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There are a lot of players who could be pegged as MVP candidates in any given year. However, there are instances where a player comes out of nowhere and makes a run at the award. Carson Wentz did it in 2017, but he came up short because of injuries. Deshaun Watson looked like he might be on the same path, but he was also injured. Then, in 2018, Patrick Mahomes came out and took the league by storm in his first year as a full-time starter.

While the MVP race can be unpredictable, there are also familiar faces who always hang around. For instance, Drew Brees was Mahomes’ greatest competition for the MVP last season. Tom Brady won his third MVP in 2017. Peyton Manning retired having won the award five times. This lends a sense of mystery and predictability to the MVP race. It’s a dynamic contradiction that always generates conversation in the most devout fan circles.

Even though I accept that there will be MVP candidates not included in this article, this is my attempt to predict the top candidates for the 2019 season.

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB Kansas City Chiefs

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No player has repeated as MVP since Peyton Manning did it in 2008 and 2009. Brett Favre and Joe Montana have also accomplished the feat. It’s funny to think that Mahomes might already be entering that territory despite being in just his third season. It is hard to believe that he will be able to match his 2018 production, but he will have Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to help him out. Even if Mahomes doesn’t repeat as MVP, he’ll have a good shot at winning another further down the line.

2. Drew Brees, QB New Orleans Saints

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Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, yet he hasn’t won an MVP. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that he doesn’t have one while Brady, Favre, Manning, Rodgers, and Warner all have multiple. While he hasn’t posted gaudy yardage numbers these past two seasons, Brees has been historically efficient and has his team knocking on the door to the Super Bowl. Mahomes pulled away to win the MVP late in the 2018 season, but I expect Brees will toss his name into the running again in 2019.

3. Aaron Donald, DT Los Angeles Rams

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Donald is the best defensive player in football. While MVP voting tends to favor offensive players, especially quarterbacks, Donald is trending in the direction of all-time elite defenders. The last defensive player to win the MVP award was Lawrence Taylor back in 1986. If Donald wins the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award again in 2019, he’ll tie Taylor and J.J. Watt for the most DPOYs in history. It would be fitting for Donald to take home both awards.

4. Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay Packers

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The Packers and Rodgers are looking to regain their glory in 2019. While Rodgers had a very impressive year in 2018, I don’t think a quarterback deserves to be in the MVP conversation at this point unless their team is winning. The Packers went 6-9-1 last season. A popular theory floating around in NFL circles is that Rodgers will thrive on the doubt that has been heaped on him and his team and win his third MVP in 2019.

5. Saquon Barkley, RB New York Giants

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Barkley is a do-it-all back who could thrive as the best option in the Giants offense. With Todd Gurley’s future form in question because of an arthritic knee, Barkley is in place to ascend to the Georgia product’s spot as the best running back in the league. A lot of that relies on how Gurley’s situation plays out though. Even if the Rams back Is fully healthy, Barkley is a physical specimen capable of carrying an offense.

6. Todd Gurley, RB Los Angeles Rams

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I’m not sure how his arthritic knee will impact his play. We know he’ll get fewer touches in 2019, but we don’t know what version of Gurley we’ll see when he has the ball. Gurley’s value in 2019 is still a major question mark for me. However, based on how he’s played these past two seasons, it would be crazy to count him out right away.

7. Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots

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I don’t anticipate Brady pulling off another MVP season, even if the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl again, but you can never count him out. He just finds ways to win and continue building his legacy as the greatest player of all-time.

8. Russell Wilson, QB Seattle Seahawks

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Wilson is a great player, but he’ll probably be overlooked for the MVP this season. The Seahawks have transitioned to a run-heavy offense that limits Wilson’s offensive production. While he deserves to be in MVP discussions, it’s hard to compare him against players like Brees or Mahomes.

9. Philip Rivers, QB Los Angeles Chargers

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Rivers was the third-wheel MVP candidate last season, trailing Brees and Mahomes. Even without a Super Bowl title, Rivers is a future Hall of Fame quarterback. As his team has finally come together, we’ve seen a resurgence in Rivers over the past several seasons. He’s got the offensive pieces around him to compete with other top quarterbacks again, and the defense is starting to look up too.

10. Ezekiel Elliott, RB Dallas Cowboys

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Elliott has led the league in rushing yards per game in each of his three seasons. His rookie season was still his most impressive campaign to date. Even though he has improved his receiving numbers, Elliott hasn’t posted the averages or touchdown totals he recorded as a rookie. 2019 might be the year that he puts it all together. Then again, that could all not matter if he decides to hold out.

Honorable mentions

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1. Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons

The former MVP had a great year in 2018, but his individual success was overlooked because of Atlanta’s shortcomings. I also don’t think the NFL community has fully gotten over how the Falcons lost so spectacularly to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. We’ll see if that continues to haunt Ryan for the rest of his career. He finished with a 69.4 completion percentage, 4,924 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions, three rushing touchdowns, and a 108.1 quarterback rating in 2018.

2. DeAndre Hopkins, WR Houston Texans

The best wide receiver in the league deserves to be in the MVP conversation, but the mantle seems to pass from one player to another every year. Remember when Antonio Brown was in the MVP debate a few years ago? I don’t believe a receiver will win the award though. After all, not even Jerry Rice was able to win the MVP. 

3. Ben Roethlisberger, QB Pittsburgh Steelers

His interception numbers generally remove him from MVP conversations, but he did throw for more yards than Mahomes last season. Roethlisberger has led the league in passing yards per game in three of the last five seasons. That at least warrants an honorable mention.

4. Antonio Brown, WR Oakland Raiders

When he’s healthy and committed, I’m comfortable saying that Brown is still the best wide receiver in the NFL. However, he wasn’t committed at the end of last season. Brown worked hard to transition from a sixth-round pick to a superstar, and he’ll continue to work. The question is, does he have the desire to cut the drama return to MVP form? Remember, he was seriously in the MVP conversation in 2017.

5. Andrew Luck, QB Indianapolis Colts

Luck is one of the greatest comeback stories in recent history. After missing all of 2017, he returned better than ever in 2019, posting career-highs in QBR and quarterback rating. Like Roethlisberger, Luck throws a decent number of interceptions. So far, his yardage and touchdown totals haven’t warranted MVP consideration.

6. J.J. Watt, DE Houston Texans

I’m still mad that Rodgers won the 2014 league MVP over Watt. Watt deserved that award and he was robbed of it. That’s part of the reason I feel compelled to at least have him as an honorable mention. He also had a First Team All-Pro season in 2018 though and led the league with seven forced fumbles. Even entering his age 30 season, Watt is a juggernaut.

7. Khalil Mack, OLB Chicago Bears

Mack rounds out the defensive triad of MVP-caliber players. Along with Donald and Watt, Mack is fully capable of putting up numbers good enough to vault him into the MVP discussion. I don’t anticipate that will be the case in 2019, but Mack is one of those all-around pass rushers who can generate some ludicrous numbers.

8. Baker Mayfield, QB Cleveland Browns

Mayfield’s hype is at an all-time high going into 2019. The only reason why he’s on this list is that we haven’t seen his ceiling yet. Yes, he flashed great potential as a rookie, but don’t expect him to be the next Mahomes. He might not even be a top-five or seven quarterback this year, we’ll just have to wait and see.