Ranking the NFL’s top five MVP candidates through 12 weeks: Who leads a wide-open race?

Heading into Week 13, we are more than two-thirds of the way through the 2023 NFL season. And this past month has paved the way for a new favorite to emerge as the front-runner for the league’s MVP award.

We asked a group of analysts — Mike Tannenbaum, Matt Miller, Courtney Cronin, Seth Walder, Dan Graziano, Field Yates, Jeremy Fowler, Matt Bowen, Seth Wickersham, Jordan Reid, Mike Clay and Stephania Bell — to identify the top players in the NFL MVP race. We used those 12 sets of rankings to determine our top five candidates and to see how the field stacks up to this point.

The consensus front-runner surged up the leaderboard over the past five weeks after ranking fifth in ESPN’s first edition of the MVP watch. This quarterback also currently owns the best ESPN BET odds. Three other quarterbacks — and a wide receiver who is on pace to break the single-season receiving record — crack our top five.

Below we outline just why these five players made the list, name three players who just missed the cut and answer some lingering questions. Is there a defender who has made a case worthy of the MVP award? Which upcoming game will impact the MVP race the most? We’ll also look at risers and fallers, and ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder names an under-the-radar MVP candidate through Week 12.

Here’s a look at where things stand with six weeks remaining in the regular season.

Note: All odds are via ESPN BET.

Jump to:
Top five | Who just missed?
Stock up | Stock down
Big questions | Under-the-radar pick

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2023 stats: 2,697 passing yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs, 63.6 QBR (410 rushing yards, 11 TDs)
Current odds: +150

The Eagles quarterback put a bumpy start to the 2023 season behind him and is helping Philadelphia win the hard games against the NFL’s best teams. His performance in an instant classic against the Bills defines his ability to lead his team from behind. Faced with a double-digit deficit after throwing for 33 yards and one interception and rushing for 22 yards with a touchdown in the first half, Hurts came away from the second half and overtime with 167 passing yards, no turnovers and four total touchdowns, including a 12-yard rushing TD to secure the Eagles’ 37-34 OT win over Buffalo.

He did the same a week prior by rushing for two touchdowns in the second half to come from behind and beat the Chiefs on the road. Hurts is second in the NFL with 29 total touchdowns and has the 10-1 Eagles well positioned for another run to the Super Bowl.


2023 stats: 2,917 passing yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs, 70.2 QBR (305 rushing yards)
Current odds: +400

Only six players have ever won the MVP three times, a feat Mahomes could accomplish after taking home the award in 2018 and 2022. The Chiefs’ offense lacks the explosiveness it had a season ago, dropping from the league’s top unit in points scored per game to No. 11 (23.3 PPG) through 12 weeks, but that has often been the byproduct of Mahomes’ supporting cast. Kansas City’s receivers lead the league in drops (27), but Mahomes is still top four in passing touchdowns (21) and QBR (70.3) and ranks sixth among QBs in rushing yards (305).

The two-time Super Bowl-winning QB bounced back from a 21-17 loss to the Eagles by orchestrating a come-from-behind win over the Raiders — a team he’s beaten 10 times in his career — by throwing for 298 yards and two touchdowns.


2023 stats: 2,935 passing yards, 23 TDs, 6 INTs, 75.4 QBR (151 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
Current odds: +800

Prescott’s MVP odds increased over the past two weeks from 60-1 to 7-1 after he thrashed the Commanders’ defense on Thanksgiving with 331 passing yards and four touchdowns. His 2022 season was dominated by ill-timed interceptions, but that appears to be a thing of the past. In his past five games, Prescott has thrown 17 touchdowns and two interceptions while positioning the Cowboys as the league’s No. 1 scoring offense.

The quality of Dallas’ eight wins — all against teams with current losing records — undoubtedly comes into conversation when debating Prescott’s case for MVP. How he performs against stronger competition like Seattle, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Miami and Detroit will determine how much of the gap he can close between himself and the front-runners over the next two months.


2023 stats: 2,618 passing yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 58.6 QBR (574 rushing yards, 5 TDs)
Current odds: +400

Baltimore heads into its bye week with the No. 6 scoring offense (27 PPG) and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North after a road win against the Chargers. Jackson’s numbers were pedestrian in Week 12 in his first game without injured tight end Mark Andrews (18-of-32 for 177 yards and a TD, 39 rushing yards). But Week 11 vs. the Bengals strengthened Jackson’s MVP case after he threw for 264 yards (10.2 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns in a dominant win over a division rival.

Jackson has 18 total touchdowns and seven turnovers through Week 12 while boasting the highest completion percentage (68.3%) of his career.


2023 stats: 1,324 receiving yards, 10 TDs
Current odds: +5000

Earlier this month, Hill downplayed the possibility of winning the MVP by implying his quarterback was a more fitting candidate for the award. QB Tua Tagovailoa has stayed healthy, which has allowed him to emerge as one of the league’s most prolific passers, but it’s his connection with Hill that’s the engine behind Miami’s offensive juggernaut. Tagovailoa has a 95.0 QBR when targeting Hill (second in the NFL among QB-receiver duos), who leads the league in receiving yards (1,324), receiving touchdowns (10) and receiving yards per game (120.4). Hill’s 4.2 yards per route are the most by any receiver in the NFL Next Gen Stats era (min. 150 routes).

