Dave Einsel/Associated Press

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (2 votes)

A non-quarterback winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award is slightly more common than photographs of Bigfoot riding a unicorn through Oz. The last non-QB to win MVP was Adrian Peterson in 2012, which was the only time in the past decade-plus that it’s happened.

As such, it’s hardly a surprise that even in a dark-horse piece, most of the picks for MVP play the NFL’s most important position. Pompei went west, settling on Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders.

“At 27 and with three Pro Bowls behind him,” Pompei said, “Carr is at the right place in his career to take off.  And he has the right coach to bring out the best in him in Jon Gruden.  And with Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer joining Amari Cooper, Carr has the right receivers.”

At the opposite end of the country, Freeman expects the rebound season to end all rebound seasons from veteran Eli Manning in New York.

“He’s healthy, has a potentially great running game, still has Odell Beckham Jr. and has a better defense,” Freeman said. “Manning has more weapons around him than he’s ever had. This is his year.”

That’s a pair of bold calls—but not as bold as the two voters who predicted that a defensive player would win NFL MVP for the first time since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

Watt has come as close as anyone to accomplishing that feat since then, finishing as the runner-up to Aaron Rodgers back in 2014. Dunne is one of the two writers here at B/R who thinks the 29-year-old could seal the deal in 2018.

“How easily we forget how dominant and transcendent J.J. Watt is,” Dunne said. “After two seasons sabotaged by injuries, Watt will be more motivated than ever to ruin offenses, and teams cannot sell out blocking him anymore. Jadeveon Clowney has finally blossomed into everything Houston expected. It could all add up to a monster MVP season for Watt, who probably should’ve won the MVP in 2014.”

If that turns out to be the case, you might as well go ahead and inscribe his name on the Comeback Player of the Year award, too.

Others receiving votes: Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (1 vote); Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers (1 vote); Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams (1 vote); Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (1 vote); Alex Smith, QB, Washington Redskins (1 vote); Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (1 vote)

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