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There have been quite a few surprises through the first four weeks of the season thus far, with teams such as the Panthers, Bengals and Cardinals getting off to great starts. And although we’re only about a quarter of the way through the season, the top contenders have begun to separate themselves from the pretenders.
The same goes for the preliminary race for NFL MVP. There are some strong candidates that have emerged, including Josh Allen, Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray, and also some dark horses who could factor into the mix with a strong finish to the season.
At the quarter mark, we picked every team’s most valuable player through the first four weeks, and it hasn’t been all about the quarterbacks.
Buffalo Bills: QB Josh Allen – Buffalo’s defense is the much more impressive side of the ball so far, but the jury is still out based on the level of competition they’ve faced. Let’s check back with them in a few weeks. Considering that, it’s hard to go anywhere else with this than Josh Allen. The Bills QB started slow, like the rest of the team, in Week 1 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, he has had an AFC Player of the Week honor after a five-TD game and in the other two, his stats aren’t at all padded because starters were pulled since games were blowouts. Nonetheless, Allen is playing like he was during his breakout last season. – Nick Wojton, Bills Wire
Miami Dolphins: CB Xavien Howard – Miami has struggled early in the season, but their brightest spot remains their All-Pro cornerback. Howard continues to be the rock of the defense, playing 98% of the snaps through the first four weeks. He leads the team in passes defended with five, which is also good enough for fifth in the NFL. Howard’s forced fumble of Damien Harris during the Dolphins’ Week 1 matchup with New England all but guaranteed the team’s only win thus far. Without him, they could be sitting here winless. – Mike Masala, Dolphins Wire
New England Patriots: LB Matthew Judon – There is no single Patriot who has done more to help the team win games, even if Mac Jones has been surprisingly solid through four games. Judon had 4.5 sacks, 16 tackles and eight quarterback hits. He also had an absurd five pressures from his team’s 11 against Tom Brady’s Bucs in Week 4. – Henry McKenna, Patriots Wire
New York Jets: LB C.J. Mosley – A few Jets defenders have a case here, but let’s go with Mosley. The slimmed-down 29-year-old has gained a step despite missing most of the last two seasons, leading to a scorching hot start in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defense. Mosley has a sizable head start in the team lead for tackles (37), and he’s also picked up a sack and a defended pass. Mosley’s real value has come from his leadership, though, quickly grasping a new scheme and taking charge of an otherwise inexperienced defense. – Gary Phillips, Jets Wire
Houston Texans: QB Tyrod Taylor — Although he has started two games, playing six total quarters, the Houston offense has mustered 16 points in the 10 quarters since his hamstring injury in Week 2 compared to the 51 when he was playing. The Texans went from 34.0 points per game to 6.4. Houston has no optimism until Taylor returns. – Mark Lane, Texans Wire
Indianapolis Colts: DT DeForest Buckner — The Colts defense hasn’t been what we thought it would be through four weeks. If they didn’t have DeForest Buckner, though, it would be an even scarier sight. He may only have one sack thus far, but Buckner leads the defense with 13 pressures and five quarterback hits, per Pro Football Focus. He’s eating up double teams in the process and it’s only a matter of time before he hits a hot streak. – Kevin Hickey, Colts Wire
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB James Robinson — As of the last few weeks, the Jags have used Robinson more to lower Trevor Lawrence’s passing attempts and the offense has gotten better as a result. In fact, Lawrence had his best game last week on Thursday Night Football, when Robinson totaled his season-high in carries (18). Not only has Robinson helped the rookie quarterback, though, he’s also become the team’s touchdown leader with three, all of which came in the Jags’ last two games. – James Johnson, Jaguars Wire
Tennessee Titans: RB Derrick Henry — The King has been Tennessee’s best player on offense by far and continues to carry a unit that has struggled overall. Henry, whose 60-yard touchdown run in Week 2 sparked the Titans’ improbable comeback win over the Seattle Seahawks, is off to the best start of his career. He has three 100-yard performances in four contests, and his 510 rushing yards leads the NFL. The Alabama product is on pace to rush for 2,000 yards and break the single-season rushing record held by Hall of Famer, Eric Dickerson (2,105 yards). – Mike Moraitis, Titans Wire
Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson — Jackson has not only been the Ravens’ MVP so far over the first month of the 2021 season, he’s quietly entered himself into the actual MVP conversation as well. He’s currently on pace to finish the year with 4,577 passing yards and 1,186 rushing yards and has looked a lot more calm as well as confident in the pocket. He’s hitting his receivers in stride, and even when opposing defenses focus on stopping the run and “force” Jackson to throw, he makes them pay in a big way. He was expected to take another step forward in 2021, and so far he’s done just that. – Kevin Oestreicher, Ravens Wire
Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow — Who else? Back early from a season-ending knee injury suffered 10 games into his rookie year, Burrow has managed to take an early second-year leap before even playing 16 games. He’s led the Bengals to a 3-1 record, completing 72.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns against four interceptions. The LSU connection with Ja’Marr Chase (four TDs) has corrected the lack of a vertical attack from a season ago and Burrow himself has checked into a game-winning play that sets up a winning field goal twice. To top it all off, he led the Bengals to wins in Pittsburgh and on primetime. — Chris Roling, Bengals Wire
Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett – Garrett has caused havoc for offenses for his entire career but has taken it to the next level in 2021. His breakout 4.5 sack game against the Chicago Bears will get most of the attention but he has also opened things up for the rest of his teammates, especially Jadeveon Clowney. The former top overall pick has missed time due to injuries, suspension and COVID-19 the last couple of seasons. If he can put together a full, healthy year in 2021 he could be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year and possibly enter, but unlikely to win, the NFL’s MVP conversation. – Jared Mueller, Browns Wire
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB T.J. Watt — All you had to do is see how the entire defense played in Watt’s absence for all or part of two games to understand how important he is to this team. Watt is the premier pass rusher in the NFL and one of the best all-around defenders. The Steelers gave Watt a massive contract extension at the start of the season and he plans to live up to it. With an offense in search of a direction, the Steelers defense has to lead this team and this means Watt. – Curt Popejoy, Steelers Wire
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Denver Broncos: OLB Von Miller — Miller is an easy MVP choice for Denver after he earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in September. Miller has fully recovered from the ankle injury that sidelined him last season and he’s back to playing at a Pro Bowl level. Through the first four weeks of the season, Miller has totaled 13 tackles, seven quarterback hits, seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 4.5 sacks. — Jon Heath, Broncos Wire
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes — It’s hard to say that any player has been more instrumental to the Chiefs’ successes in 2021 than Mahomes. He leads the league in passing touchdowns through four games with 14, while also ranking in the top-5 in passing yards with 1,218. While he shares some responsibility for the team’s two losses, he was also the only reason they were hanging around in those two games. If Mahomes keeps his current pace, he’ll throw 60 touchdown passes this season, ousting Peyton Manning’s NFL record of 55 set in 2013. — Charles Goldman, Chiefs Wire
Las Vegas Raiders: QB Derek Carr — Despite a lackluster performance on Monday Night Football in Week 4, Carr has been incredible this season. He currently leads the NFL in passing yards while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. Carr has been much more aggressive throwing the ball down and he has the Raiders right in the thick of things in the AFC. The biggest concern is if the offensive line can keep him upright. Otherwise, he is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. –– Marcus Mosher, Raiders Wire
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Justin Herbert — Herbert has continued to take the league by storm following his Rookie of the Year campaign despite all the talks of a sophomore slump. After a slow start to the year in which he threw just two touchdown passes to three interceptions in his first two games, he went off for seven touchdowns and a 2-0 record over his last two — including a win over Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes on the road. In each of those four games, Herbert put the team in the most optimal positions to succeed with an array of great throws, especially in crucial situations. The sky’s the limit with Herbert under center. — Gavino Borquez, Chargers Wire
