1-32 poll, plus every team’s non-quarterback MVP

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Selecting Most Valuable Players is something the NFL Power Rankings takes seriously. But at the same time, we realize how easy it is to pick a quarterback, write a few words about him and declare him the MVP of a team. So we’re not going to do that in 2021.

As you read the following list of team MVPs — carefully selected by our esteemed club of NFL Nation reporters — you’re not going to see names such as Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Instead, you’re going to see a diverse assortment of non-quarterback players from all over the field. From top running backs to record-setting pass-catchers to the best of the best pass-rushers and pass defenders, we’re using this space to glorify players who usually sit in the background while the quarterbacks receive the love. We even have a kicker and a punter on this list, though we’re not sure that New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars fans will be too excited about that.

How we determine our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

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ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
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NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Previous ranking: 2

Non-QB MVP: S Tyrann Mathieu

With Patrick Mahomes out of the mix in this scenario, the Chiefs have several other candidates for this honor, but none has been a consistent presence like Mathieu. He is the first one to tell you this hasn’t been his best season, but he still leads the Chiefs in interceptions, with three, and fumble recoveries, also with three. He also is the locker room leader who wouldn’t let the Chiefs quit on themselves after the season’s rotten start. — Adam Teicher


Previous ranking: 1

Non-QB MVP: WR Davante Adams

Yes, we all know the Packers are 7-0 in games that Adams has missed since the 2019 season. But as Aaron Rodgers has said repeatedly when that gets brought up, the Packers are not a better team without him. Adams is arguably the best receiver in football right now, and his connection with Rodgers is unmatched. What’s more, teams have been known to dedicate so much attention to him, like the Ravens did in Week 15, that his presence alone is invaluable. — Rob Demovsky


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Ryan Clark explains why he believes Dak Prescott and the Cowboys still need to improve despite their dominant win vs. Washington.

Previous ranking: 4

Non-QB MVP: LB Micah Parsons

While a case could be made for Trevon Diggs, Parsons has done more to transform the Cowboys’ defense. Parsons leads the team in sacks, has made key plays in key moments and has dominated at the line of scrimmage and off the ball. And to think, the Cowboys were disappointed they couldn’t get either of the top cornerbacks available in Jaycee Horn or Pat Surtain II. That they were able to trade back and still get Parsons should be viewed as a coup. He should be a lock selection for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and also should be one of the top contenders for the Defensive Player of the Year. — Todd Archer


Previous ranking: 3

Non-QB MVP: WR Chris Godwin

Godwin is on injured reserve now, but he was two catches shy of 100 receptions, and he still managed to gain 1,103 receiving yards in 14 games when he did play. He was quarterback Tom Brady‘s most reliable target, with a 77.2% catch percentage. Furthermore, Godwin showed just how versatile he was as a downfield blocker. “He’s such a huge contributor on the field, but off the field too in his leadership, clutch plays,” Brady said. “There’s no way to replace him.” — Jenna Laine


Previous ranking: 6

Non-QB MVP: WR Cooper Kupp

The annual Aaron Donald award this season goes to Kupp, who is making a case to be the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Earning his first Pro Bowl selection in five seasons, Kupp is on pace for the NFL’s “triple crown,” as he leads the league in catches (132), receiving yards (1,734) and receiving touchdowns (14). If Kupp gets it, he will become only the fourth player in NFL history to do so, joining Steve Smith Sr., Sterling Sharpe and Jerry Rice. Kupp also is setting a new standard with more than 90 receiving yards in 11 consecutive games. With the additional 17th game, Kupp is on pace to tie the single-season receptions record and break the single-season receiving yards mark. — Lindsey Thiry


