Jalen Hurts, Trey Lance or … Brett Rypien for MVP? Barnwell makes the case for 13 players

    Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

It should be easy to project who will win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. For the last half-decade, though, identifying the MVP in advance has been a surprisingly difficult task. With the benefit of hindsight, the winners have been easy choices — the races haven’t often been all that close — but none of those players was an obvious choice before the season in which they won.

In 2017, Tom Brady won his third award, but it took a torn ACL in the left knee of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz to clear a path for Brady. Wentz was coming off a rookie season in which he looked, well, like a rookie. Patrick Mahomes had one career start before his stunning 2018 MVP campaign. Lamar Jackson had supposedly been figured out by the Chargers in the playoffs before dominating the league the following season, winning MVP unanimously.

The last two years might have been even more wild in their own way. Aaron Rodgers’ numbers had been declining toward league-average over a three-year span before he dropped 48 touchdown passes on the league in 2020. Then, in a world in which voters almost always prefer to reward breakout stars and players posting career years at the expense of steady greatness, Rodgers won the award again last season.

While the players who won are all quarterbacks, we’re left with a lot to evaluate. Pick the second-year breakout quarterback, or pick the wily veteran who has been left for dead by his own team. Go back a little further and you’ll find the good player who broke out unexpectedly in a Kyle Shanahan offense, and the running back who came off a torn ACL. Oh, and Tom Brady. Pick him, too.

Let’s run through the kinds of MVP seasons we’ve seen from the past, and try to identify a comparable player who could have that sort of year in 2022. I’ll work my way backward, starting in 2021 and hitting 13 different seasons, including the past six:


The candidate: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

The MVP season comp: Rodgers in 2021

The story in 2021: Rodgers was unstoppable, even when the Packers didn’t get him the help everyone expected.

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