Top 5 Sleepers for the 2021 NFL MVP

By Dan Vasta in NFL
| June 24, 2021 10:50 am PDT

The NFL MVP has been dominated by the quarterback position, like the Heisman Trophy has been in recent memory. If you do not play the most coveted position in sports, your chances are diminished.

The likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning have been impressive over the years. Youngsters such as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson seem to be passing the eye test thus far (among many other categories) and it has not been since 2012 where a non-quarterback won the award.

Adrian Peterson put together a season with Minnesota that will forever rank among the better seasons in NFL history. Over 2,000 yards rushing to go along with 12 rushing scores were enough to take home the award.

The 17-game season will allow us to have more opportunities for NFL MVP sleepers to appear almost out of nowhere. It certainly comes with luck and a ton of opportunities to see an MVP season occur.

Playing on playoff teams is key as all the recent MVP winners have made the postseason with most of them in the running for championships. Without further ado, here are my top sleepers to win the NFL MVP in the upcoming 2021 season.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans (+2500)

Don’t look now, but the Titans signal-caller has been one of the better pure passers in the entire NFL after a few suspect seasons in Miami.

Winning cures everything and Tannehill has turned into more than just a game-managing quarterback. His numbers with the Dolphins were never awful, per se, but they have been fantasy-relevant with Tennessee.

The ability to thread the needle to AJ Brown has been helpful, but a balanced offensive attack is often the key.

Playing next to several stars in Brown, Derrick Henry, and now Julio Jones will make his life enjoyable, and it even turns the Titans into legit Super Bowl threats.

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Bringing in Jones is huge for their Super Bowl chances. Julio averages 95.5 receiving yards per game, which ranks atop all players in NFL history.

Tannehill rushed for seven scores on top of his 33 passing scores. He has now had three consecutive seasons with single-digit interceptions, which is the longest streak of his career.

Those Miami days were full of turnovers, and it didn’t help that there was only one winning season in terms of his starting record.

Tannehill brings a ton of value to the betting board for the NFL MVP at +2500. He was at +4000 before the Julio trade became official, so pat yourself on the back if you pulled that off. That ranks just barely outside the top 10 and was near the top 15 contenders before acquiring Jones.

The biggest issue might be sharing votes with the man that stands right behind or beside him. That’s Derrick Henry, who is capable of eclipsing 2,000 yards and stealing the spotlight as one of the strongest men in the entire NFL.

A.J. Brown will steal some of the votes as well due to his yard after the catch talents. The team is capable of winning the AFC South and should be a locked playoff team if they get any consistency from their defense.

Houston and Jacksonville are not expected to become world-beaters this season, so Tannehill should reap the benefits. The overall numbers will once again be more than respectable. It simply will come down to winning ten or more games on top of posting gaudy numbers.

Putting up 40+ scores would put him in the conversation and surely only a select few can keep up with those video game-like numbers.

Derrick Henry, RB, Titans (+5000)

The beast among full-grown men (isn’t that Brock Lesnar?) has already shown how amazing he is. Every season there are a handful of plays that are trending on social media and all over the world due to a massive stiff-arm or running over an entire defense.

Henry is a menace in the open field and once he gets past the front four, all bets are off. He is bigger than most defensive players in the back seven and is faster than them as well. This has been the best back toting the rock in the NFL for the past few seasons.

The three seasons Henry has posted thus far have been a cheat code. He has toted the rock 896 times for 4,626 yards with an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. He has 45 rushing scores including a 99-yard scamper that he pulled off against Jacksonville on a Thursday night in 2018.

Henry has blazing speed and once he gets to that second level he might not get caught from behind. To tackle a bowling ball is never fun, but one that can outrun most defenders is overly impressive.

There isn’t anything from a physical or athletic standpoint that he does not check. He can do it all and do it better than just about any player in the NFL. Those first few seasons in the NFL after winning the Heisman were tough adjusting to the style of play and developing a rapport with the Titans.

