There are some strong candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year this season, including some solid dark horses. But the NFL Most Valuable Player award has been won by quarterbacks the past nine years, and four running backs have won MVP since 2000.
So while the MVP odds at FanDuel Sportsbook are loaded at the top with quarterbacks, there are still some other players that could surprise.
With that in mind, here are three dark-horse MVP candidates to consider ahead of the 2021 season.
NFL Most Valuable Player Dark Horses 2021
1. Baker Mayfield (+2600)
The Cleveland Browns broke a long playoff appearance drought last season, and Baker Mayfield is likely leading the Browns to greater heights in the next few seasons. A balanced attack, led by ProFootballFocus' top-rated offensive line, should open up the passing game along with an expected top rushing attack. Familiarity is key, and Cleveland's offense very well could move into the top 10 of the league this season. A healthy and career-best year with 4,000 or more passing yards for the former No. 1 overall pick puts him in the serious conversation for MVP.
2. Justin Herbert (+2000)
An incredible rookie season by Justin Herbert included Rookie of the Year honors. He passed for 4,336 passing yards and a rookie-record 31 TD passes. He also ran for five touchdowns. He's clearly on top awards radars as a must watch talent in the NFL. However, an MVP needs to be on a winning team and likely a division champion, and that makes Herbert's task a bit more difficult with the Kansas City Chiefs still king of the AFC West. But if Herbert progresses again this season and plays the full season, new heights could be reached. We're watching another Dan Marino-like quarterback in the making, and he too was a ROY that led his team to the Super Bowl in his second season.
3. Dalvin Cook (+7500)
Former Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson was the last running back to win MVP in 2012. The Vikings did not win the division, but won 10 games and made the playoffs thanks to Peterson's record-breaking season with 2,097 rushing yards and 6.0 yards per rush. It's a stretch for Dalvin Cook to reach those heights, but he did lead the NFC in rushing last year with 1,557 yards and scored 17 times. Should the Vikings move up to 10 wins and/or win the division. Cook will likely have played another big role on a team with tons of offensive skill position talent.
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