The last time we checked in on the NFL MVP race after Week 9 turned everything we knew onto its head, Tom Brady was the undisputed leader in the clubhouse. Aaron Rodgers was close behind. Nobody else had the body of work and success those two had.
As Week 15 comes to a close over the next two days, that remains sort of true with one prominent exception. A new player has entered the mix: Jonathan Taylor, running back for the Indianapolis Colts. It has been eight years since a non-quarterback took home the NFL's most coveted individual award, when Adrian Peterson won in 2012. It has become exceedingly difficult for running backs to make a mark on the league as the position is continually devalued with each passing season. Taylor is making an excellent case to buck the QB MVP trend and is being aided by the performance of his competitors.
Brady has slowed down over the last month, a point emphasized by the Bucs' extremely ugly 9-0 loss against the Saints on national television last night. No quarterback has ever been shut out in an MVP season. Unless Brady goes nuclear over the last three games of the year, which will be tough with all of Tampa's injuries piling up, he's probably done.
The case for Rodgers remains generally the same as it did five weeks ago. He has played pretty good most of the time and great every now and again. Is he playing great enough that voter fatigue won't set in after he won last year? That seems unlikely, even if Green Bay may very well finish the year with the best record in the NFL. A reigning MVP must be dominant beyond measure to take home a second consecutive award, and Rodgers has been good, but not that good.
Which, effectively, leaves Taylor. In terms of other quarterback competition, any longshot hope for Kyler Murray died with the Cardinals' loss to the Lions yesterday. Lamar Jackson's injury has sunk his candidacy. Dak Prescott's play tumbled off a cliff over the last four games, and with it his MVP candidacy. The Chiefs are very good once again but Patrick Mahomes has been below-average by his standards this season.
Taylor has been consistent all year. He's ran for 1,518 yards in 14 games. He's scored 19 total touchdowns, 17 on the ground and two through the air. The Colts are 8-6 and anybody who watches their offense understands that it would not operate at all without Taylor there to make it work. If Indy finishes the year strong and Taylor's statline is over 2,000 all-purpose yards and over 20 TDs, that's a very strong argument for MVP in a year where there is no clear-cut signal-caller as the favorite.
But Taylor is still a running back. If Rodgers goes nuts over the last few weeks, he'll probably get it even after missing a game due to COVID and having at least two certified stinkers on the resume this year. Same with Brady minus the COVID absence. It is not Taylor's award to lose at this point. But he is absolutely within striking distance, which is extremely impressive for any non-QB in today's NFL.