With the halfway mark of the season approaching rapidly, it’s time to start discussing which players have stood out from the pack as particularly impactful.
And where better to start than with a look at the MVP race? While the MVP award is usually a QB-heavy title (13 of the last 17 winners have been quarterbacks), there are several players who have shown that their team can be successful without getting brilliant production from the signal caller.
So, how do things look in the race for the MVP award so far?
10 Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks
The candidacy of Earl Thomas actually goes back to last season, when he broke his leg and the vaunted Seahawks defense collapsed without him.
Back on the field this season, the Seattle defense has once again been fearsome, right up until he left with a hamstring issue against Houston on Sunday and the Texans offense kicked into gear.
Thomas' stat-line of two interceptions, five passes defensed, 38 tackles, and a forced fumble don't stand out, and most of his play is done off camera on gameday, but his importance to the Seahawks is impossible to overstate. His range, his near-clairvoyant ability to see what the offense is doing, and his sure tackling make him the best defensive player in the NFL today.
9 Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Adam Thielen may have only registered his first touchdown of the season last week, but he is second in the NFL in yards and catches behind Antonio Brown.
He is on this list instead of Brown though, due to the rash of injuries that have happened around him. Dalvin Cook, Sam Bradford, and Stefon Diggs have all been hurt at some point, but the Vikings offense keeps ticking because Thielen has some of the best hands in the NFL today.
His route running has been exceptional all year and he has created space against everyone. His chemistry with both Bradford and Case Keenum is evidence of his versatility and talent. He may not be a name known to everyone, but he should be.
8 Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson has long been the force that makes the Seahawks offense tick, but that has never been more evident than this season. The Seahawks ground game is, when you take Wilson's rushes away, managing just 3.24 yards per carry, which is truly dreadful. The blocking in front of Wilson has been a disaster, and yet he is able to wheel away from pass rushers and deliver pin-point bombs down field or touch passes over the middle.
His talents have been clear for a long time, but his importance has never been greater to Seattle. Next week he will overtake Chris Carson as the leading rusher for the team, which is just crazy.
7 Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson is having the kind of impact you rarely see from a rookie quarterback. He has revitalized the Houston Texans franchise after years of trying to turn coal into diamonds under center.
Since taking over from Tom Savage after just two quarters of the first game, Watson has completed 61.8% of his passes, thrown 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions, and has kept more plays alive with his feet than he has any right to.
Not only is his play effective, but he is dazzlingly entertaining on the football field, and while the Texans are just 3-4, he has given them a chance to win against both New England and Seattle on the road.
With JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus on the sidelines for the rest of the season, the Texans will rise and fall with Watson, and right now that doesn't look like a bad thing.
6 Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Kareem Hunt exploded onto the scene by destroying the Patriots on opening night, and has continued from there. He leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,070 and has found the endzone six times.
He is averaging 6.15 yards per touch, and while his MVP candidacy may be affected by Andy Reid limiting his exposure to injuries down the stretch, Hunt has been a wonderful addition to an exciting offense.
5 Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Fournette leads the NFL in yards per game with 99.3, and despite every team being well aware that he is going to get the ball, he has been incredibly difficult to stop. Averaging 4.6 yards a carry and doing enough in the passing game to not be a complete giveaway to the defense, Fournette has put the Jaguars offense on his back and provided enough yardage and points to allow the defense do it's thing.
His presence has made Blake Bortles far less damaging to the Jaguars offense, and that alone is enough to make our list.
4 Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith is not someone you associate with MVP, but you really should.
Smith has been brilliant this season, completing 69.1% of his passes, putting up 16 touchdowns without a single interception, and registering an NFL-best 8.4 yards per attempt.
The Chiefs offense is full of wrinkles and unique plays that have confused and dismayed defenses all year, and Smith has been able to marshall it all brilliantly, but most important to the Chiefs evolution from also-ran to Super Bowl contender is Smith's willingness to throw deep this year. The use of lateral plays has been bringing safeties into the run game, and Smith has been able to exploit that with downfield throws this year far more than normal.
At 6-2 the Chiefs are one of the best teams in the league, and Smith has grown into a leading light under center.
3 Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
The only surprise might be to see Brady's name already.
The 40-year-old passer leads the NFL in yards per game with 317.6, 30 more than any other quarterback. He is on pace for a 5,000 yard season and has 16 touchdowns to just two picks.
The Patriots defense has been abysmal this year, forcing Brady into god mode to keep up with opponents, and he has more than done so.
Brady has integrated his new running backs and Brandin Cooks very well, and has coped without his safety net Julian Edelman all while under more pressure than last season. As a team the Patriots may be flawed this year, but with #12 under center they are as dangerous as ever.
2 Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers started the season with big expectations but looked for all the world like a team stuck in preseason mode. Over the last few weeks though, things have returned to normal.
Pittsburgh's three-game win streak has all-but confirmed their AFC North title for another year, and it has come on the back of Le'Veon Bell. He has averaged 28 carries and 116 yards a game in October, found the endzone four times and is on pace for a massive 388 carries and 1,520 yards.
The Steelers return to form and wins is directly related to leaning on Bell and his unique style, which is still giving defenses headaches.
1 Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Our midseason MVP will only surprise you if you haven't really been paying attention. For as good as Brady, Bell, and Smith have been, Carson Wentz has been more valuable.
The sophomore quarterback has made a huge leap forward this season, completing 61% of his passes for 2,063 yards, 19 touchdowns, and five picks. His chemistry with the new targets acquired in the offseason, as well as Nelson Agholor's improvements, have lifted the Eagles to the best record in football and a legitimate Super Bowl contender despite a poor ground game.
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