He’s on pace for an NFL-record 2,046 receiving yards, which would make him a shoo-in for Offensive Player of the Year if he falls short of the MVP.

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Just missed

Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers (+2000)

McCaffrey has been dominant for the 49ers. His 16 total touchdowns (11 rushing, five receiving) lead all non-quarterbacks and broke a franchise single-season record that had stood since 1985. The running back had his first 100-yard game since Week 4 when he rushed for 114 yards on 19 carries against the Seahawks on Thanksgiving and has three touchdowns in his past two games. He leads the league with 939 rushing yards and is on pace to finish the season with 1,451 yards.


Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (+1000)

Tagovailoa’s two-interception performance, which included a pick-six and QBR of 34.8, against the Jets in Week 12 was tough, but he still threw for 243 yards and a touchdown to earn Miami its eighth win of the season and a two-game lead in the AFC East. The Dolphins quarterback was the favorite for the MVP through the first six weeks but has since cooled off after his performances in losses to the Eagles (216 passing yards, TD, INT) and Chiefs (193 passing yards, TD).


C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans (+1600)

The No. 2 overall pick in the draft became the first rookie to throw for 300 passing yards in four straight games. It will be difficult for Stroud to win the MVP given the award has gone to a rookie only once (Jim Brown in 1957) and the fact that the Texans aren’t a lock to make the playoffs (the last MVP from a non-playoff team was O.J. Simpson in 1973). But he deserves to be in the conversation with top-10 rankings in passing yards (3,266, second), touchdowns (19, tied for seventh), first downs (155, second) and QBR (62.7, eighth).

Also received top-10 votes: Bills QB Josh Allen, 49ers QB Brock Purdy, Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence, Browns DE Myles Garrett, Lions QB Jared Goff, Cowboys LB Micah Parsons, Eagles C Jason Kelce, Steelers LB T.J. Watt, Broncos CB Pat Surtain II, Cowboys CB DaRon Bland, Vikings QB Joshua Dobbs

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Whose stock is up after 12 weeks?

Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers (+1400)

He rebounded from throwing five interceptions in three straight losses in Weeks 6-8 by leading the 49ers to three consecutive wins, beginning with a dominant three-touchdown performance at Jacksonville in Week 10. He ranks first in QBR (75.6), completion percentage (70.2%), yards per attempt (9.4) and EPA per play (0.33).


Whose stock is down after 12 weeks?

Jared Goff, QB, Detroit Lions (+6000)

He came back down to earth after turning the ball over six times in games against the Bears and Packers (when he also he lost three fumbles). The Lions quarterback was pressured 17 times in a loss to Green Bay, his most in a game with Detroit, and went 29-of-44 passing for 332 yards, two touchdowns and a 15 QBR.


Is there a defender who has made a case worthy of the MVP award?

Hear me out. Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who’s tied for third in the NFL with 13.0 sacks and has 49 total pressures, has made his mark among defenders worthy of the MVP. He’s likely to win Defensive Player of the Year for good reason, but don’t sleep on Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland.

Bland recorded his record-breaking fifth pick-six this season in a win over the Commanders. Bland leads the league with seven interceptions and is tied for the fourth-most passes defensed with 13. If he continues to see those numbers ascend when Dallas faces MVP-caliber quarterbacks like Hurts, Josh Allen and Tagovailoa, the second-year corner will only further his case for the league-wide MVP.


Which upcoming games will impact the MVP race the most and why?

Hurts and Prescott face off again for the second time this season in Week 14 on “Sunday Night Football.” Hurts and the Eagles defeated the Cowboys in their first matchup of the season in Week 9. How both of those quarterbacks perform in Round 2 will go a long ways in determining whether either QB is MVP-worthy.

Also keep an eye on Jackson and the Ravens (9-3) facing the AFC South-leading Jaguars (8-3) and Trevor Lawrence in Week 15. Jackson is 14-4 in prime-time games over his career and has an opportunity to strengthen his case in a head-to-head matchup with fellow MVP hopeful Lawrence (+4000).

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Walder’s under-the-radar MVP candidate

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (+4000)

Who is the better MVP candidate? The player who ranks third in QBR (72.1) and leads the offense that ranks third in EPA per play (0.10), or the one who ranks sixth (63.5) and fifth (0.08) in those two categories, respectively?

The first player is Allen. The second is Hurts, the MVP favorite who also happens to play on a team with better targets and a better offensive line than the Bills. Don’t forget: The beginning of the season counts, too! That’s why I had Allen not only ahead of Hurts on my ballot this week but ranked third overall. He’s within striking distance of deserving the award. Quarterback wins don’t always tell the full story!

This post was originally published on ESPN

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