Barnwell's midseason NFL awards: Picks for MVP, top coach, best comeback player, elite rookies

by Ricardo Gutierrez - Is Patrick Mahomes the MVP front-runner? Who are the favorites for rookies of the year? Bill Barnwell ranks the candidates.

NFL midseason awards 2022: Ranking MVP candidates, best players play Mahomes ties it up for Chiefs with TD and 2-PT conversion (0:43) Patrick Mahomes uses his legs to scramble for the touchdown and 2-point conversion as the Chiefs tie it 17-17 with under three minutes to play. (0:43) 8:45 AM ET Bill BarnwellESPN Staff Writer Close Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com. We've made it to the halfway point of the NFL season ! Your reaction to that news might depend on which team you support. If you're a Jets or Vikings fan, it might feel like the season has flown by. If you're a Packers or Steelers fan, well, you might be wishing that it was already over. The halfway point is a natural time to reflect on what we've seen, and so I'm going to give my award picks for the first half of the NFL season. These aren't my picks for who will win the real hardware at the end of the season, but my (hopefully informed) opinions based on what I've seen from the first nine weeks of the season. In each case, I'll note who I chose for the category in question in my quarter-season awards and give my top three candidates in order. Let's start with Comeback Player of the Year and work our way to MVP: Jump to an award: MVP | Top comeback | Best coach Best rookies: Offense | Defense Players of the Year: Offense | Defense Comeback Player of the Year After Week 4: Saquon Barkley , RB, Giants This felt like a one-person race in the first quarter of the season, with Barkley emerging from years in the wilderness to play like one of the league's best running backs. Barkley hasn't let up, but there's more competition at the midway point. It's dangerous to rely on free agency to add talent, but two of the three players on this list would be considered among the best signings of the offseason. Editor's Picks 2 Related 3. Za'Darius Smith , EDGE, Vikings I don't want to say Smith was written off, but there were legitimate concerns that the former Packers star was past his prime. He played only 18 snaps last season before missing the rest of 2022 with a knee ailment, and when the Ravens wanted to sign him this offseason, their doctors wouldn't sign off on the deal. The Vikings ended up inking him to what is essentially a one-year deal for less than $7 million. Even if Smith spent the second half of the season ice fishing, he already has delivered more than what the Vikings paid. He has 8.5 sacks and 12 knockdowns through eight games, including three sacks against the Cardinals in Week 8. Minnesota has been able to use him on the edge and isolate him on the interior against overmatched guards and centers. With a limited secondary, he has been essential for the 7-1 Vikings. 2. Geno Smith , QB, Seahawks I'm not really sure what Smith came back from besides people writing him off as a replacement-level passer, but in terms of surprising veterans, he has to be on this list. As much as the Seahawks would like to pretend they knew this would happen all along, he wasn't even on the Seattle roster when the team traded quarterback Russell Wilson in March, netting Drew Lock as part of the return. Anyone could have signed Smith in free agency, but the former Jets starter returned to Seattle right before the draft in April. After winning a preseason competition against Lock for the job, Smith has exceeded even the wildest expectations. He leads the league in completion percentage (73.1%) and completion percentage over expectation (plus-7.1%). He's averaging nearly 8 yards per attempt and ranks ninth in expected points added (EPA) per dropback. The Seahawks have thrown more aggressively than I expected, and Smith has rewarded them. His season is more of a delayed breakout than a comeback, but either way, he has been one of the best stories -- and most valuable players -- in the NFL. 1. Saquon Barkley , RB, Giants A more traditional candidate, Barkley looks like a transformative player after three years of being slowed by ankle and knee injuries. He looks much closer to the player we saw as a rookie, but this time around, he's the focal point for a Giants team that is actually winning games and competing for a playoff berth. We can lean on the advanced metrics from NFL Next Gen Stats to help tell the story. Let's use Rush Yards over Expectation (RYOE), which measures how many yards a running back gains versus what an average back would expect to gain with the same blockers against the same players on defense. Barkley averaged 1.1 RYOE per carry as a rookie. After dropping to 0.6 RYOE in 2019 and posting minus-0.3 RYOE in both 2020 and 2021, he's all the way back up to 1.1 RYOE in 2022. Saquon Barkley has returned to his rookie, pre-injury form of 2018 and has helped the Giants to a 6-2 record in the process. Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports Of course, Barkley has managed to time some of his biggest plays for key fourth-quarter moments. He broke a tackle on the 2-point attempt which gave the Giants a win over the Titans in the opener. His biggest catch of the season, a 41-yarder against the Packers, helped set up his game-winning touchdown. Runs of 13, 18 and 20 yards in the final quarter against the Jaguars set up a comeback victory. It's impossible to imagine the Giants thriving in the NFC East without Barkley. Coach of the Year After Week 4: Nick Sirianni, Eagles The good news is there are only six realistic candidates for this award. The bad news is they could all credibly win. I was ready to put Mike Vrabel in the Hall of Fame, as his Titans were winning for most of the game in Kansas City with Malik Willis at quarterback, only for Patrick Mahomes to eventually pull out the victory with his legs. His Titans, riddled with injuries and left for dead after an 0-2 start, are 5-3 and continue to find ways to compete every week. Guys like Vrabel -- excellent coaches who have been around for extended periods of time -- almost never win this award. It's also why Pete Carroll probably won't get much consideration, but who thought the Seahawks would be 6-3 after Week 9? The offense has led the way, but Carroll is getting the most out of players such as cornerback Tariq Woolen and edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu , and he deserves credit for being forward-thinking and pass-friendly on offense with Geno Smith at quarterback. The Seahawks look like a legitimate playoff team. 3. Robert Saleh, Jets It's even more difficult to keep out Kevin O'Connell, who has the Vikings at 7-1 with a prohibitive lead with the NFC North. O'Connell is the exact sort of coach who would typically win this award in real life, too. Given that the Vikings have essentially spent the entire season winning coin flips in one-score games, though, I'm not quite as taken by Minnesota as their record suggests. Instead, I'll go for the coach who was last seen slowing down the much-vaunted Bills offense in the Meadowlands. Saleh and the Jets benefited from playing a string of backup quarterbacks earlier in this season, but Gang Green manhandled Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau, and they just took out the rival Bills in New Jersey on Sunday. After a rough start to the season, Saleh has the Jets' defense playing extremely well. From Week 3 onward, it ranks number two in EPA allowed per snap (minus-0.10), fourth in points per drive allowed (1.47) and third in red zone possessions allowed per game (2.4). I'm not sure about second-year quarterback Zach Wilson -- and the offense sorely misses its injured personnel -- but Saleh has turned around this defense. 2. Mike McDaniel, Dolphins McDaniel's 6-3 Dolphins aren't undefeated, but they've won every game quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has both started and finished this season. Tagovailoa is playing better than he has before in the NFL by a significant margin, and while adding wideout Tyreek Hill to the mix goes a long way, remember that he could barely stay upright behind Miami's offensive line before McDaniel arrived. Miami would have the league's second-best offense by EPA per play if we only include the games Tagovailoa has started. The Dolphins' most recent three-game winning streak has come against middling competition in the Steelers, Lions and Bears, but Tagovailoa & Co. also picked up dramatic victories earlier in the season against the Ravens and Bills. I'm not sure any other coach in this tier has two equally impressive wins, although the Jets joined the Dolphins in beating the Bills on Sunday. 1. Nick Sirianni, Eagles I'm simple. Until the Eagles lose a game, I don't think it's possible for anyone to knock Sirianni out of the top spot. The former Colts assistant was a viable candidate last season, when he helped lead an Eagles team that had gone 4-11-1 in 2020 to a 9-8 record and a playoff berth. After an active offseason, many likely expected them to take another step forward in 2022. An 8-0 start wasn't anticipated, though. Quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to flourish under Sirianni's tutelage, and in a season with so many one-score games, it's a testament to Philadelphia's dominance that it hasn't been involved in many close contests. The Eagles have had only two games decided by seven points or fewer; one was a game against the Lions that required two fourth-quarter touchdowns to get close, the other was a 20-17 victory over the Cardinals. Some factors out of Sirianni's control have helped. The Eagles have been one of the league's healthiest teams. They've played the easiest schedule in the league, per ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) and project to face the easiest schedule moving forward. At the end of the day, though, 8-0 is 8-0. When you're the coach of the league's only undefeated