As recent winners have shown, the formula for receiving the NFL Most Valuable Player award is pretty simple: be the starting quarterback of one of the league’s best teams.
Through six weeks, the candidates are pretty easy to find. Most of them have performed at an elite level long enough to be recognized as stars. But one surprise name sticks out above the others: Ryan Tannehill.
Here’s a look at who’s trending up in the race for MVP through Week 6:
1. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (last week: No. 1)
Wilson and his undefeated Seahawks had a bye this past weekend, which is just about the only thing that can stop “Mr. Unlimited” from putting up huge numbers. He leads the league in touchdown passes (19), ranks fourth in yards per game (300.4) and is second in expected points added per play (0.375) while ranking first in completion percentage over expectation (7.7%). (A reminder: CPOE measures a quarterback’s performance relative to the difficulty of their throws.) A manageable remaining schedule, including games against the lowly Jets and Giants, puts Wilson in the driver’s seat for his first career MVP award.
2. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (last week: No. 3)
Ho hum, just another stellar season for Mahomes. The 2018 MVP completed 21 of 26 attempts in the pouring rain in Monday night’s 26-17 win over the Bills for 225 yards and two touchdowns, outdueling fellow MVP candidate Josh Allen. Mahomes has 15 touchdown passes to just one interception through six games, leading the Chiefs to a 5-1 record to keep pace with the Steelers, Titans and Ravens for the top seed in the AFC. He entered Monday fifth in adjusted net yards per attempt (8.31) — which includes sacks, plus a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns and a 45-yard penalty for interceptions — and sixth in EPA per play. The scary part? It doesn’t even feel like he’s playing up to his sky-high potential.
3. Titans QB Ryan Tannehill (last week: No. 5)
There might not be a better story in the league than Tannehill’s rise. As NBC Sports' Peter King pointed out, Tannehill ranks first in the NFL in passer rating (116.0) and yards per attempt (8.95) since the start of the 2019 season, and the Titans are 12-3 since replacing Marcus Mariota with Tannehill as the starter. In a wild 42-36 overtime victory over the Texans on Sunday, Tannehill threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-tying 7-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Brown with four seconds left in regulation. He leads all qualified passers in EPA per play (0.394) and ranks fourth in CPOE (5.7%). Both he and the Titans are forces to be reckoned with not only in the AFC, but the entire league.
4. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (last week: No. 2)
Rodgers' MVP campaign took a hit in Sunday’s 38-10 blowout loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. The two-time MVP was held to 16-for-35 passing for 160 yards, was sacked four times and threw his first two interceptions of the season, including a pick-six that ignited Tampa Bay’s run of 38 unanswered points. The Packers weren’t going to go undefeated, and even Rodgers said that the game can serve as a wake-up call for a young team. Rodgers' numbers (65.5% completion rate, 1,374 yards, 13 touchdown passes) still rank among the best in the league, and he’s No. 1 in ESPN’s QBR (86.1). He’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up for Sunday’s deflating loss.
5. Bills QB Josh Allen (last week: No. 4)
Allen’s strong start has lost some of its luster after disappointing performances in back-to-back losses. While Mahomes was able to push through the elements Monday night, Allen struggled with his accuracy in completing 14 of 27 passes for 122 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He did some damage on the ground, rushing eight times for a team-leading 42 yards, but it was too little, too late. He’s still performing at a high level, entering the game ranked third in EPA per play (0.364) and third in QBR (84.9), but he needs to keep the Bills in contention for the top seed in the NFC to earn this award.
In the running
Raiders QB Derek Carr
Baltimore Ravens Insider
Entering his bye week, Carr was completing a league-high 73.1% of his passes with 11 touchdowns, one interception and just eight sacks. He ranks fourth in EPA per play (0.341), eighth in QBR (79.8) and second in CPOE (6.1%). After beating the Chiefs for the first time in Carr’s career, the Raiders (3-2) have a chance to compete for the AFC West title. A matchup with the Buccaneers and Tom Brady in prime-time on Sunday night is a big opportunity for the 29-year-old Carr to state his MVP case.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
As long as the Ravens keep winning and Jackson keeps making highlight-reel plays, he’ll continue to be in the MVP discussion. Though he maintains an above-average QBR (76.3) and has limited his mistakes (two interceptions, one fumble), he’s been inconsistent and occasionally inaccurate, as evidenced by his -1.5% CPOE. In an EPA/CPOE composite ranking put together by Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, Jackson ranks in the bottom tier with Baker Mayfield, Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky, Carson Wentz, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold and Dwayne Haskins. That’s not the company a reigning MVP wants to keep, but Jackson has a bye week coming up and plenty of time to get back to his 2019 form.
Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
The GOAT stays the GOAT. Though some believe Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback ever, Brady continues to prove he’s the most successful. The three-time MVP threw for a pedestrian 166 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Packers, but he played a nearly flawless game, recording a QBR of 96.1. Through six games, he’s tied for second in the league with 14 touchdown passes to just four interceptions. Tampa Bay proved it’s a force to be reckoned with in the NFC, bolstering Brady’s MVP campaign.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Don’t count out the old guys just yet. A year after suffering a season-ending elbow injury, the 38-year-old Roethlisberger has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league in helping Pittsburgh to a 5-0 start. He’s completing a career-best 69.1% of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdown passes to just one interception, ranking ninth in EPA per play (0.244). He’s taking advantage of the young playmakers at his disposal, including star rookie receiver Chase Claypool, throwing touchdown passes to five different receivers this season. The Steelers’ next two games — at the Titans and at the Ravens — will tell us where Roethlisberger ranks in the MVP discussion.