Ranking the five NFL MVP finalists: How top candidates stack up, plus each player’s standout moment
When the Kansas City Chiefs clinched their seventh consecutive AFC West title in a game against the Houston Texans on Dec. 18, quarterback Patrick Mahomes posted his highest completion percentage (87.8%) of the season and threw for 336 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also rushed five times for 33 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run. After the game, Chiefs coach Andy Reid had a message for voters of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award.
“If [Mahomes] is not the MVP in the league, I’m not sure what’s wrong with them,” Reid said.
Indeed, Mahomes has a solid case to earn his second MVP on Thursday, Feb. 9 at NFL Honors. To dig deeper into the race, we asked a group of analysts — Stephania Bell, Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Courtney Cronin, Jeremy Fowler, Dan Graziano, Matt Miller, Jason Reid, Jordan Reid, Mike Tannenbaum, Seth Walder and Field Yates — to vote on the top players in the MVP race. Then we used those 12 sets of rankings to give our top five candidates, using Heisman Trophy-esque scaling for each ranking to determine how the field stacks up.
How did Mahomes fare? Eleven of our voters put Kansas City’s QB in the No. 1 spot after a neck-and-neck race with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts during the final month of the season. (Hurts received the other No. 1 vote.) Here’s a closer look at the MVP favorite and the other four candidates who made our rankings — all of whom were also announced as finalists.
The Broncos, Chargers and Raiders combined spent $588.9 million in guaranteed money alone on signings during the 2022 offseason in an attempt to slow down the Chiefs. But by Thanksgiving, Kansas City was head and shoulders above its AFC West opponents and finished tied with Philadelphia for the best win percentage in the NFL (.824). Obviously, much of that is due to Mahomes’ elite play.
Doing more with less was the theme of Mahomes’ 2022 MVP campaign. Upon losing a top-five receiver in the league in Tyreek Hill, who was traded to Miami for a haul of draft picks last March, Mahomes was forced to adjust his game within Kansas City’s offense. In the process, he became the best version of himself as a quarterback.
Mahomes earned 49 of 50 votes for first-team All-Pro, his second time on the list. He set an NFL record for 5,614 total yards, which included a career-high 5,250 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes while completing a career-best 67.1% of his throws. He led the NFL in Total QBR (77.7) and total touchdowns (45), and he had the league’s second-highest passer rating (105.2) — marking the fourth time in five seasons that it topped 105.
Simply put, Mahomes is the best player at the most important position in the NFL, and he makes those around him better. Eleven different Chiefs players caught at least 13 passes from Mahomes, including JuJu Smith-Schuster (78 receptions, 933 yards), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (42 receptions, 687 yards) and Skyy Moore (22 receptions, 250 yards), all of whom were in their first season in the Chiefs’ offense.
No Hill, no problem: Without the speedy wideout in the fold, Mahomes actually saw an uptick in his QBR and completion percentage as he adjusted to his supporting cast.
His receivers did their part, piling up 6.4 yards after the catch per completion, the second-highest rate in the NFL. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Mahomes’ 27 passing touchdowns targeting running backs and tight ends were the most in the Super Bowl era, two more than he threw during his previous MVP season in 2018. The Chiefs averaged 5.2 yards per play with Hill on the field in 2021 and 6.4 yards per play in 2022, a credit Mahomes undoubtedly shares with Reid and an improved Kansas City offensive line.
Offensive juggernaut: Kansas City owned the leagues’ top scoring offense (28.2 points per game), had the most points per offensive drive (2.7), scored offensive touchdowns at the highest rate (33%) and boasted the highest scoring drive percentage (46.4%) in the NFL.
How does this compare to his 2018 MVP season? Mahomes led the league with 50 passing touchdowns, an 8.6% touchdown percentage and Total QBR of 80.3 the first time he won the MVP, back in 2018. All three of those figures are lower in 2022, but he did lead the league in all three categories again for the first time since his first MVP season. Mahomes had at least 40 touchdown passes and 5,000 yards in a season for the second time since his MVP season, joining Drew Brees as the only other QB in NFL history with multiple such seasons.
MVP moment: Who can forget when Mahomes stretched for the pylon on a 3-yard touchdown run against Seattle in Week 16? He can win as a passer from inside or outside the pocket, as no other quarterback has more passing yards and passing touchdowns outside of the pocket than Mahomes over the past five seasons. But he also has the versatility to make things happen with his legs as a rusher and scrambler. The moment Mahomes went parallel to the ground to reach for a touchdown against the Seahawks goes down as one of his best from another MVP-caliber campaign.
The 24-year-old was the youngest quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to a 13-1 start, and Hurts’ ascension from question mark to franchise QB in his third season coincided with the Eagles tying Kansas City for the most regular-season wins (14) and earning the top seed in the NFC.
His dual-threat ability is the engine behind the league’s third-ranked offense and the strides he made as a passer (3,701 yards on 460 attempts, 22 TD passes, 66.5% completion percentage and 1.3% interception percentage — all career bests) helped him become a top-five quarterback this season. Hurts played well in critical moments, too, with his QBR ranking top-four on third down, in the red zone and in the fourth quarters of games, all according to ESPN Stats & Information.