team, you're the Coach of the Year. Defensive Rookie of the Year After Week 4: Devin Lloyd , LB, Jaguars NFL on ESPN+ Relive the NFL's greatest games, original series and more. Watch on ESPN+ The defensive awards usually favor pass-rushers over players at other positions, but the only candidate who figures into the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year in that category is Aidan Hutchinson , whose 4.5 sacks on the season were supplemented by a critical goal-line interception of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. I will admit that the idea of nominating somebody from the Lions defense, as good as they were against the Packers on Sunday, seems a little too aggressive. After Week 4, my third-place finisher was Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson , who misses out this time around. I kept a big name out of the voting then, but I have to get him back in the mix as both he and his team have rounded into form: 3. Devin Lloyd , LB, Jaguars The Jaguars have struggled on defense, but Lloyd looks like a building block, along with edge rusher Josh Allen and cornerback Tyson Campbell . Lloyd already looks comfortable in pass defense and in working to take away passing lanes in zone coverage. After defending six passes in two games earlier this season, he didn't have another pass breakup until Sunday, when he nearly intercepted Derek Carr in the first quarter against the Raiders. Lloyd also came up with his second quarterback knockdown in as many weeks and recovered the fumble on Vegas' "pitchy pitchy woo woo" attempt on the game's final play, sealing Jacksonville's first win in more than a month. Lloyd has also been as advertised as a run defender; his 30 stops (plays which create negative EPA for the offense) are tied for fourth most in the league. 2. Tariq Woolen , CB, Seahawks If you're wondering why DeAndre Hopkins disappeared from Sunday's game for most of the final three quarters, you've come to the right place. While it was a team effort against Arizona's star wideout, Woolen is the primary cornerback on the right side of the defense for the Seahawks, which meant plenty of Hopkins. Hopkins caught a touchdown pass on a crosser while Woolen was in zone coverage on another player, but he finished with just four catches on five targets for 36 yards. Teams have been more aggressive challenging Woolen, but they haven't liked the results. The 6-foot-4 corner has the length to challenge any contestable pass and the speed to run with just about any wide receiver. He's allowing only 6.8 yards per attempt in his direction, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which is below league average. He already has four interceptions and eight pass knockdowns, with the former mark second in the NFL behind Philadelphia's C.J. Gardner-Johnson . It's a mystery how the player out of UTSA fell to the fifth round of April's draft, but the Seahawks aren't complaining. 1. Sauce Gardner , CB, Jets Maybe it's recency bias, but I find it impossible to keep Gardner out of the top spot. Since a slow start to the season, the Jets have been wildly impressive on defense. While part of that owes to a series of games against backup quarterbacks, you obviously can't make that same claim after seeing what Robert Saleh's team did to the Bills on Sunday. Buffalo mustered just 17 points on nine drives, with the Jets forcing him into two interceptions. Gardner gave up a big play early in the game to Stefon Diggs , but the rookie corner lured Allen into a hole shot that Josh Allen immediately regretted. Gardner's second interception of the season set up the Jets with a short field, which turned into a crucial second touchdown. Sauce Gardner's coverage skills has helped drastically improve the Jets' defense. Elsa/Getty Images What Gardner has done as a rookie is special. He leads the league with 13 passes defensed. As the nearest defender in coverage, per NFL Next Gen Stats, he has generated 26.3 EPA. The only other cornerback in the league above 20 EPA is Philadelphia's James Bradberry , who is barely ahead of Gardner. If the hope is the No. 4 overall pick is the next Darrelle Revis , well, he's ahead of the curve; Gardner is playing better than Revis did as a rookie. Offensive Rookie of the Year Pick after Week 4: Chris Olave , WR, Saints I thought there was going to be some churn in the top three here, but the same three players I highlighted after Week 4 are in the mix at the halfway point. Breece Hall would have made his way into the top three, but the promising young Jets running back tore his ACL in Week 7 and will miss the remainder of the season. If Hall had stayed healthy, he would have been in the running to lead this group. Likewise, Kenneth Walker could be the pick at the end of the year. Few backs of any vintage have been better than the Seahawks standout over the past four weeks of the season, during which he has run for 424 yards and a league-high six touchdowns. At the same time, though, he was