Previous ranking: 10

Non-QB MVP: RB Jonathan Taylor

This is way too easy. Taylor isn’t only the Colts’ MVP, he is a legitimate league MVP contender. Taylor leads the NFL in rushing attempts (297), yards (1,626) and touchdowns (17). Taylor’s production has helped lighten quarterback Carson Wentz‘s load significantly, and the running back’s ability to dominate on the ground helps keep a defense that has forced 31 turnovers this season fresh throughout the game. — Mike Wells


Previous ranking: 9

Non-QB MVPs: S Jordan Poyer/Micah Hyde

This is slight cheating, but neither Poyer nor Hyde could really win this award on his own. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs also was in consideration, but the league’s No. 1 pass defense in a variety of categories is anchored by the safety duo. Poyer and Hyde are the only safety tandem in the NFL with at least five interceptions each this season. They are individually tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the NFL this season and have combined for 19 passes defensed (10 Hyde, 9 Poyer). The argument could be made that Poyer deserves this award on his own, but it’s the pair who make this defense work. — Alaina Getzenberg


Previous ranking: 8

Non-QB MVP: DT Jeffery Simmons

Simmons’ disruptive, game-changing plays don’t always show in the stat sheet even though he is among the league leaders in sacks (7.5) for interior defensive linemen. But chances are Simmons is the catalyst every time there’s a big play from the Titans’ defense. Simmons’ ability to collapse the pocket from the interior has led to multiple interceptions by the Titans. He anchors the middle of the defensive line by routinely blowing up interior offensive linemen and stopping opposing ball carriers for a loss. The way that Simmons occupies blockers allows the linebackers and safeties to get clean hits on opposing running backs. — Turron Davenport


Previous ranking: 5

Non-QB MVP: LB Matthew Judon

Coming off arguably his most disappointing performance of the season in a 33-21 loss to the Bills when he didn’t consistently generate a pass rush, Judon still gets the nod for his overall body of work (12.5 sacks). Up to Week 16, he had been the team’s most disruptive defender, along with CB J.C. Jackson. Kicker Nick Folk (34-of-37 on FGs) is in the discussion, as well. — Mike Reiss


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Dan Orlovsky explains why he has Joe Burrow as a top-5 quarterback in the NFL after his historic performance vs. the Ravens.

Previous ranking: 14

Non-QB MVP: WR Ja’Marr Chase

Chase has been the catalyst for a more dynamic offense. At the beginning of the season, he gave the Bengals the explosive plays they were looking for when they drafted him with the fifth overall pick. As teams started to pay him more attention, that opened up areas for other wide receivers to be productive. Specifically, it helped Tee Higgins cross 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. Cincinnati wanted an immediate playmaker when it drafted Chase, and it certainly appears to have that in the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner. — Ben Baby


Previous ranking: 7

Non-QB MVP: C Rodney Hudson

Hudson is Kyler Murray‘s eyes and ears on the line of scrimmage, helps set the protection, alerts Murray and the rest of the offense to formations and takes care of the rest of the lineman on seemingly a play-by-play basis. Whenever Hudson is out, the Cardinals struggle in some way. He has missed five games thus far this season, and Arizona has lost three of them. Hudson has been the veteran presence at center that Arizona had been lacking for years, and he provided the type of stability and comfort that allowed the Cardinals to get off to a great start. — Josh Weinfuss


Previous ranking: 11

Non-QB MVP: DE Nick Bosa

This is extremely difficult given how important OT Trent Williams and WR Deebo Samuel have been. All three deserve this recognition. But Bosa gets the nod for two reasons: He hasn’t missed a game all season, which is even more impressive considering he is coming off a torn ACL; and it’s hard to fathom how the Niners’ defense would look without him. San Francisco’s cornerback situation isn’t good, but Bosa’s ability to consistently generate a pass rush (he has 15 sacks) while getting double-teamed more than any edge rusher in the league has not only kept the defense competitive but helped it remain in the top 10 in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA). — Nick Wagoner


