While it’s nice to know who has been the most critical piece in an NFL franchise, it’s so often the quarterback that making a top 32 list would include about 20 of them and be largely dull. So why not look at some of the most significant team contributors outside the stars? Who is the unsung NFL team MVP for your favorite team a little over halfway through the 2022 season?
Unsung NFL Team MVP Awards so far in 2022
Front office members and coaching staff are also eligible here. So it won’t just be players receiving the award for their respective teams.
Arizona Cardinals | DL Zach Allen
The Cardinals’ defense hasn’t been very good this season, particularly when stacked against the team’s surprisingly good defensive output from a season ago.
Despite the defensive woes, Zach Allen is on pace to shatter his production output from his previous three seasons. The former third-round pick is having himself a true “contract year.” Allen is two pressures shy of his career high and has already tied his career high in QB hits. But the hybrid player has steadily improved as a run defender as well.
Atlanta Falcons | G Chris Lindstrom
Chris Lindstrom is underrated by default because of the position he plays. The Falcons guard didn’t allow a sack a season ago, and while he’s tagged with two in 2022, he’s only allowed six total pressures all season. Additionally, Lindstrom’s been a road grader in one of the best run games in the league.
Baltimore Ravens | OLB Justin Houston
Justin Houston has exploded for Baltimore in recent weeks, picking up 6.5 sacks in the past three outings. The Ravens began the season without Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo, so Houston’s presence was crucial for Baltimore’s defense. As a pass-rush specialist, he’s had 8.5 sacks on just 146 pass-rush snaps.
Buffalo Bills – LB Matt Milano
Matt Milano probably doesn’t feel very “unsung” to Bills Mafia, but in the pantheon of NFL linebackers, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves as an all-around linebacker. While there’s no denying Milano’s value in coverage, his abilities as a run defender have been undervalued for a few years now.
Carolina Panthers | G Austin Corbett
Look no further than the Los Angeles Rams’ offense to see what kind of difference a few offensive linemen can make! Their loss was Carolina’s gain. Austin Corbett has always been an impressive run blocker, but he’s improved his pass protection since moving on to Carolina. He’s yet to allow a sack in 2022.
Chicago Bears | G Teven Jenkins
Many amateur and professional draft analysts alike hate seeing folks talk about college offensive tackles sliding inside at the professional level, but sometimes it makes sense. In Teven Jenkins’ case, it was the only option if he wanted to have a career.
Since becoming a full-time guard, Jenkins has been one of the most dominant forces in the NFL as a run-blocker, and he’s allowed fewer pressures on more than double the pass-blocking snaps he had a season ago.
Cincinnati Bengals | DE Sam Hubbard
Trey Hendrickson gets big money and produces big sack totals, but Sam Hubbard has been one of the more solid run-defending defensive ends in the NFL since his rookie season. With B.J. Hill and DJ Reader taking most of the publicity along with Hendrickson, Hubbard spends most of his time like lasagna.
Cleveland Browns | G Joel Bitonio
Offensive linemen are a bit of a cop-out due to their perpetually undervalued status. Joel Bitonio is one of the best guards in the NFL. There is no part of the game that the nine-year veteran isn’t proficient in. He’s an unbelievable run blocker and pass protector. Bitonio is a big reason why, despite not having a mobile QB (yet), the Browns hold the top spot in NFL rushing EPA.
Dallas Cowboys | DC Dan Quinn
Dan Quinn will probably be one of the league’s hottest names in the offseason. His defense has been outstanding for the better part of two seasons now, but his candidacy goes beyond his results.
Quinn has always been beloved by his players, but his defenses in Atlanta got stale. The Dallas defense ranks first in DVOA and is third in EPA.
Denver Broncos | S Caden Sterns
Yes, Caden Sterns hasn’t played a defensive snap since Week 5. That is true, but it’s not essential here. It’s not easy to fill in for an All-Pro-caliber safety, which Justin Simmons is.
But Sterns filled in for the talented safety, and the Broncos’ defense didn’t skip a beat, which shows they’re set up from a depth perspective at the position. And with two more seasons of contractual control, Denver has several options moving forward at the position.
Detroit Lions | S Kerby Joseph
Like Sterns, Kerby Joseph doesn’t have an entire season of work on his plate. The young safety wasn’t inserted into the lineup until Week 4. But even before his two interceptions against Green Bay, he was proving he belonged on the field.
In five games, Joseph’s forced two fumbles and broken up two passes to go along with his interceptions. The Illinois rookie was viewed as one of the better free safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Green Bay Packers | OLB Rashan Gary
I never thought I’d struggle to choose an underappreciated player from the Green Bay Packers, but we’re halfway through the season and most of the roster is underperforming.
Rashan Gary is not one of them. The Packers’ EDGE is fifth in the NFL in pressures and second in stops. After really blossoming in Year 3 as a pass rusher, he’s once again showing the Packers can trust his all-around performance defensively, something they can’t count on in most other spots on the defense.