basically a backup for the first month. If Walker keeps this up, those first four weeks won't seem like a big deal. Here, since we're looking back from the halfway point, that first month represents nearly half of the year. I would love to include an offensive lineman, but I'm not sure anybody is as impressive as, say, left tackle Rashawn Slater was for the Chargers last season. Center Tyler Linderbaum has been fun for the Ravens. Tight end Greg Dulcich has been impressive since returning from injured reserve for the Broncos. Wideouts George Pickens (Steelers) and Romeo Doubs (Packers) have flashed, although Doubs was hurt in Sunday's loss to the Lions. In terms of first-half production, however, there's a clear big three among the rookies: 3. Dameon Pierce , RB, Texans Pierce has been Houston's best player on offense for most of this season, which is rare for fourth-round picks to pull off in their rookie campaigns. He has succeeded despite the struggles of the passing attack, which makes his production even more impressive. Consider Thursday's game against the Eagles , when quarterback Davis Mills struggled and needed garbage time to get to 154 yards. Pierce's 27 carries produced 139 yards, and the Texans had more first downs on the ground (10) than they did through the air (eight). The Texans are a better run-blocking line than you might think, but Pierce is getting more than what's blocked. The 22-year-old has generated 118 RYOE and five first downs over expectation (FDOE). The latter mark ranks third among running backs, behind only Nick Chubb and Josh Jacobs . The 75-yard run Pierce broke off against the Chargers is probably a bit of an outlier given his speed, but Pierce is physical between the tackles and has offered more in the passing game than his college profile would have suggested. He's a legitimate building block for the Texans. 2. Garrett Wilson , WR, Jets Wilson appears to be heating up. After his incredible game in the comeback victory over the Browns in Week 2, he went quiet for a few weeks before turning back on over the past two weeks. The No. 10 overall pick had six catches for 115 yards against the Patriots last week, then followed with eight catches for 92 yards on nine targets against the Bills on Sunday. Over the past two weeks, the only wideouts who have averaged more yards per route run than Wilson are superstars: Tyreek Hill , A.J. Brown , Stefon Diggs , Jaylen Waddle and Cooper Kupp . play 1:04 Is Garrett Wilson back among starting-caliber fantasy WRs? Matt Bowen breaks down Garrett Wilson's performance against the Bills in Week 9. There aren't many wide receivers who have Wilson's footwork and change of direction in cramped quarters. He already is a weekly threat to do something embarrassing to a cornerback that ends up going viral. Across the entire season, despite playing with Joe Flacco and Zach Wilson , he has averaged an even 2.0 yards per route run, which is tied with DK Metcalf for 18th among wideouts. Wilson already is a good player for what looks like a promising Jets draft class. 1. Chris Olave , WR, Saints Even without Monday night's game against the Ravens on the books, Olave rates as the best rookie wide receiver from this class. His 2.5 yards per route run places him seventh among all wideouts, nestled between Cooper Kupp and CeeDee Lamb . And while Wilson has been working with Wilson and Flacco, Olave has been targeted by Andy Dalton , Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill . Better, maybe, but it's not as if Olave has been working with prime Drew Brees . What's really striking about Olave is how quickly he has become a multilevel threat in the passing game. We've been spoiled in recent years by Odell Beckham Jr. and Justin Jefferson and how quickly they were able to turn into No. 1 receivers during their rookie seasons, but Olave has been an option for everything from third-down slants to contested catches down the sideline. With Michael Thomas out for the season and his Saints future in question, Olave has taken over as the lead receiver. There are lots of fair questions about whether the Saints should have been so aggressive this offseason, but Olave is everything they could have hoped for so far. Defensive Player of the Year Pick after Week 4: Nick Bosa , EDGE, 49ers Whether you want to blame the award jinx or the sad realities of playing for the 49ers, Bosa immediately went down injured in Week 5. He missed most of the Panthers game and the following week's loss to the Falcons. He has come back with 2.5 sacks over the ensuing two games, but he doesn't have quite the same sort of edge-rushing lead over the competition he possessed after Week 4. Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick , who was second on that list, also missed his team's game in Week 6. Follow the NFL all season long Everything you need this week: • Full schedule » | Standings » • Depth charts for every team » • Transactions » | Injuries » • Football Power Index rankings » More NFL coverage » All this does, sadly, is make an impossible vote even more difficult. New England's Matthew Judon has spent the past month living in opposing backfields and now leads the league with 11.5 sacks. Myles Garrett has been devastating when healthy. Aaron Donald continues to change games on a weekly basis and nearly won the game on Sunday for the Rams. Za'Darius Smith has sparked the Vikings. Trey Hendrickson 's advanced numbers stand out. Quinnen Williams is having a career year. Sauce Gardner could be a rookie candidate. There are three or four Eagles having All-Pro seasons. This one isn't fair. 3. Pat Surtain II , CB, Broncos With apologies to Gardner and Jalen Ramsey , no cornerback is playing better right now than the second-year superstar in Denver. Burdened by their disastrous offense, the Broncos' defensive performance has been lost in the shuffle. Despite losing key players such as Randy Gregory and Justin Simmons for stretches, they lead the league in defensive DVOA and pass defense DVOA . They rank second in EPA per play and QBR allowed. Coordinator Ejiro Evero's unit is more than holding up their end of the bargain. Their best player is Surtain, who has been locking down his wideouts. Per Pro Football Reference , Surtain is allowing only 4.0 yards per target , which ranks behind only James Bradberry among cornerbacks. NFL Next Gen Stats suggest Surtain has allowed only 0.6 yards per snap, which is the third-best mark. Teams don't like targeting Surtain, and when they do, they don't get much. About the only hole you can poke in his performance is a lack of takeaways; he has no interceptions and just one forced fumble as the Broncos hit their bye. 2. Nick Bosa , EDGE, 49ers Without the missing game and a half, Bosa would still be No. 1 on this list. As it is, he is still tied for second in the NFL with 8.5 sacks and paces the NFL with 20 knockdowns. Doing this with the missing time and a bye week under his belt makes Bosa even all that more remarkable. He also is an excellent run defender, which makes his presence on this list essential. 1. Micah Parsons , EDGE, Cowboys Outside of Donald, I'm not sure any defensive player scares opposing teams more than Parsons. You can understand why. The raw numbers are great, as his eight sacks and 14 quarterback knockdowns rank among the league leaders. Parsons also has nine tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and the fumble recovery he took to the house against the Bears in Week 8. That alone would be enough to get Parsons in the discussion. The advanced metrics make a case that Parsons is even more valuable. He leads the league with 36 pressures. Among the guys with at least 15 pressures, the only player who creates their average pressure as quickly as Parsons is Donald, who isn't supposed to be on a level with anybody else. Parsons also is coming from around the edge more often than Donald, which makes that comparison even more impressive. Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons has been one of the NFL's best defenders since he was picked No. 12 overall in last year's draft. Cooper Neill/Getty Images Nobody has a better pass rush win rate on the edge (32.4%) or against single-teams (42.7%) than Parsons, who typically draws double-teams, chips or offensive lines slid in his direction. This creates opportunities for other pass-rushers. Parsons has managed to make a difference on plays where he doesn't get home, as the 18 incompletions he's forced are second in the league behind Hendrickson. I started this analysis thinking Parsons was in the mix at edge rusher, but after a closer look, I don't think anybody is making more of an impact in as wide of a variety of ways. Offensive Player of the Year Pick after Week 4: Tyreek Hill , WR, Dolphins As always, since quarterbacks have a stranglehold on the MVP award, I use the Offensive Player of the Year trophy to honor a player who doesn't throw (too many) passes. And here, it's easy to start by eliminating some options. There are sadly no offensive lineman I feel comfortable nominating, and injuries to virtually every notable tight end have kept them from dominating over the entire first half. Travis Kelce is the lone holdout, as the future Hall of Famer continues an impossible run of health at one of the league's highest-attrition positions. The Chiefs star just misses out here to a pair of wide receivers and the best running back. 3. Stefon Diggs , WR, Bills Diggs falls from second to third, as his efficiency metrics have slipped ever so slightly toward Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown . There's nothing wrong with being ahead of stars, of course, and Diggs continues to be incredible. While Sunday was a frustrating game for the Bills, he helped create Buffalo's first scoring opportunity of the day by beating Sauce Gardner on a double move for 42 yards. (Josh Allen then threw an interception to eliminate that scoring opportunity. The scary thing is that a five-catch, 