Previous ranking: 23

Non-QB MVP: CB Darius Slay

The Eagles are tied with the Cowboys for most defensive touchdowns in the NFL at five. That’s mostly because of Slay, who has returned two fumbles for touchdowns and also has a pick-six on the season. Slay, who was named to his fourth Pro Bowl last week, has three interceptions, nine passes defensed and five tackles for loss while holding opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 77.2 when throwing in his direction. His high level of play has boosted a defense that has yielded the second-fewest receptions of 20-plus yards in the NFL (30) — behind only the Buffalo Bills — and ranks ninth against the pass (215.6 yards per game). — Tim McManus


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Matthew Berry says there’s a real discussion to be had about whether Mark Andrews or Travis Kelce is the No. 1 tight end for next season.

Previous ranking: 13

Non-QB MVP: TE Mark Andrews

Andrews is the runaway winner for Ravens MVP at this point. He leads all league tight ends in catches (93) and receiving yards (1,187), in addition to being 15 yards away from setting the Ravens’ single-season receiving mark. But what makes him so valuable? Stepping up when Baltimore’s best player went down. Since Lamar Jackson injured his right ankle, Andrews leads the NFL with 376 yards, running over tacklers to gain extra yards. He has become the emotional leader for a team that has gone through so much adversity this season. — Jamison Hensley


Previous ranking: 12

Non-QB MVP: S Derwin James Jr.

James is by far the defensive MVP for this team. He didn’t play in Sunday’s loss to Houston and missed the end of the Week 15 overtime loss to the Chiefs due to a hamstring issue — highlighting how much the Chargers’ defense relies on him. Until then, he had 103 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. And even while injured, he stood on the sidelines and helped with the playcalling. Coaches say there’s nobody like him in the NFL, and the Chargers need him back for their final two regular-season games if they are going to make a serious playoff push. — Shelley Smith


Previous ranking: 16

Non-QB MVP: WR Jaylen Waddle

Since I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to give this award to Miami’s entire defense, let’s present it to the man who makes the Dolphins’ offense relevant. The team’s leading receiver also has been the most consistent, missing only the Week 15 win over the Jets while he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Waddle’s absence was noticeable, as Miami’s receivers only created on average 2.2 yards of separation against the Jets’ secondary. Waddle’s season average of 3.3 yards of separation is eighth best in the NFL among qualified receivers. He already has broken a franchise rookie record for receptions with 96 and is five catches away from tying the NFL rookie record in that category. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Previous ranking: 21

Non-QB MVP: DE Maxx Crosby

The first-time Pro Bowler might not have eye-popping stats — six sacks in 15 games — but he is more than affecting games as the spiritual leader of a reimagined and much-improved defense. Plus, Crosby is a Pro Football Focus favorite, ranking in its top two among all edge rushers in pressures and pass rush grade for most of the season. As interim coach Rich Bisaccia said, Crosby, who was in rehab for alcoholism in 2020, is bringing the “power of example” both on and off the field to his teammates. — Paul Gutierrez


Previous ranking: 17

Non-QB MVP: RB Alvin Kamara

It was hard not to pick a defensive player such as LB Demario Davis or CB Marshon Lattimore, since the defense has been New Orleans’ driving force this season. But Kamara has practically been the entire offense because of injuries to WR Michael Thomas, QB Jameis Winston and the offensive line. Kamara is averaging nearly 100 yards per game from scrimmage (97.7) and has eight touchdowns in the 11 games he has played this season. And the offense fell even flatter when he wasn’t on the field from Weeks 10 to 13 because of injuries, with the Saints going 0-4 in that stretch. — Mike Triplett


Previous ranking: 15

Non-QB MVP: OLB T.J. Watt

Watt has proved to be a bellwether for the Steelers this season. When Watt plays less than 50% of snaps, including games he has missed completely with injury, the Steelers are 0-4-1. With two games left in the regular season, Watt is five sacks away from tying Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5. Watt earned a massive payday just before the season, and even though he has missed two games with injury, he has been a great investment by keeping the Steelers afloat in a jumbled AFC. — Brooke Pryor


