Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa competed for the starting job at Alabama. Now they’re battling each other for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
In a season filled with surprises, predicting the NFL awards at the halfway point is challenging. Barring a tremendous comeback in the second half, Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to three-peat as MVP.
The Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) are the only undefeated team, so Hurts and coach Nick Sirianni deserve strong consideration for MVP and Coach of the Year, respectively.
The Miami Dolphins (6-3) are 6-0 in games that Tagovailoa finishes and he leads the NFL in passer rating. His coincides with the arrival of Tyreek Hill — a candidate for Offensive Player of the Year and also has a case for MVP.
Here’s are a look at leading contenders for The Associated Press NFL awards at the midpoint of the season:
Hurts and Tagovailoa are fresh names in a field that includes past winners Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
Mahomes, the 2018 MVP, leads the league with 21 touchdown passes and is fourth in passer rating (103.6). His Kansas City Chiefs lead the AFC West at 6-2.
Jackson, the 2019 MVP, has 16 TD passes, a 93.7 passer rating, 635 yards rushing and two scores. He has the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) leading the AFC North.
Geno Smith also deserves consideration for his impressive turnaround in Seattle, where the Seahawks are 6-3 and in first place in the NFC West. Smith is third behind Tagovailoa and Hurts with a 107.2 passer rating.
Hill, who leads the league with 76 catches and 1,104 yards, has the best odds among the non-quarterbacks.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Sirianni has to lead the field because the Eagles are unbeaten, but this will be a competitive race.
Pete Carroll has the Seahawks third in the NFC in a season they were expected to rebuild after trading Russell Wilson.
Two New York coaches who have their teams in the playoff mix could end up taking the award. Brian Daboll’s New York Giants (6-2) are in position for their first playoff appearance since 2016. Robert Saleh has led the New York Jets to a 6-3 start despite not having quarterback Zach Wilson for the first three weeks.
Minnesota’s Kevin O’Connell also has a real shot. He’s 7-1 in his first season with the Vikings.
It’ll be hard to top Smith. The 32-year-old QB has resurrected his career with his fourth team. Smith had started just five games in the previous six seasons before beating out Drew Lock for the starting job.
Running backs Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Travis Etienne will challenge for the award if Smith falters in the second half.
T.J. Watt, the 2021 winner, has only played one game because of injury. Aaron Donald, who has won three times, isn’t among the top 3.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons leads the pack. New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon, who leads the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks, is a top contender. So is San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa. Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett belongs in the conversation.
Cooper Kupp was the second wide receiver in three seasons to take home the award last season, but Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs are ahead of Kupp at this point.
The winner has been a non-quarterback the last three years but either Hurts or Jackson could snap that streak. If Josh Allen’s elbow doesn’t send him to the sidelines, he’s also a contender.
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb and Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry also have had excellent first halves.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE ROTY
Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III is the frontrunner with Texans RB Dameon Pierce right behind.
Walker has 570 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Pierce leads all rookies with 678 yards rushing. Saints WR Chris Olave leads all rookies with 43 catches and 618 yards receiving.
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett needs to excel in the second half to have a shot.
Sauce Gardner is a heavy favorite after an outstanding first half for the Jets cornerback.
Seahawks CB Tariq Woolen and Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson are solidly in the top three of the race.
Three assistants on Sirianni’s staff could end up taking votes away from each other.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen each lead the league’s third-ranked unit on both sides. Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson has developed Hurts into an MVP candidate.
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has the NFL’s No. 1 defense and a strong shot to take the award.
By ROB MAADDI AP Pro Football Writer
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Photo: Joe Rondone/Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK