In a passing-dominated league, it's widely accepted that quarterbacks have the best odds to win the MVP award at the end of season. The last player to win it that wasn't a quarterback was Adrian Peterson in 2012, and the last before that was LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
It's a testament to how pass-heavy the NFL has become, and quarterbacks have a tendency to become the biggest stat-mongers over the course of the NFL season. There are always players who are worth talking about before the season, however, and several players are going into 2017 with legitimate chances to win the award.
, there's still another half of the league to go. Although the best odds will always go to a team's quarterback barring some notable exception, read on to find out the best dark horse candidate from every AFC team.
Baltimore Ravens: Justin Tucker (400/1)
Easily the best entry on this list, no matter how long the odds may be, Baltimore's second best player is its kicker. Tucker is one of the few that get away with the ridiculous things he does after his kicks. He had Baltimore around tops in the league in 2016, hitting 38 of his 39 kicks and going 10 for 10 from 50 yards or more (no other team made more than seven field goals from outside 50 yards).
Tucker's leg is incredible, and on top of all of his talent, he's also ice cold in crunch time. It's hard to forget the time that he made a 61-yard-kick during Monday Night Football to lift the Ravens over the Lions. Tucker is one of the best in the business, and it's no wonder Vegas gives him a shot, no matter how outside it might be. If any kicker can go 6-for-6 with four of them coming outside of 50 yards in every game, leading his team to a 10-6 record (that's honestly probably what it would take), it's Tucker.
Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus (n/a)
The easy pick for the Bills is, of course, LeSean McCoy. But without odds on him (or anyone on the Bills' roster) I took it upon myself to get creative with what the Bills would need to do to even have someone on their team win MVP. With Sean McDermott now at the helm, it seems fitting that the Bills would need their defense to take a step forward to become contenders in the AFC East. He led the Panthers to one of the best defenses in the league just two years ago. He'll need to do the same for the Bills for them to get over any kind of hump.
Dareus has the tools to be a staple of the defense. He was a 10-sack guy on the interior line as recently as 2014. When Rex Ryan came to town, he changed the defense, and Dareus did not adapt well. McDermott runs a system that Dareus can gel in, including a great deal of nickel sets that involve linebackers in the A-gaps instead of tackles. Dareus plays better as a 3-tech than a 1-tech, which caused him to struggle in the Ryan system. As long as McDermott sticks to his philosophy, Dareus has the potential to have a huge bounceback year.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green (50/1)
Green is the third highest receiver on Oddsshark's list, trailing only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. It's pretty easy to see why. Green is the star in Cincinnati's offense, and quarterback Andy Dalton's favorite target. Despite playing in only 10 games in 2016, Green still managed 66 catches for 964 yards and four touchdowns. Eighteen percent of Dalton's completions last year went to a guy that missed six games. Green is a consistent player that shows up week in and week out. He's a surprisingly efficient receiver for how often he's targeted as well.
The key for Green will be staying healthy. He has the capacity to be a 90-100 catch player, but his injuries have hampered him. Perhaps it's his workload catching up to him, but if he can come back in 2017 at 100 or even 90 percent, Green has the potential to join the conversations that people have about Jones, Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas (n/a)
This is more of a career achievement award, if I'm being honest with myself, but if anyone deserves recognition it's Joe Thomas. Thomas is, in fact, L, although as of recently it's felt like messing with authority has become his calling. One of the most, if not the most, beloved players in the league, Thomas has spent his entire career in Cleveland. He's made an astonishing 10 straight Pro Bowls and been named first-team All-Pro six times.
