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2020 NFL MVP Race: Can the youth movement continue?

With the new league year just around the corner, who are the early favorites and value plays when it comes to the 2020 NFL MVP race?

Entering the 2019 season one of the dominant questions in the NFL was whether the young quarterbacks were ready to take over the league. After Patrick Mahomes ended up running away with the 2018 award, all eyes were on him, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield to see whether they could step up to his plate, or would it be one of the old guard at the position that struck back against the young superstar. 2019 confirmed that youth movement, but the name was one that not many expected when the season began, Lamar Jackson. With Mahomes hampered by injury and missing time, Jackson pulled away from the challengers to win a unanimous MVP award. Jackson was just the third quarterback winner of the award since Peyton Manning won it for the second time in 2004. However, it was the third time in five years that the MVP award had been won by a quarterback under 30, suggesting that as we head towards the 2020 NFL MVP race, the youth movement is well and truly taking over the most valuable position in the NFL.

Before we dive into the odds for the 2020 NFL MVP race it is worth taking a look at some more numbers. Since 2000, the award has been won by a quarterback 16 times, it was shared by two quarterbacks in 2003, and a running back four times. In the last 20 years, no other position has won the MVP award. In fact, you have to go back to 1986 to find a non-quarterback/running back to win the award when linebacker Lawrence Taylor dominated the league. Taylor is just one of two defensive players to ever be crowned MVP since 1961. Another interesting element is that more placekickers (1) have won the award than wide receivers or defensive backs.

Therefore, based on these numbers we can effectively eliminate any non-quarterbacks and running backs from the discussion. Additionally, given that 75% of the awards in the last 20 years and 90% in the last 10 years have been won by the quarterback it makes sense to limit our focus to just the one position. Let’s take a look at the three favorites and some potential value plays for the 2020 NFL MVP race.

Editor’s note: I’m updating the odds compared to when the author originally wrote the piece before free agency began. As always, shop around for the best price. 

Patrick Mahomes +400 (now +500 at Bovada)

You could argue that, had Mahomes not been injured for a four or five-week stretch in the middle of the season, he would have won back-to-back MVP awards. It is hard to compare and contrast numbers for the two seasons, because despite playing 14 games in 2019, Mahomes was clearly not at 100% for a handful. Despite that Mahomes finished the season with a QBR just 2.4 below his incredible 2018 season, which demonstrates just how good his numbers could have been if he had been fully healthy.

There are a few reasons that I do not like these odds for Mahomes right now, but essentially it comes down to value. Only nine men have ever won the NFL MVP award more than once, and therefore +400 that Mahomes becomes the 10th seems too short. Another reason why I would prefer to stay away from these odds, and many of the favorites right now, is that at some point in the season these odds likely move out. At some point, Mahomes will have a rough game while one of his rivals for the award has a great game and we will see a slight shift in his odds. Mahomes is a good bet for MVP in 2020 but with a little bit of patience, he can be a good bet at a better price.

Russell Wilson +500 (now +800 at Bovada)

Unbelievably, Wilson has never won an MVP award. For a quarterback who gets so much positive said about his game, it is somewhat surprising that he has never been considered the best in the NFL. The problem for Wilson when it comes to MVP is that he is consistently good, but rarely brilliant for an entire season. A lot of that can be put down to a questionable cast of characters on his offense, be it the offensive line or the skill position players. You can also point to the heavy utility of the running game that Seattle often employs as another reason why he has just never got over the line. This is emphasized by the fact that Wilson has only thrown for more than 4,000 yards three times and never more than 4,250. Now whether that will change with the likes of Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and Greg Olsen at his disposal is yet to be seen, but in order to be the MVP, Wilson needs to finish higher in traditional statistical categories in 2020.

When you consider the fact that Wilson rarely leads the position in statistical categories these odds simply do not make sense. In 2019 he was really only in contention for the award because of his ability to produce game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks, both of which he led the league in. His ability to put his team on his back and win games is highlighted by the Pro Football Network Offensive Share Metric, which placed Wilson third at the position and highest of the quarterbacks who played a full season. Once those dried up in the second half of the season he simply did not have enough numbers with which to fall back on. At 31 years, Wilson is the oldest player who will feature in this article, and honestly, he is perhaps the one with the worst odds when you look at his career numbers.

Lamar Jackson +600 (now +550 at Bovada)

What is there not to love about Jackson and his style of play. His combination of bullet throws and electric runs has every NFL fan sitting on the edge of their seat. In 2019, he led the league in touchdown passes, while also carrying the ball enough to qualify to lead the league in yards per attempt. Usually, we would look at a TD% number of 9% and scream regression, but the way the Ravens play may actually make that somewhat sustainable. With a run-heavy offense that relies on big plays in the passing game, Jackson may well put up another impressive number in the TD% column in 2020.

History is against Jackson. As mentioned above, only nine players have ever won this award twice. It has only been won by the same player back-to-back six times, and not since Peyton Manning last did it in 2009. However, Jackson’s style has already bucked NFL trends in his short career and he could easily do it again. While there was not that much value in the odds for Mahomes and Wilson, it is highly possible that these are the best odds we see for Jackson in 2020. He had a few fumbling issues in 2019 but in general, he simply did not make mistakes, with just six interceptions last season. Jackson may be the only quarterback on this list whose style means that it is hard to see that odds-moving disastrous game. While back-to-back MVP’s are rare in NFL history, Jackson has the talent to do it and for that reason, I will look to allocate a couple of units his way when the season draws closer.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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