The addition of Julio Jones will likely allow Henry to see less crowded boxes, as well. More running room could be the difference between having a great season to a legendary Hall of Fame one.

Of course, he kind of already enjoyed that last year when he joined the select 2,000+ yard rushing club.

Here was his final stat line from a year ago.

Rush Attempts 378
Rushing Yards 2,027
Yards Per Carry 5.4
Yards Per Game 126.7
Rushing Touchdowns 17

All of those were career highs for Henry. Just imagine what adding Julio Jones and a 17th game do to his 2021 stat line.

If Jones does have a monster season, then we could see votes taken from Henry and even Tannehill as well. Time will tell if the body can even hold up since Jones just missed seven games in 2020 due to a lingering hamstring injury.

The addition will only help if we see him stay on the field with consistency. This should be a win for everybody, but Henry and Tannehill are the biggest winners. A.J. Brown would be a player that likely was going to see a major increase in targets and receptions before acquiring Jones.

The weakness for Derrick Henry to have an MVP season (+5000) is from a numbers perspective. This could be costly due to his inability to be a factor in the passing game. In the past three seasons, he has been targeted just 73 times for 52 receptions.

Those numbers are from three seasons overall which is way off compared to some of the other elite backs such as Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara. That trio has surpassed those numbers in one season on average and Henry does not get asked much in that department.

Many will question how much he could contribute if given more of an opportunity, but it only matters if the Titans keep winning.

Tennessee did fall short against Baltimore in the Wild Card round mainly due to the ineffectiveness that Henry provided. Henry posted 40 yards on 18 carries without a score. He had three catches for 11 yards and the hope is Tennessee can get back to the postseason with a deeper run.

A better record and solid production from Julio would help them have multiple home games. The numbers likely will follow, and it truly may come down to how productive the top quarterbacks are out there. It is a major disadvantage to being a non-quarterback, but Henry has shown he can carry his team (and multiple defenders) on his back.

Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals (+3300)

The former Bayou Bengal did not have the rookie season he was hoping for, but his skills were not diminished in any way. The lack of production he received from his offensive line truly let him down, and ultimately led to a brutal knee injury.

Fortunately, Burrow is on the mend, and looks to be ready for week one in 2021. His expected speedy recovery has him among PFF’s biggest breakout candidates, too.

Burrow gets a considerable boost with the arrival of former college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase.

Chase was a legend at LSU with elite receiving skills that surpassed Justin Jefferson. Jefferson was a monster in his own right, but did not win the award given to the top wide receiver in college football in 2019. That was given to Chase, who was unstoppable in all of the crucial games LSU had to match up with.

The rapport between the two was unparalleled and it would not be shocking to see Chase post similar numbers that Jefferson posted in his rookie season at Minnesota.

Many wanted Burrow to get more protection up front, but there is still upside to be had here. Chase is capable of being next-level great if he can show enough consistency early on. He may start to demand double teams fairly early on in his career, which would only free things up for the likes of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

Burrow has an elite arm with the savviness of a nine-year veteran. Add in all of this stellar talent around him, and the sky is the limit.

The AFC North division will be a tough gauntlet all season and will make it a tough career on Burrow. However, if Burrow can put his weapons to good use, survive a spotty o-line and successfully combat a loaded division, he’ll be impossible to ignore as an MVP candidate.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers (+5000)

The Carolina Panthers are a trendy team to go from the basement of a division essentially towards the postseason.

CMC has been an unstoppable force when he can stay on the gridiron and perform like a superstar. Christian McCaffrey obviously didn’t play much last year, but look at what he did when he was out there.

Week Rush Yards Rush TDs Receptions Receiving Yards Rec TDs
1 97 2 3 38 0
2 59 2 4 29 0
9 69 1 10 82 1

Just three games, I know. But McCaffrey was an increddibly useful offensive weapon in those games, and in one of those contests the Panthers nearly upset the Chiefs.

McCaffrey has been a fantasy machine on a per-game basis. He posted 80 receptions on a down year in 2019 which would make him a solid WR2 for fantasy purposes without a single carry in the backfield. Luckily, he gets plenty of those and the addition of Sam Darnold should help him reach elite status yet again.

