As long as they remain healthy, players like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers will always be considered a lock when it comes to MVP candidates for the 2011 season–mainly because they were considered strong candidates before the regular season even began. However, that doesn’t mean another player could emerge out of nowhere and take home the honors this year–especially with the type of performances already displayed by some players over the first three weeks of the regular season.
Here’s a look at 10 sleeper candidates to keep an eye on throughout the 2011 season that could emerge into MVP candidates along with the quarterbacks listed above.
(Note: The names on this list are in no particular order)
10. Calvin Johnson–Detroit Lions
2011 Season: 16 catches for 225 yards and six touchdowns
Johnson had a chip on his shoulder at the beginning of the season when ESPN’s Cris Carter said he didn’t see Megatron wasn’t one of the top six wide receivers in the NFL. Through three games, Johnson has been nearly impossible to contain on the football field and can tie Carter’s record of consecutive games with two touchdowns (four) against the Cowboys on Sunday.
9. Wes Welker–New England Patriots
2011 Season: 31 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns
Last weekend against the Bills, Welker caught 16 passes from Tom Brady for 217 yards and two touchdowns–but it still wasn’t enough to help the Patriots get by their AFC East rivals. The type of numbers Welker’s put up through the first three games are ridiculous and there’s a good chance he could even break the 1,000-yard mark before the halfway mark of the season.
8. Jard Allen–Minnesota Vikings
2011 Season: 14 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, one interceptions, one forced fumble, and three passes defensed
It’s safe to say Allen is an absolute freak when it comes to football and while his Vikings are off to a disappointing 0-3 start–he still appears to be ready for yet another big season. Allen has recorded at least 11 sacks in five of his last six seasons and already has 4.5 sacks through the first three games this season. Most offensive lineman struggle to contain Allen
7. DeMarcus Ware–Dallas Cowboys
2011 Season: Nine total tackles and five sacks
Just like Allen, freak would be the best way to describe Ware through the first three games and has caused plenty of problems for opposing offensive lines. Ware has recorded at least 11 sacks in each of his last five seasons and is on pace to make it six after another impressive start to the 2011 season considering he’s already recorded five sacks in three games.
6. Matt Schaub–Houston Texans
2011 Season: 60 of 92 passes completed for 823 yards and six touchdowns
While his numbers may not be as impressive through the first three games as some of the other quarterbacks, it’s the weapons Houston has on offense–mainly Andre Johnson–that could make Schaub an MVP candidate this season. The Texans finally appear ready to take over the AFC South and are averaging 30 points per game through the first three weeks. It’ll take a lot to overcome other big-name quarterbacks like Brady or Rodgers, but the fact that Schaub has thrown for at least 4,300 and 53 combined touchdowns in each of the last two seasons prior to 2011 makes him a sleeper candidate–especially if the Texans end up winning the division.
5. LeSean McCoy–Philadelphia Eagles
2011 Season: 6.1 yards per carry, 345 rushing yards, and four touchdowns
Forget Michael Vick–McCoy has carried the Eagles’ offense on his shoulders over the first three weeks and seems poised for another big 2011 season. Not only is he valuable on the ground, but McCoy has proven to be valuable in the passing game and has shown plenty of times he’s capable of turning a simple screen pass into a huge gain. If Vick continues to get beat up by opposing defenses, Philadelphia may have no other choice but to rely more on McCoy–so there’s a good chance the former Pittsburgh star will set career highs in both rushing and receiving this season.
4. Mark Sanchez–New York Jets
2011 Season: 70 of 112 passed completed for 886 yards and four touchdowns
Sanchez has thrown for over 300 yards in two of his first three games this season–which is impressive considering that’s how many times he reached the 300-yard mark all of last year. He’s never really been considered a top-10 quarterback (or even a top 15), but Sanchez has the chance to prove his value as a quarterback for the Jets considering this team will need all the help they can get to reach their third-straight AFC Championship. New York’s ground game isn’t nearly as effective as it was last season–so don’t be surprised if the Jets rely more on Sanchez and the passing game this season.
3. Philip Rivers–San Diego Chargers
2011 Season: 86 of 126 passes completed for 979 yards and four touchdowns.
Year after year, there always seems to be plenty of hype about how this is going to finally be the season where the Chargers reach the Super Bowl. Despite their 2-1 start, this team still has plenty of areas in need of work–but Rivers is the most important factor for how well this team does in 2011. Rivers has thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of his last three seasons–including 4,710 passing yards in 2010–and is always capable of displaying big numbers for San Diego. First things first though–Rivers needs to improve from his slow start before his name can be thrown around in MVP talk.
2. Darren McFadden–Oakland Raiders
2011 Season: 6.4 yards per carry, 393 rushing yards, and three touchdowns
Talk about a player who has carried a team on his back through the first three weeks of the season. McFadden is averaging 159 yards per game from the line of scrimmage and has recorded over 150 rushing yards in two of his first three games. Oakland ranks first overall in rushing yards per game, but 24th when it comes to passing considering they don’t exactly have the strongest receiving corps–which means this team will heavily rely on McFadden throughout the 2011 season. If he continues to play at this high level, there’s no reason why McFadden can’t win the rushing title this season–assuming he can remain healthy.
1. Matthew Stafford–Detroit Lions
2011 Season: 79 of 118 passes completed for 977 yards and nine touchdowns
All of a sudden, the Lions look like one of the top teams in football with an offense averaging 33.7 points per game–mainly thanks to Stafford. The former No. 1 pick has helped Detroit live up to their offseason hype through the first three weeks and appears ready to take this team to the next level by reaching the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. Last weekend’s game against the Vikings–a game in which Stafford helped the Lions win in overtime after trailing 20-0 at halftime–showed just how dangerous this team can be and with a target like Calvin Johnson–there’s no question Stafford’s name will be in the mix for MVP this season.
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