Outside the Box MVP: Six dominant players worthy of consideration
Darren Sharper has sparked defensive resurgence in New Orleans
Favre and Peterson steal spotlight, but Jared Allen may be best Viking
Cowboys' recent winning streak coincided with Miles Austin starting
The usual NFL Most Valuable Player suspects are doing their usual things. They're putting up huge numbers, winning big games and getting their faces splashed across TV and laptop screens.
Drew Brees. Peyton Manning. Adrian Peterson. Tom Brady. Toss in a few prominent and well-hyped heroes from widely popular teams -- Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger and even Brett Favre -- and there's your cast of media-man-love candidates for the NFL's biggest award for 2009.
But as much as they are deserving and popular, with entire Web sites dedicated to some MVP causes, suppose we think outside the blog.
Most valuable. It doesn't say anything about quarterbacks or running backs, although those two positions have dominated the award since 1986.
We offer, then, six non-QBs and RBs quietly making legitimate MVP noise. They won't be in most MVP discussions ... but should they?
Darren Sharper, S, New Orleans Saints
Saints coach Sean Payton did the unthinkable in the offseason, when he gave up $250,000 of his salary to help lure defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Who knows how much Payton would be willing to part with to keep Sharper in the groove he's been in since opening day. If Sharper does not define what "most valuable" means, then no one does. And if Sharper continues his game-breaking play-making, it's all over but the parade in the French Quarter: No one will beat Dem Saints.
Sharper has not single-handedly turned the Saints into the Super Bowl favorites out of the NFC, but he certainly has had a hand in just about everything they've done on the defensive side of the ball.
When the Saints acquired Sharper in the offseason, all they really wanted was some veteran experience to hold the secondary together, and a smart player who could bring a stronger play-making presence to the scene. What they got was a big-play machine who already has seven interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. He had a fourth interception return for a touchdown called back in the Saints' win over the Giants. Sharper is on pace to establish career highs in virtually every defensive category.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets
It's often difficult to gauge just how dominant an elite NFL cornerback is, because few teams dare to throw in their direction. In the case of Revis, some teams have hard-headedly tried to test him, with not much to show for it.
The Jets have faced some of the most dominating wide receivers in football and most every time Revis has left otherwise productive players with slim pickings.
In Week 1, the Texans' Andre Johnson -- having a monster, MVP-type year himself -- caught four balls for 35 yards. In Week 2, the Patriots' Randy Moss had four catches for 24 yards. The Saints' Marques Colston had two catches against Revis. Terrell Owens of Buffalo had three catches for 13 yards.
Still just 24, Revis is showing limitless talent at a position that constantly is limited by rule-changes in the offense-first NFL. Revis makes plays with great instincts and ball-hawking ability. Without fail, opposing receivers talk of being unable to gain separation from Revis.
The Jets are struggling after a hot start to the year and the challenges are mounting for Revis and the defense. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is showing rookie flaws. Giving up interceptions and shortening the field for the opponent is no way to help your defense. And losing defensive tackle Kris Jenkins for the year will weaken the pass rush and put more strain on the secondary. But if you're making MVP and All Pro candidates look consistently bad, shouldn't that put you in the discussion as well? Yeah. It should.
Jared Allen, DE, Vikings
He is nasty, consistent and motivated. The most-watched player on the Vikings is Brett Favre. The most reliable is Adrian Peterson. The most electric is Percy Harvin.
But the best player on the team could well be Allen, whose 10.5 sacks is tied for the NFL lead. Allen also has forced three fumbles, recovered two and scored a touchdown.
He has helped raise the Vikings' defense to another level not only with big plays, but also with intensity and consistency at the end position. Some have called Allen a dirty player, and certainly he's felt his share of fines. But there is no doubting production, as his play against the run has improved, with Allen tied for fourth on the team in total tackles.
And as the 7-1 Vikes begin their second half, the schedule certainly looks sack-friendly for Allen, with three home games in a row against the Lions, Seahawks and Bears.
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
On the day Andre Johnson is inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame -- and he will be one day -- there's a video clip from the Texans' Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals that MUST be showed. It captures every detail of what makes this wide receiver so great.
Johnson separated himself from the Cards' best cornerback. He crossed into coverage over the middle. He caught the ball and immediately took a full-speed, shoulder-down shot from 250-pound Arizona linebacker Gerald Hayes.
But it was Hayes who bounced off and crumbled to the ground. Johnson then turned toward the end zone and lowered his head into safety Antrel Rolle, who fell face-first into the turf. And then Johnson back-pedaled and pushed cornerback Bryant McFadden into the end zone. Hayes walked off the field embarrassed and Rolle was last seen pinching the bridge of his nose, shaking out the cobwebs and no doubt wondering what the heck just happened. (Video here, at 2:28 mark.)
Andre Johnson happened. He has been a man on a mission in every way for the Texans this year, ranking sixth in the NFL in receptions (54), first in receiving yards (800), fifth in receiving yards per game (88.9). Since being held to 35 yards on opening day, Johnson is averaging 101 yards receiving per game and is third in receptions for more than 40 yards, with four.
Elvis Dumervil, LB/E, Broncos
Broncos coach Josh McDaniels may look like a genius today, but the current regime is not responsible for plucking the undersized (5-11, 248 pounds) sack master out of Louisville with the 126th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft. But they certainly are enjoying Dumervil's rise to superstar and using Dumervil's pass-rushing skills in all the right ways.
Dumervil, who's tied with the Vikings' Allen with 10.5 sacks, is on pace for a career-high in tackles and has forced two fumbles, recovered one and been stellar in pass coverage when lining up at linebacker.
The Broncos have become one of the league's brightest underdog stories in 2009, and nothing reflects their story more than this smallish end who plays at a torrid pace, with a lion's heart.
The No. 1 draft pick in the 2006 draft was Texans end Mario Williams, who has had a very nice career, is regarded among the best defensive linemen in the league and is integral in everything the Texans defense does. And yet in 57 career games, Williams has recorded 34 sacks. In 52 games, Dumervil has 36.5.
Miles Austin, WR, Dallas
Technically, Austin ranks a very pedestrian 54th in the league in receptions. But anyone who has seen what Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys have done this year knows much better than to call Austin pedestrian.
And, oh, by the way, Roy Williams: Neither you, nor I, nor coaches, nor Romo determines who's the No. 1 receiver. Production determines it. And Austin's play-making has completely transformed this Cowboys season.
After starting the year 2-2 and struggling mightily, Cowboys coach Wade Phillips inserted Austin into the starting lineup. In just those four starts, Austin has responded with 22 catches for 571 yards. He also has scored six touchdowns and broken off four plays of more than 40 yards.
Most important, the Cowboys are 4-0 since Austin became a starter and have taken over the NFC East lead. If you're measuring true value to a team, Austin is off the charts, making big play after big play, including the game-winning 49-yard touchdown reception in Sunday's win at Philadelphia.
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