Does Lamar Jackson have the NFL’s MVP award locked up? Our panel ranked the five finalists

Although Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens’ 2023 season stopped one game short of Super Bowl LVIII, Jackson’s outstanding regular season is why he is the odds-on favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award for the second time in his career at the annual NFL Honors ceremony on February 8.
Jackson is one of five nominees for the award, with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, and 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. Every four weeks of the regular season, our ESPN panel voted on the top players in the MVP race, and there were a few changes among the front-runners — Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen

Hurts and Purdy all held the #1 place at one point. But the season is ended, and the race is down to five.
For our final episode, 12 analysts (Mike Clay, Courtney Cronin, Jeremy Fowler, Dan Graziano, Matt Miller, Dan Orlovsky, Aaron Schatz, Marcus Spears, Mike Tannenbaum, Lindsey Thiry, Seth Walder, and Field Yates) voted on who they thought should win the 2023 NFL MVP. We used the 12 sets of rankings to stack the top five candidates. Yes, Jackson won the most first-place votes from our panel, but how did the rest play out? Here’s our final 2023 MVP rankings.

1. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens.

Lamar Jackson was the NFL MVP last season. What's happened in 2020? |  Baltimore Ravens | The Guardian
Our panel voted 9 times for first place.

2023 stats: 3,678 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and 64.7 QBR (821 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns).

Jackson led a Baltimore offense that ranked first in running (5.5 yards/rush led all quarterbacks and marked his fifth consecutive season averaging more than 5 yards per carry), fourth in scoring (28.4 points per game), sixth in yards (370.4 per game), and eighth in red zone scoring (61.8%).

The Ravens stormed through their schedule en route to a league-best 13-4 record, defeating other playoff-bound teams by more than 100 points, a feat accomplished only once before in NFL history (2007 Patriots). Baltimore’s new offense under coordinator Todd Monken allowed Jackson to blossom as a passer, with a career-best 67.2% completion percentage (eighth) while ranking fourth in QBR, fourth in yards per attempt (8.0), eleventh in passing touchdowns, and fifteenth in passing yards.

How does this season stack up against his 2019 MVP season? Jackson set the quarterback rushing record (1,206) and led the league in passing touchdowns (36) during his undisputed MVP season in 2019. He tossed 12 fewer touchdowns in 2023, but he achieved career highs in throwing yards and completion rate.

Despite his amount of runs decreasing this season, which likely had a good influence on his durability (the quarterback started a career-high 16 games and only sat for the regular season)

When Baltimore rested its starters, Jackson still led the Ravens and all quarterbacks in running. His command and control of Baltimore’s offense peaked in his sixth season, when his passing ability, vision, and feel elevated him among the league’s most electrifying quarterbacks.

Since the 1970 merger, 39 quarterbacks have received MVP awards. Jackson would become the third player to win the award without rushing or receiving 1,000 yards, following John Elway in 1987 and Brett Favre in 1996.

MVP moment: Jackson undoubtedly won MVP in a Week 17 victory over Miami, when he tossed five touchdown passes, had a perfect passer rating, and helped the Ravens secure the AFC’s top seed. The Ravens scored 56 points, the second most in franchise history, following Michael Jackson and Baltimore’s 59 during his 2019 MVP season.
2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills.

Josh Allen | Biography, Stats, College, Buffalo Bills, & Facts | Britannica
First-place votes from our panel: 2

2023 stats: 4,306 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 69.6 QBR. (524 running yards, 15 touchdowns).

In late November, Buffalo was on the outside of the postseason picture with a 6-6 record. After battling with turnovers early in the season, Allen did not let his interceptions to ruin the Bills.

Buffalo finished the 2023 season on a five-game winning run, capturing the AFC East and earning home field advantage in the playoffs. Despite a coordinator change after Week 10, the Bills’ offense remained among the league’s top, finishing first in third-down conversions (49.8%), fourth in yards per game (374.5), fifth in yards per play (5.7), and sixth in points per game (25.3).

The 27-year-old quarterback’s 44 touchdowns were six more than Jalen Hurts and Prescott’s 38 (second most), and his completion percentage (66.5%) was his second-highest in six seasons.

In what area does Allen have an advantage over the other finalists? It would be easy to let Allen’s rushing efforts overshadow his lackluster passing numbers, but the Bills quarterback also checks the boxes there, ranking fourth among all quarterbacks in passing yards. This season, he led the NFL in total yards (4,830) and touchdowns (44), demonstrating his dominance both on the ground and in the air.

Standout stat: Allen’s 15 rushing touchdowns (tied with Hurts) were the second most by any player in 2023, setting an NFL record for a quarterback in a season.

MVP performance: Allen passed for 320 yards and four touchdowns in a thrilling Week 4 victory over the Dolphins. He also rushed for a score that day.

3. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott aims to lead Dallas Cowboys out of Super Bowl drought in 2023  | Marca
First-place votes from our panel: 1

2023 stats: 4,516 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and 72.7 QBR (242 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns).

