Rodgers again in pursuit of Smith
From Week 1 through Week 17, USA TODAY Sports’ NFL staff will be handicapping the race for league MVP. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place worth three and a third-place worth one. Our MVP tracker after Week 5’s games.
1. QB Alex Smith, Chiefs (30 points): He’s been our frontrunner all season. Now in his 13th campaign, Smith’s sublime performance raises the question, can every player crash through his “ceiling” and shed long-held labels such as “game manager”? Matt Ryan had an MVP breakthrough last year, his ninth NFL season, when the stars aligned for a showing that far outstripped his historic résumé (and, it’s worth noting, Ryan seems to be reverting to his previous levels in 2017). Smith appears to be enjoying his own “career year” now, surrounded by playmakers (breakout rookie RB Kareem Hunt, TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill) and fueled by the knowledge that his successor, first-round pick Patrick Mahomes, is in the building and likely to force him into job search mode in 2018. At least Smith should be armed with a strong dossier. He continues to lead the league in completion percentage (76.6%), passer rating (125.8) — both figures are on record pace — and yards per attempt (8.8). He’s thrown 11 touchdown passes and not a single interception among his 158 attempts.
Last week: 1 2. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers (14 points): The man infamously selected after Smith in the 2005 draft is again trying to overtake him. If Rodgers got to play the Cowboys every week, that might be a real possibility. After another stellar comeback in Jerry-World on Sunday, Rodgers now has a league-high 13 TD passes and two fourth-quarter comebacks despite operating an injury-riddled offense that has contributed to the 19 sacks he’s absorbed, most in the NFL. If his protection improves and the running game flourishes with rookie Aaron Jones’ inclusion, Rodgers might really take off in the coming weeks. LW: 4
3. RB Kareem Hunt, Chiefs (9 points): One could certainly argue he’s every bit as important to Kansas City, the NFL’s lone unbeaten squad, as Smith. Hunt’s performance has slowed from historic levels to merely excellent the last two weeks, when he has averaged “just” 118.5 scrimmage yards and hasn’t reached the end zone. But his NFL-high 609 rushing yards are 143 more than second-place Leonard Fournette has, and his 775 yards from scrimmage are 129 more than Todd Gurley has. If Hunt keeps it up, which won’t be easy given he’s averaging 6.3 yards per rush, he could threaten 2,000 rushing yards and Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808. LW: 2
4. QB Cam Newton, Panthers (1 point): The league’s 2015 MVP seems to be recapturing that form after a disappointing 2016 season and slow start to this one after reconstructive surgery to his throwing shoulder. Newton has thrown for 671 yards and six TDs the last two weeks, helping the Panthers again emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl threat. He isn’t running like he once did but is completing a career-high 68.3% of his passes in an evolving offense. LW: Unranked
The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is a two-time NFL MVP.