Kenny Clark gets a special shoutout here. He didn’t win the award for Green Bay, but he remains one of the most underrated interior defenders in the NFL.
Houston Texans | CB Desmond King
Like the Packers, there aren’t many options for the Houston Texans. The 1-6-1 team is the worst in the NFL, and they don’t particularly find themselves shining in most areas of the game.
Dameon Pierce has been their best player, but he’s not an underreported player. Desmond King has had a solid season in the slot for Houston so far. He looks much more at home in his natural position than he did on the outside a season ago.
Indianapolis Colts | DT Grover Stewart
There is nothing more fun to watch on a football field than an intelligent nose tackle. The way they engage, read, and react can be poetry, and Grover Stewart is looking like Robert Frost out there.
Stewart’s 26 stops rank him second behind Jonathan Allen, and while playing at the line of scrimmage is usually more a nose tackle’s speed, Gus Bradley’s system has allowed Stewart to tie his career high in TFLs midway through the season.
Kansas City Chiefs | HC Andy Reid
Having Patrick Mahomes around is a nice trump card for the Hall of Fame head coach. However, many believed the Chiefs’ offense would take a significant dive after trading Tyreek Hill to Miami. Instead, Kansas City’s offensive-EPA-per-play output (0.190) is outpacing their mark from a season ago (0.140.)
There isn’t a single better red-zone architect than Reid. His ability to exploit defensive holes in the low red zone is unmatched, and despite losing Hill, the team’s passing efficiency has somehow improved. As the league trends to young offensive-minded coaches, Reid proves that an old dog can learn new tricks.
Las Vegas Raiders | RB Josh Jacobs
It’s with great sadness that Josh Jacobs wins the award for the Las Vegas Raiders. There’s nothing “unsung” about a first-round RB. Unfortunately, the situation in Las Vegas has been so ugly that it’s tough to find a flower blooming in the desert.
Jacobs has been incredible in 2022. Only Derrick Henry and Khalil Herbert average more yards after contact than Jacobs, and nobody has forced more missed tackles than he has in 2022. The fact that he’s averaging over five yards per carry behind that offensive line is impressive enough.
Los Angeles Chargers | OT Jamaree Salyer
Replacing a top-five left tackle is not easy, especially for a third-round rookie. But Jamaree Salyer has performed admirably in relief of Rashawn Slater. And while the Chargers’ offense has sputtered in 2022, it’s not because their left tackle was lost for the season, which is a pleasant surprise considering we all thought that would be the case when Slater went down.
While the short-term future seems underwhelming for the Chargers’ offense, Salyer could provide a long-term solution for LA at right tackle, should he assimilate to that side with relative ease for 2023.
Los Angeles Rams | WR Cooper Kupp
Yes, somehow, Cooper Kupp is underrated. He’s the only good thing going in the Rams’ offense, and it’s a shame that he’s put in a position to win this award for the team. It means there’s a lack of production from the middle of the roster, which many feared could be the case, given Les Snead’s attitude toward the NFL draft.
I wish someone like Greg Gaines, Ben Skowronek, or one of the young offensive linemen could have received the reward, but they simply haven’t earned it this season.
Miami Dolphins | GM Chris Grier
If Howie Roseman is having an All-Pro season, Chris Grier is his competition. Grier’s decision to trade for Tyreek Hill and hire Mike McDaniel were franchise-altering decisions. Miami’s offense went from sputtering to unstoppable in one offseason, so much that it hardly matters that their secondary has deteriorated so much that they can’t cover the grass in front of them.
Byron Jones’ setbacks have hurt, and maybe Grier could have swung a deal at the deadline, but Miami is setting things up not just for a run this year but beyond 2022.
Minnesota Vikings | OT Christian Darrisaw
Christian Darrisaw was discussed in a similar light to Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater coming out of Virginia Tech. While many had him in the tier below those two as a prospect, it’s not crazy to think that in most classes, he’d have a shot as the top tackle.
Darrisaw is showing why draftniks were so impressed with him. He’s a dominant athlete who has always shined as a run blocker, and his health and development are huge reasons why Minnesota’s run game has gone from bottom five to top 10 in one season’s time. But the young blindside blocker also has yet to allow a sack on the season and has only allowed 10 total pressures on the year!
New England Patriots | S Kyle Dugger
Kyle Dugger’s write-up may be the most anecdotal of the bunch. But every time I see the Patriots’ defense playing, Dugger is flying around the field and making splash plays from a bunch of different alignments.
The Patriots play four safeties in a heavy rotation. Dugger’s used largely in the box, and his athleticism and playmaking ability are on full display whenever he sees the field. While Adrian Phillips remains the starter, Dugger is making a case for more snaps.
New Orleans Saints | WR Chris Olave
It’s certainly not a shock to see that Chris Olave is the Saints’ leading receiver as a rookie. He was outproducing a healthy Michael Thomas for as little as that lasted.