However, more absurd than any of his accolades is the fact that he has started exactly 160 out of 160 possible games as a Brown. Thomas' longevity at one of the most physically taxing positions in the NFL will go down as legend after the sad day that he decides to hang up his cleats. His passion for Cleveland seems to be matched only by his passion for football, and in a league that values tackle play so heavily, Browns fans have at least been able to enjoy some of the best for the past decade. The Browns have about 30 rookies that could be on this list if they end up doing well in 2017, but Thomas is an anchor.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller (80/1)
Miller is a bona fide terror coming around the edge for the Broncos. He commands more attention than perhaps any single defensive player in the NFL, and still he is able to put up stats. Bouncing his sack numbers up to 13.5 in 2016 after 11 in 2015, Miller seems ready to return to his rare form from 2014 in which he posted 14 sacks. He's also become a more complete player, notching 62 total tackles last year after only managing 30 in 2015. Miller has become one of the faces not just for the Broncos, but also the NFL with his wacky personality and general fun-loving attitude.
Miller also has incredible respect among his peers. He and 2016 sack leaderto find ways to further terrorize quarterbacks. If Miller is able to get better, he'll become one of the most dominant forces in the NFL. The Broncos' defense might not have the year they had in 2015 when they utterly dismantled every team they faced in the playoffs, but they're still a force to be reckoned with. Miller is no small part of that force.
Houston Texans: J.J. Watt (100/1)
It's not surprising that Watt is on this list, but it is surprising to see Deshaun Watson with better odds than him. It feels like just yesterday Watt was in legitimate conversation to be the first defensive MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Watt re-enters 2017 with a defense that seems to be far improved. In fact, they made the playoffs in 2016 without him, despite some ... questionable quarterback play. Watt played only three games in 2016, but if he comes back healthy, expect him to return with a vengeance.
Watt has battled injuries before. In fact, he rarely seems to be completely healthy. With that being said, 2016 was the first time he missed significant time, and it was the year after two consecutive seasons of 17.5 or more sacks (including 20.5 during his 2015 campaign, the one in which he was considered for MVP). The Texans are hoping that their Jadeveon Clowney problem is figured out, and if Watt is able to come back healthy, the Electric Circus could be returning to Houston just in time for their exciting new quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts: T.Y. Hilton (100/1)
The fact that Hilton and Watt have the same chances is really a testament to how difficult it is to win MVP awards as a wide receiver (and it's also a testament to the fact that Watt is really good). Hilton is one of quarterback Andrew Luck's most reliable weapons. He certainly stands out on a depth chart that's also comprised of Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett. The Colts have depth at the position, but it's all young depth, and Hilton has been forced to play ahead of his years (particularly in an offense largely devoid of a running game).
In 2016, Hilton had 91 receptions for nearly 1,500 yards, which no one really noticed because, frankly, the Colts weren't very good. Nonetheless, he was a consistent threat on the outside in his second straight 1,000-yard season. Hilton's biggest flaw hardly seems to be his own flaw. There are times where Luck just falls so in love with him that it becomes easy to key in on the Colts' offense. It's the curse of a wide receiver. If you're good enough, then you become a distraction as opposed to a target, but play like Hilton's makes that worth it, especially when it allows a quarterback like Luck to open up a defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette (80/1)
Fournette was regarded as the best college prospect in the country heading into LSU, and flashes of his potential have done nothing to lessen that hype. Despite being used what some may consider to be 'sparingly' while at Louisiana State by Les Miles and Ed Orgeron (or Cam Cameron), in the games that Fournette played he was a force to be reckoned with. He was widely regarded as one of the best running backs in an excellent 2017 running back class, something that the Jaguars clearly seconded.
Fournette was drafted fourth overall, exceptionally high for a running back. At LSU, he rushed for 3,830 yards in three seasons, despite missing significant time in 2016. He was one of several players who made the controversial decision to sit out his team's bowl game, but many pundits treat that decision as an investment rather than an indictment of his "drive," particularly after what happened to Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith before he was drafted by the Cowboys. Even at the NFL level, Fournette has the build and the speed to succeed, and he will hope to bring some balance to the Jacksonville offense.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill (n/a)
Hill became a phenom of sorts during the 2016 season, where he excelled as a general "threat." Hill came into the NFL is aptly @ImFasterThanYa, showcased that speed week after week before being regarded as one of the most dangerous and exciting players in the NFL. Hill's offensive numbers on their own aren't stunning, but what he does all over the field is what sets him apart.that affected his draft stock, which led to him being picked 165 by Kansas City. Hill, who's Twitter handle
As a return specialist, it didn't take long for Hill to start getting the Deion Sanders/Devin Hester treatment. Teams began to intentionally kick the ball away from him because he was so electric with the ball in his hands. He had three returns for touchdowns, two punts and one kick, and his 592 punt return yards were best in the league. Although it will take some time for people to forgive Hill for his past, there's no denying that he's a tremendous threat with the ball in his hands, and if Kansas City starts to incorporate him in its offense in a more effective way, he could become a household name.
