Opening NFL MVP odds are always fun to look back on at the end of the season. New stars pop up every year, and sometimes an MVP emerges from the cellar to take the league by storm. Look no further than last seaon. Patrick Mahomes opened at +3300 last year, then went on to have simply one of the greatest passing seasons in league history. And since preseason is the best time to get ultimate value on your betting hunches, betters must capitalize on those players flying under the radar in the same vein as Mahomes right now.
For this piece, I am looking at good value bets around the league at a multitude of positions. There is no intrigue in placing $100 on short odds targets like Mahomes or Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck. What I am trying to find is that diamond in the rough who can earn you a small fortune with a modest bet, with odds no shorter that +3000.
For each player’s MVP odds, I am using odds posted here on MyBookie. Limit one player per division.
Ben Roethlisberger (+4000)
Labeling Roethlisberger as a “sleeper” may seem ridiculous, given his long run of production and the Steelers’ relatively sustained success. However, the tide in the division has strongly shifted to either team Baker Mayfield or Baltimore’s ground-and-pound approach. Pittsburgh, without Antonio Brown, has somewhat moved to the back burner. Thus, this is Roethlisberger’s year to show who deserves more credit for the Steelers’ strong passing game that last nine years or so. It is not as if he will be devoid of weapons, either. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a top-12 receiver, James Conner arguably a top-10 back and Vance McDonald a capable pass-catching tight end. There is a realistic case for Roethlisberger showing little regression, at least statistically. The bigger question for his MVP candidacy is whether reports of his suspect leadership are A) accurate and B) play a role this year.
DeAndre Hopkins (+12,500)
These are some awfully long odds, and frankly, if the Texans offense continues its upward trend, Deshaun Watson will get much of the credit. But Watson is in the top-10 for shortest odds, so he is not eligible here. And despite Hopkins’ gaudy numbers and two consecutive First Team All-Pro nods, somehow it seems he gets underrated at times. He almost single-handedly kept the Texans’ passing game above sea level much of last season, accounting for at least a third of Watson’s yards, completions and touchdowns and just under a third of his targets.
As good as Watson has looked these first two years, Hopkins’ ability to find open space and make contested catches has been a vital safety net, particularly as Watson has encountered constant pressure. And that heavy reliance is not going away any time soon, given Will Fuller’s injury troubles. So while the odds reflect Hopkins’ slim chances, he has a better chance than anyone else at his position to become the first receiver ever to win the award.
Sam Darnold (+10,000)
Darnold and Josh Allen both fit the Mahomes mold as year two quarterbacks with an abundance of unbridled physical tools. Allen actually has shorter odds than Darnold at +8000, but Darnold gets the call for me for a couple reasons. For one, his college career shows a far more harnessed, accurate passer than Allen, despite their similar rookie seasons. Also, the Jets have put a roster around Darnold that looks a little better on paper, including a few offensive line signings and a potentially stronger defense. Unexpected team success can often be a driving force for sleeper MVP candidates, thus Darnold feels like the stronger candidate right now.
Derek Carr (+12,500)
A quarterback for a potentially ascending team with a new stud receiver? That is a good recipe for sleeper MVP. Sure, the most recent vintage of Carr has been far from MVP-caliber. But Carr has been to the mountain of MVP-candidacy in two separate NFL seasons. With another full offseason alongside Gruden, plus Antonio Brown, plus some added help on defense, it is not unfathomable for Carr to reclaim some level of top shelf quarterbacking. It may be as simple a matter as finding his confidence again, as Carr’s conservative approach has handcuffed him since his injury in 2016 and his big contract in 2017. But Brown tends to inspire boldness in his quarterback, for better or for worse, with his dynamic route-running and strength in contested catch situations. That may be all it takes to get Carr back on the horse.
Mitchell Trubisky (+6600)
This division is a toss-up. Two guys scream longshot MVP candidate, Trubisky and Kirk Cousins, yet both seem to have such crippling weaknesses that it is hard to choose one over the other. Trubisky has the bouts of inaccuracy coupled with poor decision-making and just general rawness. Cousins shares the poor decision-making gene to a degree, but is more accurate as a passer and has better receivers to throw to. That said, last year showed that mediocre protection can cripple Cousins, as his internal clock can force his hand more often than one would like. Trubisky may struggle with pocket awareness, but his elite mobility creates space in spite of that.