Olave’s catch rate may not seem impressive, but when you factor in he’s being targeted at 14.51 yards on average, his 60% catch rate is much more impressive. Olave’s been equally as efficient against man and zone, according to TruMedia.
He’s targeted at a similar rate between man (59 routes, 15 targets) and zone (192 routes, 55 targets). Olave catches 60% of his targets against each coverage type, averaging 14.3 yards per reception against zone and 15.8 against man coverage.
New York Giants | OC Mike Kafka
Through eight games as New York’s offensive coordinator, Mike Kafka has found a way to get the Giants’ offense more efficient than it’s been in its last 361 games. The highest offensive EPA per game is 1.23 from Ben McAdoo’s offenses. Kafka’s offense sits at 2.02.
Additionally, Daniel Jones has flourished with Kafka. He’s running more often than ever, and it’s really put a strain on opposing defenses. New York is competing in the NFC, and the Giants’ offense is a huge reason why.
New York Jets | CB D.J. Reed
D.J. Reed is one of the more underrated offseason signings in the NFL. Sauce Gardner rightfully gets a ton of credit for how dominant he’s been as a rookie, but Reed’s ability to be a blanket in a diverse coverage scheme is a huge part of New York’s defensive revolution in 2022.
They’ve gone from worst to sixth in defensive DVOA, and their cornerback play is a huge reason for that. Reed is allowing a 52.2% catch rate on the year and a passer rating of 58.6 against.
Philadelphia Eagles | OC Shane Steichen
The Philadelphia Eagles are really good at putting a staff together, and Shane Steichen should be a hot commodity in the offseason coaching carousel. While there’s no denying the talent Philadelphia possesses on offense, questions lingered about their young quarterback.
However, that young QB is playing incredibly well this season. The offense has evolved, with the middle of the field becoming an actual threat after being ignored for most of 2021. The Eagles’ offense ranks inside the top five of passing and rushing DVOA and EPA, meaning there are no holes in their offensive attack.
Pittsburgh Steelers | OLB Alex Highsmith
It’s honestly incredible that Alex Highsmith has played the number of snaps he’s played so far in 2022. Only Myles Jack has played more defensive snaps than the third-year edge defender. For Highsmith to remain somewhat productive as the game wears on from that position is a feat in and of itself.
While most of his production comes in the first quarter (3.5 sacks, 12 pressures), Highsmith’s fourth-quarter numbers are also impressive (two sacks, six pressures). However, it’s tough to imagine he can keep producing at such a level as the weeks progress and the hits continue to mount. He deserves a medal!
San Francisco 49ers | S Talanoa Hufanga
Talanoa Hufanga is a menace to opposing offenses. DeMeco Ryans’ defenses always seem to find intelligent and instinctive safeties, and Hufanga is no exception. The league’s 29.0 passer rating when targeting him should be enough of an explanation.
Hufanga has three interceptions on the season, but his impact goes far beyond being a playmaker in coverage. His 19 stops are second among league safeties, and he plays far more snaps from a traditional safety alignment than most others near the top of that list.
Hufanga is a heat-seeking missile coming downhill and one of the more exciting players in the league to watch.
Seattle Seahawks | OLB Uchenna Nwosu
Uchenna Nwosu has always been overshadowed by Joey Bosa. But he moved from the land of sunshine to the Pacific Northwest in the offseason, and his game has become more caffeinated than the team’s fans.
Nwosu’s 35 pressures rank him 10th in the entire NFL. He was always a solid run defender on the edge, especially given his frame, but the most pressures he’s ever produced in a season was 41 on 408 pass-rush snaps. Nwosu’s almost cleared that mark with 158 fewer pass-rush snaps.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers | CB Jamel Dean
The Buccaneers’ defense has played well in 2022. They rank inside the top 10 in both DVOA and EPA, and their secondary talent has much to do with that. Jamel Dean has waited in the wings as the fourth cornerback in Tampa Bay but has finally supplanted Sean Murphy-Bunting at long last.
Dean’s made the most of this opportunity. He’s allowed just 101 yards on the season on 37 targets. Let that number sink in for a second…
The cornerback playing opposite Carlton Davis has been outstanding in Tampa Bay’s Cover 3-heavy scheme.
Tennessee Titans | LB David Long
There is no shortage of outstanding players on Tennessee’s defense, but David Long might be the most unrecognizable of the group, despite spending his entire career so far as a Titan.
We think of Marcus Maye, Amani Hooker, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, and Kristian Fulton when we think of Tennessee’s defense. However, Long’s presence in the middle has played a positive impact on the team’s overall defensive performance.
Washington Commanders – WR Terry McLaurin
It’s nice that the Washington Commanders appear to have a legitimate secondary target to Terry McLaurin. In fact, Curtis Samuel has commanded more targets than McLaurin this season. However, their per-target efficiency isn’t close to the game.
McLaurin’s 9.8 yards per-target mark ranks him 16th in the NFL overall. His contested-catch rate, which has always been good, currently ranks third in the NFL, below just Darnell Mooney and Jakobi Meyers.