93-yard performance might qualify as a down afternoon from Diggs, who already has five 100-yard games under his belt through the first eight games of the season. In an offense which throws the ball as much as anybody in the league and hasn't seen secondary players such as Gabe Davis and Dawson Knox take another step forward into stardom, Diggs is often asked to be the solution for Allen. He comes through more often than not. 2. Nick Chubb , RB, Browns I have Chubb just ahead of the two runner-up candidates at running back, Derrick Henry and Josh Jacobs . Henry leads the league in rushing yards after a 115-yard game against the Chiefs on Sunday night, but it has taken him 34 additional carries to rack up his 29-yard lead. Jacobs has been nearly as efficient as Chubb, but Chubb has 98 additional rushing yards on just 11 more attempts than his Raiders counterpart. Chubb also leads the league with 10 rushing touchdowns. By advanced metrics, it's less of a contest. Chubb's 276 RYOE are 78 more than any other player and way ahead of both Henry (113) and Jacobs (119). Chubb's ability to break down loaded boxes and short-yardage situations are the stuff of legend; his 12 FDOE are twice that of any other player. Henry has looked like the prime version of himself over the last two weeks, but Chubb has looked and played like peak Henry all season. The only hole you can poke in Chubb's game is a lack of receiving work, but nobody compares to the 26-year-old as a runner. 1. Tyreek Hill , WR, Dolphins The problem for Chubb is that Hill might have an even larger lead over the rest of the competition. While he has played nine games and most of his competitors are at eight, Hill's 1,104 receiving yards are 237 ahead of the next-nearest receiver, Jefferson. Hill also leads the league in catches (76) and first downs (48), although his leads in those categories aren't quite as dramatic. Where Hill really separates, though, is efficiency. Halfway through the year, he is commanding the league's second-highest target share (36.0%) and generating a whopping 4.0 yards per route run. To put that in context, ESPN has data going back through 2007 on receivers. No qualifying receiver has ever averaged more than 3.6 yards per route run through the first half of the season. The only guy to average more than 3.5 yards per route run over the first nine weeks of the season is Rob Gronkowski in 2016, and he missed two games with injuries. Hill averages more yards every time he runs a route than Randy Moss did in 2007. play 0:22 Tyreek Hill celebrates TD with acrobatic flip Tyreek Hill celebrates 3-yard touchdown with a roundoff back tuck. If there's any hole you can poke, it's touchdowns, as Hill has only three. He added his third to that list with a score against the Bears on Sunday. As it stands, he already has four 150-plus yardage games this season, which is one behind the NFL record of five. With all apologies to Roy Green , Jerry Rice , Tim Brown and Antonio Brown , Hill might be setting a record by the end of the campaign. Most Valuable Player Pick after Week 4: Patrick Mahomes , QB, Chiefs I don't think there are any non-quarterbacks who make this MVP race, although Tyreek Hill and Micah Parsons could come close. When I drew this list up last time, I had to struggle with seven candidates. Two of them played their way off the list, as Trevor Lawrence has been a mess in the red zone before Sunday's win over the Raiders, while Lamar Jackson hasn't been consistent as a passer over the past month. Jackson and Lawrence rank 17th and 22nd, respectively, in QBR from Week 5-on. Geno Smith 's accuracy remains his advantage on the competition, as he leads the league in most accuracy-related statistics. He also is fourth in the league in QBR (68.0) and sixth in yards per attempt (7.8) among qualifying passers. As a passer, I don't know if there's anyone throwing the ball quite as well as Smith has this season with maybe one exception that I'll get to in a moment. The case against Smith just narrowly keeps him out of the top three. He takes sacks at a rate slightly above league average, and the pick-six he threw on a swing pass Sunday helped push his EPA per dropback to 0.06, which ranks ninth among qualifying passers. He can run and has picked up a number of key first downs on the ground over the past few weeks, but he doesn't offer the same sort of rushing impact as the top three candidates. Weekly NFL game expert picks • Game picks from our NFL experts » • PickCenter » | ESPN Chalk » More NFL coverage » If we're talking about quarterback play on a snap-by-snap basis, Tua Tagovailoa has been the league's best passer. It's not even close. Tagovailoa leads the league in QBR (79.1), yards per attempt (9.2), EPA per dropback (0.34), passer rating (115.9) and first down rate (43.1%). Those are five significant measures of quarterback play with varying levels of complexity or modernity, and Tagovailoa leads the way in each. Throw in the late-game heroics in the comeback