Los Angeles Chargers: J.Bosa/M.Gordon (125/1)
It's hard to pin this as an indictment of Melvin Gordon or praise of Joey Bosa, but either way it's surprising seeing these two with the same odds. Bosa settled in comfortably for the Chargers after some serious drama in getting him signed and added another strong pass rusher to the AFC West's repertoire (because that's what a division with Justin Houston, Von Miller and Khalil Mack needed). The 2016 third overall pick finished with 10.5 sacks on the season and immediately seemed to make the Chargers' defense better with his presence. He was always around the point of attack and seemed determined to make whoever had the ball's life miserable.
Gordon is another key cog to the Chargers' success. He's entering his third season, and 2016 saw him take some real steps forward. There is some concern about wearing him down early in his career, as Gordon had 184 carries as a rookie and 254 last year. Furthermore, his averages are less than impressive, but 2016 saw him finish with nearly four yards per carry and come up just shy of 1,000 yards at 997. Gordon will be seeking to complement Philip Rivers in a more efficient fashion, and he has the talent to do so. It will require patience on the part of the Chargers, but as a player in only his third year, they shouldn't be concerned about the lack of immediate results yet.
Miami Dolphins: Jay Ajayi (150/1)
Ajayi had an unexpectedly monstrous 2016 season for the Dolphins after the departure of Lamar Miller. The sophomore player had 1,272 yards on 260 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. With back-to-back 200-yard games, plus a third one towards the end of the season, Ajayi began turning a ton of heads throughout the NFL. Of those 200-yard games, he got 30-plus carries in only one of them, against the Bills in Week 16.
Ajayi grounds out yard after yard. He isn't necessarily the most elusive runner, but he punishes players that hit him. It rarely feels like anyone is able to really "land" a hit on him. Jarvis Landry has garnered a great deal of attention for the Dolphins, particularly now that contract extension talks are approaching, but Ajayi has the potential to become Miami's face. He never seemed to wear down throughout the season, despite getting nearly 200 more carries from his rookie season. The Dolphins could use some balance in their offense, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill doesn't have the weapons to carry Miami on his own. Ajayi has the potential to become a top flight running back in the NFL if he keeps up his pace, although he needs to do a bit more in the passing game out of the backfield to compete with the likes of David Johnson or Le'Veon Bell.
New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski (66/1)
Gronk Gronk Gronk. What more can be said about a player who might have the craziest size-to-speed ratio this side of Jimmy Graham, and the physicality to boot. The party monster is but when the game comes around he plays as hard as anyone. There is one major point to concede that makes his odds surprising: He has trouble staying on the field. He missed half of the 2016 season, but maybe it's better to chalk that up to the Madden Curse. He isn't afraid to play injured, and did so often in 2015, but his frame makes his knees the primary point of impact for defensive players looking to bring him down.
All of that being said, Gronkowski's resume speaks for itself. Since entering the league in 2010, he's been almost unanimously regarded as a top-tier tight end. Before his season was cut short last year, he was on pace for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. The hope is that Gronkowski can play all 16 games for the third time in his career and the first time since 2011, but should he go down, the Patriots have contingencies. They picked up Brandin Cooks from the Saints in a trade, and true to the Brady Effect, Cooks is on the list with surprisingly decent 80/1 odds himself.
