.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

After the retirement of the legendary Calvin Johnson, many assumed that the Detroit Lions would be entering a transition period this season.

Instead, Matthew Stafford has had the season of his life. After previously being blamed for irresponsible plays and throwing into tight windows, Stafford has taken the Detroit offense on his back and led them to some enormous victories.

The highlight of his season so far was a sensational 23 second drive to take the game against the Minnesota Vikings into overtime, where he threw a touchdown to clinch the win. Stafford isn’t working with an elite receiver of Johnson’s calibre, but he is making smart decisions and bringing the best out of everyone around him.

Often operating in a no-huddle offense, Stafford has chosen the right concepts and spread the ball around confidently in an offense with few stars – who knew Anquan Boldin could be a legitimate redzone weapon in 2016?

Verdict: Yes, yes, yes. Stafford is the epitome of an MVP so far this season.

Agree? Disagree? Are there any players that you think have played better than these four? Feel free to drop Adam a line @AdamSmithBro on Twitter!