win over the Ravens and he even has a signature win. The problem is that Tagovailoa missed 2½ games after suffering a concussion against the Bengals in Week 4. That's the equivalent of missing nearly five games over the course of a 17-game season, and it's not realistic for a player to miss that sort of playing time and still win MVP. Odell Beckham Jr. missed four full games in his rookie season in 2014 and came back to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but even one extra game might have been too tall of a bridge to cross. If Tagovailoa continues to play at this level and stays healthy the rest of the way, he could win MVP despite those gaps on his résumé, especially because the Dolphins went 0-3 while he was sidelined. And while he has raised his level of play dramatically from previous seasons, outside of a few dropped interceptions, there's nothing in his performance suggesting it's a fluke or unsustainable. 3. Josh Allen , QB, Bills It might seem like a reaction to Sunday's loss to the Jets , but as good as Allen has been at times, turnovers and sloppy play are legitimate concerns for the Buffalo offense. The Bills went through these same issues in the Week 8 victory over the Packers, when Allen threw two interceptions on Green Bay's side of the field in the fourth quarter, including one on the 3-yard line. They had already done enough that day to beat an overmatched Packers team, but the Jets were good enough on defense to keep things close. Allen's second interception set up New York with a short field for what ended up becoming a crucial touchdown. Allen has eight interceptions and seven fumbles this season. The latter mark is the fifth most of any quarterback. The former means Allen's interception rate ranks 26th out of 35 passers. He has thrown interceptions more often this season than the likes of Baker Mayfield and Carson Wentz . It's not a problem in the broader sense, since any coach would obviously trade a few interceptions for what he can do as a player, but it does inspire negative comparisons between Allen and the other players in this stratosphere. Obviously, Allen is capable of generating obscene amounts of value through his arm and legs. With the Jets slowing down the passing attack Sunday, he ran for seven first downs, including both of Buffalo's touchdowns. Nobody in the league has his upside, and he realizes that upside more often than ever before these days. It's also fair to note that turnovers have been an issue, they cost the Bills a victory in Week 9. 2. Jalen Hurts , QB, Eagles 1. Patrick Mahomes , QB, Chiefs Allen had the greatest Year 3 jump in recent football history, but Hurts is beginning to challenge that title. As a passer, he can credibly challenge the guy ahead of him on this list. He has a better completion percentage and more yards per attempt than Mahomes. Hurts' Eagles are the most efficient offense in football before they shut down in garbage time; when both teams in a game have a win expectancy of at least 10%, the Eagles score 3.3 points per possession, which is more than any other team. Hurts is the maestro of that attack, and the offense is built around his talents. So, why is Hurts second and Mahomes first? Let's start on the ground. Hurts has nearly twice as many rushing yards (326) as Mahomes (176), and while the Chiefs star just ran in his first touchdown of the season in the win over the Titans , Hurts already has six rushing scores on the books. This is a huge area of advantage for Hurts, right? Not quite. Mahomes doesn't run anywhere near as often as Hurts, but he has been a more efficient runner when afforded the opportunity. Hurts has generated 22.2 rushing EPA and 326 rushing yards on 88 carries. He averages just 3.7 yards per rush. While Mahomes has run only 27 times, he averages 6.5 yards per carry and has generated 17.1 rushing EPA, which is nearly as much as Hurts has made on more than three times as many carries. Patrick Mahomes has thrown 21 touchdown passes and six interceptions this season, and his 75.4 QBR ranks second in the NFL. Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images As a passer, meanwhile, Hurts has been slightly more efficient by completion percentage and yards per attempt, but Mahomes has generated far more volume. Mahomes has thrown 330 passes to Hurts' 239. That's partly because the Eagles have held big leads in the second half and have chosen to run the ball, but the added volume generates additional value for Mahomes. Hurts also takes sacks at one of the league's highest rates, while Mahomes is much better about getting rid of the football. In terms of passing EPA, Mahomes has generated more than twice as much passing EPA (88.7) in 2022 as Hurts (42.0). Hurts is a reasonable pick as the starting quarterback of the league's last undefeated team, and he is producing exactly what the coaching staff wants from him on a week-to-week basis this season. Mahomes, however, has been the most valuable quarterback in the league.