Peyton Manning has been far and away the best player in the NFL so far this season. His accuracy has been pinpoint and, even at age 37, he’s been more efficient than in any of his first 15 NFL seasons.
If the season ended today, Manning would be the easy vote for the MVP — likely running away with it unanimously. But, there are 13 weeks and at least a dozen games to be played for every team around the league, meaning a lot could happen between now and the end of the season. So, don’t go crowning the Broncos’ quarterback just yet.
Now that we’re a quarter of the way through the season, this seems like a good point to take a step back and evaluate where players stand and who is even deserving of MVP consideration. So, let’s dive in and see who the top-10 MVP candidates are entering Week 5.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos —
Stats: 75% completion percentage, 1,470 yards, 16 touchdowns, zero (0) interceptions
Manning easily takes the top spot on this list through four weeks. He has the Broncos’ offense scoring at a torrid pace — a league-leading 44.8 points per game — and he’s been as efficient as just about any quarterback in NFL history through four games. He leads quarterbacks in almost all relevant categories, including completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, interceptions and QB Rating (138.0). The Broncos are 4-0 and easily look like the best team in football, which certainly helps his case.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints –
Stats: 66.9% completion percentage, 1,434 yards, 11 total touchdowns (10 passing, one rushing) and four interceptions
The Saints are 4-0 and much of that has to do with Brees’ efficiency running the offense. He’s now thrown for 300-plus yards in all four games this season, extending his NFL-record streak to nine consecutive games, and he’s thrown three touchdowns or more in each of the past two games. He was my preseason pick to win the MVP, and he’s made a strong case for the award through four weeks.
3. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints —
Stats: 27 catches, 458 yds (2nd), six touchdowns (T-1st), 3 straight 100-yd games, TD in all 4 games
It might seem a bit unfair to have two Saints in the top 10, let alone the top five, but Graham deserves the recognition. He’s been damn near unstoppable in the red zone this season (six touchdowns) and continues to prove why he’s the best tight end in football. He has 100-plus yards in three straight games and has scored a touchdown in all four games. He also ranks second in receiving yards, behind only Atlanta’s Julio Jones, which is almost unheard of for a tight end.
4. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs —
Stats: 70 carries, 289 rushing yards; 23 catches, 213 receiving yards and four total touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving)
Charles’ place at this point on the list might come as a shock to many, but no one has been more important to the Chiefs’ offensive success than No. 25. He hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers on the ground like LeSean McCoy or Adrian Peterson, but he has been a major factor in both the running and passing games. He’s accounted for over 500 yards of total offense and four touchdowns on the season so far, and Kansas City wouldn’t be 4-0 without him.
5. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots –
Stats: 58.9% completion percentage, 1,014 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions
No one has done more with less this season than Brady. After starting the season without any of his top-five receiving options from 2012, Brady has found a comfort level with his young receivers and found a way to produce even without the likes of Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola. His numbers aren’t exactly the awe-inducing stats he’s had in years past, but his ability to make due with lesser talent is impressive enough to earn him a spot in the top five.
6. Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans —
Stats: 15 tackles, four interceptions, eight passes breakups, two fumble recoveries and one touchdown return (62 yards)
Defensive players don’t normally get much love in the MVP conversation, but Verner deserves some recognition for what he’s done so far this season. The Titans have a top-10 defense in almost every category this year, and Verner has been a major piece in that turnaround. His four interceptions are tied for the league lead, and he leads the NFL with eight pass breakups. The Titans are 3-1 entering Week 5 and much of that can be credited to the play of the defense and Verner.
7. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers –
Stats: 73.9% completion percentage, 1,199 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions
Apparently all Philip Rivers needed was a little Mike McCoy in his life to get him right again. After two disappointing seasons in San Diego, Rivers has rediscovered his Pro Bowl form this season. He ranks second only to Manning in completion percentage and touchdowns and has been far more efficient through four games this year than in almost any four-game stretch over the past few. The Chargers are just 2-2 on the season, but Rivers has them firmly back in the playoff picture again.
8. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys —
Stats: 72.4% completion percentage, 1,015 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception
Romo got his big-money extension this offseason, and he’s already started earning that $108 million. He’s completing passes at a higher rate than during any season in his career, he’s making good decisions with the football and he’s limiting mistakes. In fact, Romo looks more like the 2011 MVP-caliber Romo than the 2012 turnover-happy version. The Cowboys’ defense will need to do a better job of keeping opponents out of the end zone, but, even at 2-2, Romo looks like a surefire MVP candidate at this point.
9. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons —
Stats: 33 catches (2nd), 481 yards (1st) and two TDs, three straight w/ 100+ yards
If the Falcons were 3-1 instead of 1-3, Jones would be at least five spots higher on this list. He has been undoubtedly the best wide receiver in football over the first four weeks, and there isn’t an end in sight for the 24-year-old. Even after being held to just two catches and 12 yards through the first half against the Patriots, Jones managed to finish the night with six catches for 108 yards. He leads the NFL in receiving yards, ranks second in receptions and has caught at least six passes and gained at least 75 yards in each of the Falcons’ first four games. He is almost single-handedly keeping Atlanta competitive on offense right now.
10. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings —
Stats: 92 carries, 421 yards (4.6), 5 TDs (1st), 3 20+ runs, 88+ yards in all four games (2 100-yds)
If the Vikings weren’t winless, Peterson would also be further up this list. It’s going to be difficult for him to live up to the standards he set last season, but AP has been a monster — even if to a lesser extent — this year as well. He’s carried the ball more than any other running back through four weeks and ranks second in yards and tops in touchdowns. He already has two 100-yard games at this point in the year and continues to look better with each passing week. The Vikings aren’t destined for a playoff return, which will likely kill any real chances at a MVP repeat but his performance to the quarter mark is still noteworthy.