Prescott led the Cowboys to their third consecutive 12-win season and NFC East championship with one of the league’s greatest scoring offenses, averaging 27 points per game. The Cowboys’ plus-194 point difference was the second greatest in the league, trailing only the Ravens, and they set a team record with six home wins of 20 or more points.

Prescott led the NFL in passing touchdowns and was second in touchdown-to-interception ratio (4-to-1). Dallas’ stronger receiving corps around Prescott helped him generate the league’s highest QBR (tied with Purdy) and enhance his downfield passing ability in 2023.
Was Prescott’s season the finest of his career? Prescott’s stats were higher in multiple categories in previous seasons, but the manner he propelled the Cowboys’ offense when coach Mike McCarthy resumed playcalling duties resulted in the most efficient version of himself in eight seasons.

Prescott became the first NFL quarterback to have a completion percentage of 80.0% or greater in four games in a season while achieving career highs in passer rating and completion.

Passing touchdown percentages and leads. In the first half of the season, Prescott recorded multiple first-half passing touchdowns in seven straight games, the greatest streak since Tom Brady did so in eight consecutive games in 2007.

Standout stat: According to ESPN Stats and Information, Prescott has four games with four passing touchdowns this season, tying Tony Romo (2007) for the most in a season in Cowboy history.

MVP moment: Prescott confirmed himself as a top MVP candidate in Week 14, when the Cowboys defeated the Eagles despite scoring on every play in the first half, thanks to Prescott’s 157 yards and two touchdowns in the first two quarters alone.

4. Christian McCaffrey, SF 49ers

49ers' Christian McCaffrey: When Someone 'Gets Rid of You...You Take It  Personally' | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors | Bleacher Report
Our panel’s first-place votes: zero.

2023 stats: 1,459 running yards, 14 touchdowns; 564 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns.

Let’s get real. McCaffrey is unlikely to win the MVP award because he is not a quarterback (the last non-QB to do so was Adrian Peterson in 2012), but his performances helped San Francisco achieve the NFC’s top seed and made him perhaps the most valuable player on a talented club. McCaffrey carves up defenses in a variety of ways; he not only led the league in running, but also in touches (339), combined rushing and receiving touchdowns (21) and yards from scrimmage.

McCaffrey’s 2023 season is the best MVP performance by a running back since ____. In 2019, he became the third player in NFL history to have at least 1,000 running yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. This season, McCaffrey tied Raheem Mostert for the most touchdowns with 21 (second-most in franchise history behind Jerry Rice), set a 49ers record with 14 rushing touchdowns, and became the first 49ers player to rush for 1,000 yards since Frank Gore in 2014, breaking the league’s longest drought without a 1,000-yard rusher.

Standout statistic: How about seven of them? McCaffrey led the league in rushing (658 yards after first contact), runs of 10 or more yards (44), runs of 15 or more yards (20), rushing and receiving first downs (114), touchdown receptions, and receiving yards by a running back.

MVP moment: In Week 15 against Arizona, McCaffrey had 115 rushing yards, a team-high five receptions for 72 yards, and three touchdowns, making it his 15th career game with at least one rushing and receiving touchdown (tied for the most in NFL history), with four of those coming in 2023.

5. Brock Purdy, SF 49ers

Brock Purdy: San Francisco 49ers' unflappable rookie quarterback looking to  make Super Bowl history | NFL News | Sky Sports
Our panel’s first-place votes: zero.

2023 statistics: 4,280 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 72.7 QBR (144 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns).

Purdy’s season, which helped the 49ers become the NFC’s No. 1 seed after shaking off a three-game losing streak in midseason, highlights the need of nuance in the discussion. His passing stats were among the finest in the league, tied with Prescott for first in QBR, yards per attempt (9.6), and touchdown percentage (7%), and this isn’t simply because he plays in a quarterback-friendly setup.

The most logical proof is that Purdy was one of five quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,200 yards, beat Joe Montana’s franchise record for passer rating (113.0), and guided his team to a 12-win season. Purdy deserves on our list because he delivered one of the top quarterback performances of the season. Period.
Did McCaffrey jeopardize Purdy’s MVP chances? Not as much as Purdy’s four interceptions against Baltimore on December 25th. It will always be difficult for the 24-year-old quarterback to demonstrate to some that he’s more than a system quarterback/game.

Mainly due of three things: (1) being in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, (2) having so much of the offense flow through McCaffrey, and (3) being labeled as “Mr. Irrelevant”. However, Purdy cost himself MVP in the prime-time game by entering as the prohibitive favorite for the award and being destroyed by the Ravens’ defense.

Purdy had eight games in 2023 with multiple passing touchdowns and no interceptions, the most by a first- or second-year player in NFL history.

MVP moment: Purdy’s four-touchdown, 314-yard passing effort in a 42-19 thrashing of Philadelphia in Week 13 cemented him as an MVP favorite while keeping the Eagles out of contention for the top seed.

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