MVP race wide open after Aaron Rodgers goes down

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 2: Running back Kareem Hunt
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 2: Running back Kareem Hunt /

Going into week six, Aaron Rodgers’ stunning play had him leading the chase for the league’s MVP. A thrilling fourth quarter game-winning drive in Dallas last Sunday solidified that much.

However, as we walk away from another crazy weekend in the NFL, the Packers QB’s hopes of a third MVP award are as strong as his suspected broken collarbone.

It was a sorry picture watching number 12 being carted off the field early in the game in Minnesota. Green Bay’s playoff aspirations likely disappeared as Rodgers was driven off down the tunnel.

But, the MVP race is now as wide open as any in recent memory. Especially after Alex Smith and the Chiefs failed to fire for the first time in 2017 against Steelers later in the afternoon.

The usual candidates aren’t the front-runners. Though Tom Brady could well move himself into contention with a strong finish to the year. The two-time winner is almost single-handedly keeping the Patriots afloat and has a strong case. But, lets focus on those looking to break into the league’s elite club.

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So, who are some of the new faces leading the chase for their first MVP award at this early stage?

Alex Smith

The 13-year vet is having his best season as a pro by a distance. Smith leads the league in passer rating, completion rate and yards per attempt for any quarterback with more than 100 attempts.

Prior to week seven he ranked third in passing yards and touchdowns. Inclusive of the Raiders game Smith is yet to throw a pick on 228 attempts.

The former 49er has led the Chiefs to a 5-2 start, tied for the most wins in the league. Despite losing, and not playing all that well, at home to Pittsburgh on Sunday, Smith actually enhanced his remarkable statistical start to the season.

He tied Randall Cunningham’s record of 12 touchdown passes in the first six games of a season without throwing a pick. And, he became just the fourth QB to have a passer rating over 100 through the opening six games.

Brady, Rodgers and Carson Palmer were the others to achieve this feat. The Patriots’ and Packers’ QB’s both went on two win the MVP award in those seasons.

Smith’s improvement in the passing game has been key to the Chiefs’ early success. The former number one overall pick has been more willing, and more successful, with the deep ball.

He has 18 completions over 20 yards in 2017, compared to just 39 on the whole season in 2016.

Smith is also gaining more yards on the ground. He currently has 121 rushing yards through seven games at 4.5 yards per attempt. Conversely, he managed just 134 yards in 15 games last year.

The 33-year-old is playing out of his skin this season. His leadership and grasp of the offense are at an elite level. He is translating that into on field production like never before.

Despite a blip in his playing level against the Steelers, expect Smith to continue on an upward trajectory. Armed with versatile, dynamic weapons in the passing and running games, the Chiefs signal caller has everything he needs to put together an MVP worthy season.

Carson Wentz

The Eagles own the league’s only 5-1 record and their second year quarterback has a lot to do with that. The 2016 first round pick has had a strong start to the year and is has already made this his team.

Wentz had a stellar outing in an impressive win over Carolina on Thursday, throwing three touchdowns. He has thrown for three scores in consecutive games now and has 13 td passes on the year to just three picks.

The North Dakota State product is having a statistically excellent season. He ranks fifth in the league for passing yards and tied second for touchdowns thrown.

Additionally he is completing over 60% of his throws and has a passer rating just shy of 100. These are outstanding numbers for a second year player and his intangibles are probably even better.

Wentz’ leadership and maturity have won over his teammates and coaching staff. He is undoubtedly the face of the Eagles franchise. His accuracy, decision-making and efficiency in the red zone are areas he has improved upon markedly from 2016.

In the red zone this season Wentz is completing 61.5% of his throws compared to 48% in 2016, and his passer rating is up from 90 to 112.8 . He has also thrown nine scores through six games compared to 12 in the whole of the 2016 season.

Wentz is yet to throw a red zone interception is consistently translating field position into points for his team. He is putting the Eagles in a position to win every week and make a deep playoff run if he can continue at this rate.

The 24-year-old is playing smart, high level football. His composure has been excellent as is evident by the fact that he hasn’t thrown a single pick when trailing.

Additionally his passer rating is better (102.2) when his team are behind than when they are in the lead (97.0).

As long as the Eagles continue to win, and their young quarterback is leading them with such force, he will have a strong case to be the league’s MVP.

Kareem Hunt

Smith’s rookie teammate has taken the league by storm. The third round pick out of Toledo is already shattering records just six games into his NFL career.

In week one, the rookie back contributed 246 total yards of offense against the Patriots. That set a record for the most yards from scrimmage for a rookie debut in week one.

After another dynamic display against the Steelers in which he gained 110 yards from scrimmage, Hunt is now the only player in NFL history to have exceeded 100 yards from scrimmage in all of his first six games as a pro.

Hunt leads the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage. He is a true dual threat out of the back field and is as dynamic a playmaker as there is in the league.

His 1002 total yards and 6 scores are a big reason why the Chiefs boast a top five rushing attack and top three total offense. Hunt is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and over 11 yards per reception.

He also leads the league in rushing yards per game with 102.4 and has by far the most runs of over 20 yards with 8.

The 22-year-old runs with a unique mix of power and agility, giving him the ability to be effective through the middle and on the outside. His rapid feet and elusive running style in open play make him a dangerous receiver who is able to make chunk yardage after the catch with scary regularity.

On current pace, Hunt would fall short of Eric Dickerson’s 1808 rookie rushing yard record. However, he is on pace for 2290 total yards from scrimmage which would place him 11th all time.

He could feasibly better Chris Johnson’s all time mark of 2509 yards in a single season.

Running backs need exceptional statistical seasons to win an MVP in the modern game. Quarterback’s have won 9 of the past 10 awards. Adrian Peterson’s 2000 yard season was the last time a back won the award.

However, if Hunt were to achieve such a feat, and pass the best efforts of hall of fame backs such as Dickerson, Barry Sanders and OJ Simpson, his case would be hard to ignore.

To do it as a rookie would make it even more remarkable. Hunt will have a hard time keeping this unprecedented start going.

But, as the focal point of the Chiefs rushing attack, he will get plenty of opportunity to run the ball. Additionally, the presence of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill will give him plenty of space in the passing game to work his magic.

Hunt will win this award if his numbers hold up through 16 games. If he does so, he will become the youngest winner of the award since Jim Brown.