Previous ranking: 18

Non-QB MVP: DE Myles Garrett

Whether or not he becomes the Browns’ first NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Garrett has certainly been Cleveland’s MVP this season on the way to breaking the franchise’s season sack record. From his 4.5-sack performance in Week 3 against Chicago to his strip, sack and score in Week 14’s win over Baltimore, Garrett has been an absolute force. In a race with Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt for the NFL sack title, Garrett trails only Watt in the league in pass rush win rate (25.8%). Though he has been fighting through a groin injury lately, Garrett has been among the NFL’s top overall performers all season. — Jake Trotter


Previous ranking: 20

Non-QB MVP: S Justin Simmons

Vic Fangio believes Simmons is an All-Pro, not just a Pro Bowler, and the Broncos coach was baffled by Simmons’ Pro Bowl snub last week. Simmons is asked to do plenty in Fangio’s scheme. Despite trading Von Miller last month, Bradley Chubb missing eight games and the team using eight different inside linebackers due to injury, the Broncos are tied for No. 1 in scoring defense. And Simmons is a big part of that, often working the deep parts of the field while being asked to fill in run support and work in coverage against a variety of players. He is second on the team in tackles, leads in interceptions and is tied for the most passes defensed overall. — Jeff Legwold


Previous ranking: 19

Non-QB MVP: WR Justin Jefferson

The Vikings began to turn their season around when they made a concerted effort to get the ball to Jefferson at the midway point. That led to wins over the Chargers and Packers, and it would have resulted in come-from-behind victories at Detroit and against the Rams had the rest of the team held up its end. Minnesota is 4-2 this season when Jefferson eclipses 100 yards receiving, and it’s clear the young wideout — who now owns the NFL record for the most receiving yards (2,851) by a player in his first two seasons — is a franchise player the Vikings want and need to build around. Minnesota has shifted its approach and runs most of its offense through Jefferson now, with the 22-year-old accounting for over 37% of his team’s receiving yards. — Courtney Cronin


Previous ranking: 24

Non-QB MVP: RB Cordarrelle Patterson

After spending the majority of his career as a special teams dynamo who showed flashes of offensive ability, Patterson became a revelation in 2021, setting career highs in almost every category, including rushing yards (579) and receiving yards (523). He also has 11 touchdowns from scrimmage, a career high, and has accounted for 39.2% of Atlanta’s total rushing and receiving scores. Without Patterson on the field earlier this season, Atlanta went scoreless for six straight quarters. While cornerback A.J. Terrell and tight end Kyle Pitts could make strong cases, Patterson has such a crucial down-to-down role for the Falcons that is impossible to match. — Michael Rothstein


Previous ranking: 22

Non-QB MVP: DT Jonathan Allen

The bench fight with teammate Daron Payne on Sunday notwithstanding, Allen has had a terrific season, resulting in his first Pro Bowl berth. He has been, by far, the most consistent player — at a high level — for Washington this season. Allen established a career high in sacks with 8.5 and also has 10 tackles for a loss — seven more than last season. Allen said he is playing the best of his career, largely because he has been more consistent. He has won with a variety of inside moves, including a hump move once a staple of the late Reggie White. Washington’s defensive issues this season do not stem from issues with Allen. — John Keim


Previous ranking: 28

Non-QB MVP: DE Robert Quinn

The veteran has put together his best campaign yet. And he hasn’t slowed down a bit since Khalil Mack was lost for the season. In fact, Quinn has only gotten better, with 11.5 sacks in eight games since Mack’s foot injury. Quinn is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lost season. Roquan Smith is another one, and he was the only other Bears player in serious consideration here, having filled up the stat sheet (fourth in the league with 149 tackles) this season. — Jordan Raanan