New York Jets: Leonard Williams (n/a)
With Brandon Marshall heading ... well ... nowhere (to the Giants), the Jets' roster is the most difficult to look at and pick out candidates. Matt Forte is a possibility, but they lack the line talent to really support him. Williams is a player that has a future, and the Jets seem content building around him. A strong interior lineman with a knack for pushing in the pocket, Williams is the type of defensive lineman who can elevate his teammates. Williams saw his sack total jump from three in his rookie campaign to seven last season, and he appears to be intent on getting better.
Williams seems like one of the only pieces that the Jets really seem to value. Entering his third year after being the No. 6 overall draft pick, his disruptive ability from various points on the line has been noted by nearly every team playing against him. On a Jets defense that struggled in 2016, he continually seemed to be around plays. The Jets will undoubtedly hope to build a team with a decent base around Williams, lest he decide to look for greener pastures in a few years. For a team that seems to be committing to the rebuild now, it's the perfect time to try to keep him around.
Oakland Raiders: Marshawn Lynch (50/1)
Of all of the talent on Oakland's roster, people really like the bruiser coming back from a year off. Lynch comes in with better odds than both Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, who both are slated at 125/1. Lynch's re-emergence has the Bay Area excited for one last run before they depart to Vegas, and Lynch is coming into an excellent situation. It's a team that doesn't have to rely completely on him, as they have in Derek Carr and receivers to boot, in addition to a defense that is capable of shortening the field for the Raiders.
Lynch's year off seemed to be fun, but the prospect of returning to his hometown team was apparently too enticing to pass up. Lynch's violent running style has some worried about what a year out of football could do to him, but his past footage speaks for itself. If he can return to form, his presence could take the Raiders to the next level. They were already sixth in the league in total offense and rushing yards last season, with LaTavius Murray as their bell-cow. Now there's a new back in town, and he's got his eyes set on bringing a championship to the team that he grew up with. Players don't just come out of retirement for the fun of it, so it would be wise to expect Lynch to return with a mission. It certainly worked for Brett Favre.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Le'Veon Bell (15/1)
One of the most boring players to ever be exciting, Bell's unique running style is already becoming iconic throughout the NFL. The way he borderline walks through the line is nigh on impossible to replicate, but as one of the best running backs in the league, he's a force to be reckoned with. Much like Arizona's David Johnson, the real draw of Bell is his versatility. He's a running back first, but he's also a terrific pass catcher. After serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy in 2016, Bell didn't miss a beat. He played in every game the rest of the year, rushing for over 1,000 yards and nearly five yards per carry.
Bell has the major benefit of playing in an offense with such an outrageous amount of talent that he's difficult to key in on. Antonio Brown, who was on the list with 33/1 odds, commands attention of his own. Ben Roethlisberger has 11/1 odds. It's a testament to how good the team Pittsburgh has built that they have all of this talent, but it means nothing without winning games. Bell added 616 yards receiving to his 1,268 on the ground. From a numbers standpoint, it was Bell's second best season of his four-year career, falling just shy of his ridiculous 2014 campaign in which he had 2,215 yards from scrimmage. With that being said, he played all 16 games that year. If Bell enters 2017 clean, he has the potential to replicate those numbers and do one better, and with the Steelers talent, they have the opportunity to be contenders with Bell leading the charge.
Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray (80/1)
If you're looking to hitch up to a bandwagon, the Titans would be my second recommendation after the Raiders, and Murray and Derrick Henry are no small reasons why. After concern during his stint with the Eagles that Murray was solely a product of his offensive line in Dallas, he set out to disprove that theory and did so in decisive fashion. Murray carried 293 times for 1,287 yards, and he also notched 377 receiving yards. Murray's toughness should never (and likely will never) be questioned. Just two years after carrying 392 times for the Cowboys, he posted yet another injury-free season.
Murray is one of the key components of a Titans team that will look to make a 2017 playoff push. They were in the race for a large portion of 2016, but with another year under quarterback Marcus Mariota's belt, they're looking to get over the hump. The duo of Murray and Henry have proven to be a quality tag-team, but there is no question who the workhorse out of the two is for now.