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Dallas Cowboys: QB Dak Prescott – Shocker, right? The Cowboys are off to a hot start, and while those who follow the team closely know this was possible, the national media is just catching on to what has been brewing in Dallas. Prescott leads the charge, throwing for 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions, one of which was a maddening drop that fell to the defender. The funny part is, the running game is leading the charge for Dallas and it’s a complete reversal to how the team was built early in Prescott’s career. Now the running game eats because defenses are scared to leave the plethora of passing options unchecked with a QB as surgical as Prescott is at the moment. – K.D. Drummond, Cowboys Wire
New York Giants: QB Daniel Jones — There’s no question about it and it has nothing to do with Jones being the “best of the worst.” Jones has not only taken that Year 3 leap, he’s burst through the wall like the Kool Aid man. Jones is among the league’s top quarterbacks in nearly every single statistical category and analytic metric including passing grade (second only to Tom Brady). He’s currently on pace for over 5,800 total yards, which would be an all-time NFL record. If he can continue playing at this high a level and his receivers reduce their number of drops, he’ll soon enter the NFL MVP conversation. – Dan Benton, Giants Wire
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Jalen Hurts — Javon Hargrave’s historic start at defensive tackle almost got the vote, but how can you not roll with Hurts on this one. The second-year quarterback has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,167 yards, while having thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions, with a passer rating of 101.1. Hurts’ 387 passing yards without an interception against the Chiefs was the most by an Eagles quarterback since Nick Foles accomplished the feat. – Glenn Erby, The Eagles Wire
Washington Football Team: WR Terry McLaurin — This is a close one between McLaurin and quarterback Taylor Heinicke. However, McLaurin is not only the MVP through four weeks, he’s the best player on the team. While the defense has failed to live up to expectations, McLaurin continues to exceed expectations. McLaurin is the player defenses attempt to take out of the game, yet makes an impact in every game. He has 25 receptions for 354 yards with three touchdowns and is on pace for his best season yet. — Bryan Manning, Washington Wire
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Atlanta Falcons: RB Cordarrelle Patterson — This is an easy choice, which probably explains why Atlanta is 1-3 after four weeks of football. Patterson was the cash-strapped Falcons’ only notable free-agent acquisition, signing a one-year, $3 million contract during the offseason. Despite playing with WR Calvin Ridley, TE Kyle Pitts and QB Matt Ryan, Patterson has been the team’s most dependable offensive player, and it’s not even close. Through four games, he has 18 catches for 235 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions, while adding 119 rushing yards and another score on the ground. — Matt Urben, Falcons Wire
Carolina Panthers: WR DJ Moore – Yeah, you might be thinking, “Um, isn’t this supposed to be QB Sam Darnold?” And while you could have a case for him, there’s not been a player on this roster more valuable and more consistent on a weekly basis than Moore. The fourth-year wideout is determined to make this campaign his breakout one, having already reeled in 30 throws for 398 yards (fourth-most in the NFL) and three touchdowns. He’s also currently tied for the league in first-down receptions, alongside Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, with 21. Moore’s torrid pace has him headed towards 128 grabs, 1,692 yards and 13 scores in his age 24 season. –Anthony Rizzuti, Panthers Wire
New Orleans Saints: QB Jameis Winston – You could make a case for Alvin Kamara or Marshon Lattimore as the team’s most valuable player, but I’ll argue for Winston. He has turned the ball over just twice through four games while scoring nine times (once on the run during a broken play) and shown a degree of arm strength that’s been missing in New Orleans for quite some time. He’s on pace to throw just 8.5 picks this year, which would rank behind Drew Brees’ 2017 season and Aaron Brooks’ 2003 campaign (8 each) for the fewest interceptions by a quarterback in a single season during team history. And we should acknowledge that Brooks had 14 fumbles that year while Brees had 5, and so far Winston has none. He’s proven he can protect the ball. Hopefully soon we can see what he can do if Sean Payton takes the training wheels off once his best receivers get healthy. — John Sigler, Saints Wire
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Tom Brady – No surprise here, Brady is still playing at an extremely high level in his 22nd NFL season. He’s No. 2 in the NFL in passing yards, tied for third in touchdown passes, and the GOAT has led the defending Super Bowl champs to a 3-1 start despite a CVS receipt worth of injuries on both sides of the ball. Offseason knee surgery repaired the torn MCL Brady played with for the entire 2020 season, giving him mobility we didn’t see from him last year. Perhaps most importantly, Brady has only committed three turnovers (two interceptions, one lost fumble) through the first four games. –Luke Easterling, Bucs Wire
