2023 NFL MVP: Nine players to consider in unique award race

Every NFL season is weird in its own way, but the 2023 campaign has delivered one of the strangest MVP races in league memory. With five weeks and one game to go, it doesn't feel like there's a clear favorite or even a strong short list of qualified candidates. So many of the league's top quarterbacks are either injured (Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow) or declined from what they did a year ago (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen). Justin Jefferson, the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts, has been sidelined for most of the season. There's no dominant pass-rusher blowing away the rest of the competition or a back on pace for record-setting numbers.

Instead, MVP voting that is almost exclusively limited to quarterbacks on successful teams by early December has had to stay open to other options. Even now, with little more than a month to go, it still feels like somebody unexpected could put together a burst of great football to end the season and sneak away with the trophy. There are holes to poke in the résumés of many of the top candidates and reasonable questions about whether those teams are being driven by something outside of their quarterback.

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Today, let's expand the scope and think about the MVP race differently. With no great conventional quarterback, I'm going to discuss the unconventional candidates. I'll break down stars who play positions that don't normally win the award, playmakers on pace to set records, defenders who are changing the game with big plays and quarterbacks whose profiles did not attract serious MVP consideration before the season. While most people would pick a quarterback to win MVP before the season begins, just about nobody was picking these quarterbacks.

I'll begin there in Dallas, where you haven't heard much chatter about the incumbent being benched for Trey Lance recently:

Jump to a candidate:
Jessie Bates III | DaRon Bland
Tyreek Hill | Jason Kelce
Christian McCaffrey | Dak Prescott
C.J. Stroud | T.J. Watt | Trent Williams

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Before the season: An above-average quarterback without a superstar ceiling
Now: The hottest quarterback in the game