The viable options for the Panthers should not scare you off. This Joe Brady offense had Teddy Bridgewater find success without Christian McCaffrey and his health should improve the play of Sam Darnold. Darnold can improve his career in an offense that is full of productive players.

Brady and the Panthers drafted former LSU wideout Terrace Marshall, who should help DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. Moore led the NFL with over 18 yards per reception last season, while Anderson hauled in a career-high 95 receptions last season.

Overall, this trio has great speed, which will open the underneath routes for CMC to take a huge bite out of opposing defenses.

The schedule is very manageable for Carolina, as well. The Panthers are playing zero teams coming off byes and the division should be highly entertaining.

Atlanta has been awful on defense and not much will change. Losing Julio Jones will not help them much if any injuries occur. This is an offense that has tremendous upside and they could be a future contender in a division that has some aging quarterbacks.

McCaffrey has 45 career touchdowns combined from the rushing and receiving departments. That includes the injury-plagued 2020 season where we saw just three games played.

A full season with 17 games should equate to 20-plus scores. We just witnessed a 19-touchdown season in 2019, so it should not be out of the question to see improvement there.

The MVP odds (+5000) are stacked against McCaffrey due to the position he plays, but an all-purpose machine can always stay in the hunt if the numbers are video game-like.

The consensus top pick in all fantasy football drafts could push his team towards a postseason berth and this is the MVP dark horse sleeper that you should keep your eye on.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings (+10000)

The work that this former all-time Florida State rushing leader has put together the past few seasons has been overly impressive. The ability to hit the home run and sneak in scores when the ball reaches the red zone will give Cook a shot at the 2021 NFL MVP.

Missing two games or more in all four of his seasons thus far would be the one glaring weakness that must be addressed in the offseason. Cook is an absolute warrior in his workouts with his elite acceleration. This speed demon can go from a zero-yard gain to a quick 80-yard scamper in the blink of an eye.

Just look at what he did to the Packers last year.

Consecutive 14-game seasons have translated into 2,692 rushing yards to go along with 29 scores on the ground. The difference between Cook and many other performers has been the improvement on the receiving end of things.

The Viking back has also hauled in 97 receptions for 880 yards over these past two seasons. That is making great strides after hardly posting much in his first two seasons that were full of injuries.

The development from his offensive line and Kirk Cousins has been improving. Cousins is coming off a career-high season thanks to talented receivers, but the protection is worrisome.

Any injury to Cousins would immediately cost Cook a ton of production. Boxes would get stacked and finding any running room would be rough.

The health of a quarterback is always a driving force into a wideout or running back. Throw out their MVP chances if anything significant were to happen as they need a ton of lucky breaks and increased volume just to contend with the players who touch the ball every down.

Cook brings a ton to the table as a deep sleeper for the 2021 NFL MVP and it won’t come as a shocker if he eclipses 2,000 yards of total offense in the new 17-game season.

Betting on the NFL MVP in 2021

There’s no harm in betting on NFL MVP sleepers. Few pegged Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes as locks to win in previous seasons, while an aging Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the top pick going into last year, either.

Mahomes enters 2021 as the top favorite at the best sites for betting on the NFL, but bettors have to be on the lookout for that next amazing season nobody sees coming.

The NFL MVP award is about two things: statistical dominance and high-level team success.

It’s possible to win this award at a non-quarterback position, but your team must thrive due to your play, and your numbers will undeniably need to be of the record-setting variety.

Top Tip
Bettors are still safest with quarterback bets – sleeper or otherwise – seeing as the position has secured the hardware in eight consecutive seasons.

There is merit in eyeing compelling 2021 NFL MVP sleepers at running back, though, especially since 2,000+ yard seasons are so hard to come by.

These value bets are a great place to start if you’re looking for upside with your 2021 NFL MVP betting. Of course, be sure to look at the top threats to win the 2021 NFL MVP, as you’ll want to cover all bases before finalizing your wagers.

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