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    Analyzing 10 dark horse NFL MVP candidates in 2020

    Every year, a dark horse comes from the rear and compete for MVP honors. PFN's Lead NFL writer Cole Thompson bets his horses for the MVP come 2020.

    If you were to look at the odds to win the MVP early on during the preseason, there is always one or two names that people pay little attention to. While Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers have tended to reign supreme over the last two decades, it’s now the young talent’s time to shine. With the big named stars taking a backseat, there are new dark-horse MVP candidates in 2020. 

    The perfect example, two seasons ago, Lamar Jackson was standing on the sideline with a clipboard in one hand while communicating with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. A season-ending injury to Joe Flacco allowed the former Heisman winner to take over and show the world what he could do. His first season had mixed results, but he broke out not too long after.

    Last January, he hoisted the 2019 MVP trophy for his 3,127 passing yards and 43 total touchdown season with the league’s top roster. The year prior, second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes took home the award after setting records by throwing for 50 scores and leading the 12-4 Chiefs to an AFC title appearance. 

    Both Jackson and Mahomes will enter 2020 as top choices to duplicate their success, as will the four men mentioned above. The same could be said with the likes of Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, and Christian McCaffrey. All have their own right to be favored, but as recent history shows, there’s always going to be a dark horse in the mix. 

    Here’s a look at 10 dark horses for the 2020 MVP honors 

    QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals 

    Keeping the trend of second-year players taking home the trophy, expect Murray to be in the fold. Fresh off the Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, the former first overall pick should only improve under the likes of air-raid offensive mastermind Kliff Kingsbury and an improved offense. 

    The Cardinals made sure that Murray would thrive with life after Larry Fitzgerald by trading for DeAndre Hopkins. The former Texas All-Pro wideout is an elite player, finishing five of his first seven seasons with over 1,000-yards, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Pairing the future Hall of Famer with Hopkins and having Christian Kirk in the slot should provide Murray with a trifecta of weapons. 

    Arizona also stole potential first-round talent Josh Jones in the third round to play the right tackle position while extending D.J. Humphries. Should the offensive line allow fewer sacks, the former Sooner should be set to remain in the pocket and enhance the 21st ranked offense in his sophomore campaign. 

    QB Drew Lock, Denver Broncos 

    There’s another second-year quarterback who should surprise fans in 2020. With only five starts under his belt, Drew Lock improved the 28th ranked offense, going 4-1 as a starter and throwing for seven touchdowns during that span. 

    The Broncos front office is going all-in with the Mizzou signal-caller for 2020. The team bolstered the trenches with the addition of Graham Glasgow and by drafting LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry. To enhance the run game, John Elway stayed in the division and added Melvin Gordon to the backfield with two-time 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay. And if that wasn’t enough, Denver drafted smooth route-runner Jerry Jeudy with their first pick and speedy slot option K.J. Hamler on day two. 

    Lock will need to improve on his accuracy after completing roughly 64% of his passes last year. Elway has only helped the rising star by adding a weapon chest of players that could transform him into the next big name under center. Throw in the likes of superstar Courtland Sutton and an improving Noah Fant; this should be enough to make Lock a potentially consistent MVP candidate for years to come.

    QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns 

    Let’s try this again, shall we? Baker Mayfield proved he was worthy of the first overall pick after taking over early in 2018 and leading Cleveland to a 7-8-1 finish. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt, Mayfield was destined to take the next steps under center, right?

    A 6-10 record with a sub-60 completion percentage and 21 picks says otherwise. With Freddie Kitchens out and Kevin Stefanski in, Mayfield will be in for his “prove it” year as the next potential bust at quarterback in Cleveland. Still, new GM Andrew Berry helped improve his quarterback’s offense via the draft and free agency. The team added quality bookends by signing Jack Conklin and drafting Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. In the arsenal, Austin Hooper is another tight end known for scoring and will pair well with Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Beckham Jr. 

    Keep in mind Mayfield set a rookie record with 27 touchdowns during his first season. With an improved offense all-around, the Browns are looking for him to take the next leap. This unit could take over the AFC North, so don’t be surprised if the former Oklahoma product is pushing his way into the honors.

    RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys 

    This isn’t a knock on Prescott at all — instead, it’s a push. With the former Offensive Rookie of the Year still in contract disputes, the Cowboys signed Andy Dalton to a one-year deal should talks continue into the season. If that’s the case, expect Mike McCarthy to focus on the run game with Ezekiel Elliott leading the team. 

    Elliott diminished last season as the team’s top player — if you could call it that. While he added six more scores in 2018, the former fourth overall pick only rushed for 1,357 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. For those counting at home, that would be his third season where he surpassed the 1,000-yard marker on the ground. 

    Outside of McCaffery, there isn’t a lead back that does more in the passing game than Elliott. In four seasons, he’s averaged 47 catches and scored at least one touchdown. Dalton will use the checkdown more often than Prescott, allowing Elliott to be a dual-threat weapon and near impossible to stop. If he passes the 1,300-yard marker again, it’s time to consider him an MVP-like player. 

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