That all helps explain why he is Mahomes’ main competition for MVP. But perhaps the biggest indicator of his candidacy is what the Eagles’ offense looked like in his absence. They lost both games that Hurts sat out with a shoulder injury (Weeks 16-17), which shattered the “system quarterback” narrative. Hurts is the system. Had he played an entire season, there’s a chance he would have been the MVP favorite.
Stat of the season: Hurts was dominant running the ball (760 yards, 13 TDs and 67 first downs), but his deep-ball throwing was just as impressive. On passes thrown 25-plus yards downfield, Hurts ranked first in TD passes (10) and completion percentage (51.4%). His completion percentage over expectation was 23.4% on such throws, the second-highest mark in the NFL during the regular season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
MVP moment: Hurts became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for at least 150 yards and throw for at least 150 yards in Philadelphia’s 40-33 thrashing of Green Bay in Week 12.
Missing most of training camp after an appendectomy and then starting the regular season with two losses didn’t hold back Burrow from throwing a franchise-best 35 touchdown passes, breaking the record in back-to-back seasons. Cincinnati was the hottest team during the second half of the season and won eight straight en route to a 12-4 finish. It wasn’t just the slow start to the season; overcoming slow starts in games has become Burrow’s M.O., as evidenced by the Bengals thundering back from a 17-0 deficit to score 34 unanswered and beat the Bucs on the road in December.
Perhaps Burrow’s greatest asset this season was his ability to adapt. He released the ball at the quickest rate of his career, and as result, his pressure and sack rates were career lows — one season after taking 70 sacks. And after being reluctant to run in the past (25th in scramble yards in 2021), Burrow set career-highs in rushes (75), rushing yards (257) and rushing touchdowns (five) this season.
Stat of the season: Burrow has thrown a touchdown pass in 23 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
MVP moment: Burrow’s MVP campaign gained steam in Week 13 after he outplayed Mahomes for the third time in a calendar year. He completed 81% of his passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 win over the Chiefs, which included Burrow’s fourth game-winning drive of the season.
An elbow injury midway through the season and league-high six red zone turnovers may have taken Allen out of the front-runner spot for the MVP, but he was still excellent this season. Allen threw for 4,283 yards and 35 touchdown passes, and he was two yards shy (762) of a personal best in rushing on a career-high 124 attempts. Behind a shaky offensive line and inconsistent play at receiver outside of Stefon Diggs, Allen carried the Bills’ offense with his arm talent and ability to make big plays.
No quarterback in NFL history had thrown over 4,000 yards and 30-plus passing touchdowns while also posting more than 700 rushing yards and at least seven rushing touchdowns in the same season until Allen reached that feat in 2022.
Stat of the season: Allen ended the season tied for the most completions (13) on passes thrown at least 30 yards downfield and had the best completion percentage (54.2%) on such throws. His seven TD passes on those passes ranked second, and he threw no interceptions when airing it out 30-plus yards downfield.
MVP moment: The Bills got revenge over division-rival Miami and clinched a playoff berth in a win over the Dolphins in Week 15. Three of Allen’s four passing touchdowns came in the first half and a season-long 44-yard run helped him lead a game-winning drive at the end of the game.
Jefferson was a unanimous first-team All-Pro selection in his third season, in which he led the NFL in targets (184), receiving yards (1,809), receptions (128) and first-down catches (80). He was one of two receivers to average north of 100 receiving yards per game (106.4).
In fact, Jefferson put together arguably the best season by a wide receiver in Vikings history, surpassing Randy Moss’ single-season mark for receiving yards and Cris Carter’s franchise record for catches, and he did so in the same game (27-24 win over the Giants) with two weeks remaining in the regular season. The Vikings won 13 games and became the first NFL team to go 11-0 in one-score games. How many of those would they have won without the boost they got from the best receiver in football?
Jefferson topped 100 receiving yards in 10 of his 17 games and led the NFL in receiving yards over expectation (plus-413, per NFL Next Gen Stats), which was 123 more than the next closest player. He did all of that while working with a quarterback whose efficiency hovered below league average. (Kirk Cousins ranked 19th in EPA/play.)
Stat of the season: The 23-year-old receiver makes the impossible look easy. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jefferson led the NFL in catches (27) and yards (629) on passes with a 50% or lower completion probability.
MVP moment: Jefferson’s fourth-and-18 reception in a Week 10 win at Buffalo was instantly dubbed Catch of the Year, but it was more significant than an eye-popping highlight that showcased his incredible contested-catch ability. The Bills had a 94% chance to beat the Vikings before Jefferson’s fourth-quarter catch sparked Minnesota’s ferocious late-game comeback to win 33-30 in overtime.
Just missed: Nick Bosa, Justin Herbert, Tyreek Hill, Geno Smith
Also received top-10 votes: Trevor Lawrence, Saquon Barkley, Kirk Cousins, Micah Parsons, Jared Goff, Myles Garrett, Tua Tagovailoa, Daniel Jones, Christian McCaffrey, Chris Jones, Davante Adams, Dak Prescott, Travis Kelce, Tom Brady, Josh Jacobs, T.J. Watt, Austin Ekeler