Previous ranking: 25

Non-QB MVP: FS Quandre Diggs

For the first time in years, Russell Wilson wouldn’t win team MVP even if quarterbacks were eligible. There’s a case for wide receivers Tyler Lockett (1,052 yards) and DK Metcalf (nine touchdown receptions), but you can’t give an MVP award to an offense that has so badly underperformed. Linebacker Bobby Wagner could easily be the choice with his team-record 170 tackles, which also is tops in the NFL this season. But Diggs, selected as the NFC’s starting free safety in what will be his second straight Pro Bowl, gets the nod because of the big plays he has made and prevented. He leads the Seahawks with five interceptions, and the job he has done patrolling the back end of their defense is perhaps the biggest reason they’ve allowed the third-fewest completions (15) on throws of at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. — Brady Henderson


Previous ranking: 26

Non-QB MVP: OLB Haason Reddick

Not only does Reddick lead the team in sacks with 11, he has been key to helping young players understand the process that coach Matt Rhule preaches in regard to turning the organization around. Reddick was a part of that process at Temple under Rhule, so the linebacker understands the work and effort that goes into that — and is able to verbally explain it as well as lead by example. — David Newton


Previous ranking: 30

Non-QB MVP: WR Brandin Cooks

Coming into the season, it was clear the Texans didn’t have a lot of depth at receiver behind Cooks. Although Cooks missed the Texans’ Week 16 contest while on the reserve/COVID-19 list — a game Houston won — he has been the best player on the team. Cooks is just 55 yards shy of reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth time in his eight NFL campaigns, and this season he has done it with a mix of Tyrod Taylor and 2021 third-round pick Davis Mills at quarterback. Cooks is a leader on the team, and this offense would have struggled even more this season without him. — Sarah Barshop


Previous ranking: 27

Non-QB MVP: K Graham Gano

Man, it is bad when your kicker is the only real option for team MVP. But it’s reality, as Gano has accounted for 40% of the team’s points this season and has made 88% of his field goal attempts. This includes 7 of 10 kicks from 50-plus yards. Safety Logan Ryan was an option, but he missed two games after testing positive for COVID-19, and defensive end Leonard Williams (5.5 sacks) has been too inconsistent. — Jordan Raanan


Previous ranking: 31

Non-QB MVP: RB Michael Carter

The rookie, who quickly emerged as the Jets’ RB1, has a team-high 865 yards from scrimmage — 25th among NFL running backs — and he missed three games. He is ninth in yards per touch (5.2) among league running backs with a minimum of 100 touches. More importantly, Carter’s two most productive games came in two of the Jets’ four wins. Steady MLB C.J. Mosley warrants consideration, but it’s hard to give him the nod, considering this defense ranks 32nd in yards and points allowed. — Rich Cimini


Previous ranking: 29

Non-QB MVP: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin

This isn’t an obvious choice, with more notable names on the roster, including running back D’Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson and even rookie wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown. However, Reeves-Maybin is a player who exemplifies the culture of hard work and tenacity that first-year Lions coach Dan Campbell is trying to build in Detroit for the future, which is why his bigger role on defense this season has been so valuable. In fact, Reeves-Maybin was the first name to pop into Campbell’s mind when the coach was recently asked for some of his most valuable players throughout the season. “I know he missed a couple of games here due to injury, but when he’s been out there on defense and on special teams, he just makes plays,” Campbell said. “He’s a football player, and that doesn’t go unnoticed.” — Eric Woodyard


Previous ranking: 32

Non-QB MVP: P Logan Cooke

In terms of executing his job at a consistently high level this season, no Jaguars player has been better than Cooke. He is third in the NFL in net yards punting (43.6) and punts inside the 20 (28). He also is tied for second in punts downed inside the 10-yard line (12). Cooke’s ability to flip the field has at least made opposing offenses work harder for points. That’s the state of the franchise these days: The punter is the MVP — and he would still be the choice even if QBs were eligible. — Mike DiRocco



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