In the end, the choice is Trubisky for one simple reason: he is entering year three, and has given fans reason to think he has development ahead of him. Barring a major upgrade to play-calling and pass protection, Cousins probably is who we have seen him to be–largely capable, can win some games by himself, but will not elevate all that often. Whereas, maybe Trubisky can hit that extra level with another year of Matt Nagy’s tutelage.
Jameis Winston (+5000)
In the annals of NFL MVP history, there are plenty of examples of reclamation winners. Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner, even Cam Newton and Matt Ryan to an extent, all found the top of the mountain once the right system and situation developed around them. So while Jameis Winston’s career to date has been a massive disappointment, this year could be the proper windfall of events to right the ship.
The most important ingredient is Bruce Arians. Tampa’s new coach has a long track record of getting the best out of talented quarterbacks and building winning offenses. Heck, in his most recent stop, he reignited the career of Carson Palmer, another former number one overall pick whose career took a sharp left turn. As for pass catchers, we know that Mike Evans is going to be an ace target for Winston. But last year was also a solid step in the development of O.J. Howard, who may be on his way to fulfilling his potential as an upper-echelon tight end. The only thing that is left is for Winston to simply be smarter and more accurate with the football. He has all the tools, he has the coach, he has the weapons. The situation seems right. If Winston cannot approach elite levels under Arians, then he probably never will.
Saquon Barkley (+4000)
Frankly, MVP has been and will likely remain a quarterback award. But no running back in the league right now looks to have a stronger preseason case than does Barkley. As a rookie, he accounted for over a third of the Giants’ yards from scrimmage, leading the team in receptions and finishing second in targets and receiving yards behind Odell Beckham. With the Giants inexplicably full speed ahead on Eli Manning’s ship once again, and with Beckham now elsewhere, one has to assume that Barkley’s massive load will only increase in year two.
Of course, for Barkley to seriously push for MVP, the Giants are going to have to win games. Adrian Peterson the award won when strapped the Vikings to his back en route to the playoffs. Same went for Ladanian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander with their respective teams. And given the state of the NFC East, it seems the Giants are a bit of a playoff long shot. That said, Barkley carried New York to some wins as a rookie. With more experience, and theoretically a better offensive line, who is to say he cannot do what some of the greats at his position have done before? If the Giants push for a playoff spot unexpectedly and Barkley approaches 2,500 yards from scrimmage, he will have to be in the conversation.
Aaron Donald (+4000)
Donald has officially joined J.J. Watt’s echelon as the most dominant defensive forces of this generation. And in kind, Donald did in fact enter the MVP conversation a bit last season. Donald did not receive any votes last year, but if the ballot included second place, third place, etc., Donald would likely have earned a handful of mentions. No single defensive player has impacted the game on a snap-to-snap basis like Donald has the past few years. His pressure numbers are almost unprecedented for an interior pass rusher. But even more so, he has finished plays to the tune of 31.5 sacks and 68 hits over the past two seasons.
But defensive players do not win in today’s NFL, so isn’t betting on Donald basically the same as setting money on fire? Well, to a degree, sure. No defensive player has won since Lawrence Taylor in 1986 and the only other defensive player to win in the award’s history is Alan Page in 1971. Plus, Donald is the only defensive player this year with any odds on MyBookie, so they do not exactly anticipate defensive players really pushing for consideration. But there is a reason why Donald’s odds lie in the same realm as some less bold candidates, such as Cam Newton or Jared Goff. He impacts the game as much as any non-quarterback, and often times completely negates good quarterback play.
For Donald to realistically contend for MVP, there would certainly have to be a muddle of quarterbacks at the top with no truly exceptional performances. On top of that, Donald would likely have to at least match, if not exceed his 20.5-sack 2018 season. A long shot, but certainly no unobtainable.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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