Chicago Bears: RB David Montgomery – Despite the Bears offense ranking among the worst in the NFL, Montgomery has been playing at a high level in his third season. Montgomery has been arguably the best running back in the NFC. He ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (309), fourth in yards after contact (148) and is tied for the second-most touchdowns (3). He’s recorded two 100-yard games this season, despite an offensive play caller that isn’t keen to running the ball. The offense essentially runs through Montgomery, which makes his knee sprain, which will sideline him for 4-5 weeks, even more brutal. — Alyssa Barbieri, Bears Wire
Detroit Lions: RB Jamaal Williams – He’s split the backfield duties with D’Andre Swift, but Williams has been the more effective runner and more consistent presence in the passing game. Williams leads the Lions with 187 rushing yards at 4.5 yards-per-carry and scored a team-high two touchdowns. He’s also caught 13 of his 14 targets in the passing game. Detroit’s offense has only been sporadically effective in the first four weeks, but Williams has been a big part of those successes in his first season with the Lions. – Jeff Risdon, Lions Wire
Green Bay Packers: QB Aaron Rodgers – Making the case for WR Davante Adams (31 catches) wouldn’t be difficult, but the reigning MVP is always the most important player in Green Bay. Rodgers hasn’t played perfect football through four games, but he does have eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions over the team’s three-game winning streak, and he led a dramatic game-winning drive in San Francisco, providing a signature early-season moment. His ability to get the ball out fast has greatly helped a rebuilt offensive line missing its two best players (David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins). This team might have been big in trouble coming out of Week 1’s letdown without the three-time MVP leading the way back to winning ways. – Zach Kruse, Packers Wire
Minnesota Vikings: QB Kirk Cousins – Let’s go with the obvious choice. Besides this past game, Kirk Cousins has been stellar for Minnesota. He has 1,121 passing yards, nine touchdown passes and just one interception. Cousins’ knock has oftentimes been that he’s a good-but-not-great quarterback. Well, Cousins has been great, it just hasn’t made a difference in the team’s overall record. – Jack White, Vikings Wire
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Arizona Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray – Murray not only is the MVP of the Cardinals. He is the early favorite to be the league MVP. He is third in the league with 1,273 passing yards. He has completed over 75% of his passes for three straight games and is doing it while throwing the ball down the field, averaging 9.5 yards per attempt. He has taken command of the offense and once again has exceeded extremely high expectations. He is running the ball less but still has three rushing touchdowns. He is the catalyst to the Cardinals’ No. 1 offense in the league. – Jess Root, Cardinals Wire
Los Angeles Rams: QB Matthew Stafford – Stafford has not only met the sky-high expectations that were set for him after being traded to the Rams, but he’s exceeded them. Outside of his two interceptions on deep shots, Stafford has been excellent in Los Angeles, averaging 305.5 yards per game with 11 touchdowns and a stellar passer rating of 117.6. The Rams offense has improved significantly and Stafford is the primary reason for that, already meshing well in Sean McVay’s scheme. That’s not to say they wouldn’t be a winning team without him, but he’s played a big part in their three wins. – Cameron DaSilva, Rams Wire
San Francisco 49ers: WR Deebo Samuel – There was a school of thought entering the 2021 season that Samuel’s ideal role would be working at or near the line of scrimmage as something of a gadget player. He’s aggressively shed that label through four weeks by racking up a league-high 490 receiving yards on 28 receptions while tying his career-high with three receiving touchdowns. What’s even more impressive is that Samuel is impacting the game at all three levels of the passing game in an offense that ranks 19th in pass attempts, 21st in completions and 31st in intended air yards per attempt according to Pro Football Reference. He is ostensibly the lone bright spot in a foundering 49ers offense. The 2019 second-round pick could elevate himself into the elite echelon of NFL pass catchers if the 49ers get even slightly above average quarterback play the rest of the year. – Kyle Madson, Niners Wire
Seattle Seahawks: QB Russell Wilson – Wilson has settled into a rhythm quick with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and looks as capable as we’ve ever seen in his 10-year career. He is currently leading the NFL in passer rating (129.9) and yards per attempt (9.6) and has yet to throw an interception. Without Wilson’s heroics, Seattle is probably an 0-4 team right now. – Tim Weaver, Seahawks Wire