2023 NFL MVP: Ranking five finalists, plus stats

ByCourtney Cronin ESPN logo
Thursday, February 1, 2024

Although Lamar Jackson and theBaltimore Ravens' 2023 season ended one game shy ofSuper Bowl LVIII, Jackson's elite regular season is why he's the favorite to walk away from the annual NFL Honors ceremony on Feb. 8 with the league's Most Valuable Player award for the second time in his career.

Jackson is among five finalists for the award, joining Cowboys quarterbackDak Prescott, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and 49ers running backChristian McCaffrey. Our ESPN panel voted every four weeks of the regular season on the top players in the MVP race, which saw a handful of changes among the front-runners --Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Purdy all occupied the top spot at some point. But the season is long over, and the race is down to five.

For our final edition, 12 analysts -- Mike Clay, Courtney Cronin, Jeremy Fowler, Dan Graziano, Matt Miller, Dan Orlovsky, Aaron Schatz, Marcus Spears, Mike Tannenbaum, Lindsey Thiry, Seth Walder and Field Yates -- voted on whom they think should win the 2023 NFL MVP. We used those 12 sets of rankings to stack the top five candidates. Yes, Jackson received the most first-place votes from our panel, but how did the rest shake out? Here is a look at our final 2023 MVP rankings.

1.Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

First-place votes from our panel: 9

2023 stats: 3,678 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 7 INTs, 64.7 QBR (821 rushing yards, 5 TDs)

Jackson powered a Baltimore offense that ranked first in rushing -- his 5.5 yards/rush led all quarterbacks and marked his fifth straight season averaging more than 5 yards per carry -- fourth in scoring (28.4 points per game), sixth in yards (370.4 per game) and eighth in red zone scoring (61.8%).

The Ravens swept through their schedule en route to a league-best 13-4 record by way of beating other playoff-bound teams by more than 100 points, which has only been done one other time in NFL history (2007 Patriots). Baltimore's new offense under coordinator Todd Monken allowed Jackson to flourish as a passer and reach a career-best 67.2% completion percentage (eighth) while ranking fourth in QBR, fourth in yards per attempt (8.0), 11th in passing touchdowns and 15th in passing yards.

How does this season compare to his 2019 MVP season? Jackson set the quarterback rushing record (1,206) and led the league in passing touchdowns (36) during his unanimous MVP season in 2019. He threw 12 fewer touchdowns in 2023 but set career highs in passing yards and completion percentage.

Despite his volume of runs diminishing this season, which undoubtedly had a positive effect on his durability (the quarterback started a career-high 16 games and only sat for the regular-season finale when Baltimore rested its starters), Jackson still led the Ravens and all quarterbacks in rushing. His command and control of Baltimore's offense reached new heights in his sixth season when his passing acumen, vision and feel made him one of the league's most electrifying quarterbacks.

Standout stat: Since the 1970 merger, 39 quarterbacks have won MVP honors. Jackson would be the third to win the award without a 1,000-yard rusher or 1,000-yard receiver, joining John Elway (1987) and Brett Favre (1996).

MVP moment: Jackson likely locked up the MVP in a Week 17 win over Miami when he threw for five touchdown passes, posted a perfect passer rating and helped the Ravens clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The 56 points the Ravens scored were their second most in franchise history, trailing only the 59 that Jackson and Baltimore posted during his 2019 MVP campaign.

2.Josh Allen,Buffalo Bills

First-place votes from our panel: 2

2023 stats:4,306 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 18 INTs, 69.6 QBR, (524 rushing yards, 15 TDs)

Not long before the Bills made their way to the divisional round of the playoffs, Buffalo was on the outside of the postseason picture with a 6-6 record in late November. After struggling with turnovers early in the season, Allen didn't let his interceptions derail the Bills.

Buffalo ended the 2023 season on a five-game winning streak to win the AFC East and earn the right to a home game in the playoffs. The Bills' offense remained one of the league's bestdespite a coordinator switchafter Week 10, ranking first in third-down conversions (49.8%), fourth in yards per game (374.5), fifth in yards per play (5.7) and sixth in points per game (25.3).

The 27-year-old quarterback's 44 touchdowns were six more thanJalen Hurtsand Prescott's 38 (second most), and his completion percentage (66.5%) was his second-best mark in six seasons.

In what area does Allen have the edge over the other finalists?It'd be easy to allow Allen's rushing contributions to outweigh underwhelming passing performances, but the Bills quarterback checks the boxes there, too, having ranked fourth among all quarterbacks in passing yards. He was as dominant on the ground as he was through the air this season, leading the NFL in total yards (4,830) and touchdowns (44).

Standout stat:Allen's 15 rushing touchdowns (tied with Hurts) were the second most of any player in 2023; they set an NFL record for a quarterback in a season.

MVP moment:Allen threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns in a wild Week 4 win over the Dolphins. He also rushed for a score that day.

3.Dak Prescott,Dallas Cowboys

First-place votes from our panel: 1

2023 stats:4,516 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, 9 INTs, 72.7 QBR, (242 rushing yards, 2 TDs)

Prescott led the Cowboys to their third straight 12-win season and the NFC East title with one of the league's best scoring offenses, which averaged 27 points per game. The Cowboys' plus-194 point differential was the second best in the league, trailing only the Ravens, and set a franchise record with six home wins by 20 or more points.

One season after throwing a league-worst 15 interceptions despite missing five games, Prescott led the NFL in passing touchdowns and was second in touchdown-to-interception ratio (4-to-1). Dallas' improved receiving corps around Prescott helped him generate the league's top QBR (tied with Purdy) and become a better downfield passer in 2023.

Was this Prescott's best season of his career?His stats were higher in several categories in other seasons, but the way Prescott powered the Cowboys' offense when coach Mike McCarthy took back playcalling duties created the most efficient version of himself in eight seasons.

Prescott became the first NFL quarterback with a completion percentage of 80.0% or higher in four games in a season while reaching career highs in passer rating, completion percentage and go-ahead passing touchdowns. In the first half of the season, Prescott recorded multiple first-half passing touchdowns in seven straight games, the longest streak since Tom Brady did so in eight consecutive games in 2007.

Standout stat:Prescott had four games with four passing touchdowns this season, tying Tony Romo (2007) for the most in a season in Cowboys history, per ESPN Stats and Information.

MVP moment:Prescott cemented himself as a top MVP candidatein Week 14when the Cowboys beat the Eagles after scoring on every possession in the first half, thanks to Prescott throwing for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the first two quarters alone.

4.Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

First-place votes from our panel: 0

2023 stats: 1,459 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns; 564 receiving yards, seven touchdowns

Let's be real. McCaffrey likely won't win the MVP because he's not a quarterback -- the last non-QB to win was Adrian Peterson in 2012 -- but his contributions helped San Francisco earn the NFC's top seed and made him arguably the most important player on a roster loaded with talent. McCaffrey carves up defenses every which way; he not only led the league in rushing but also had the most touches (339), combined rushing and receiving touchdowns (21) and yards from scrimmage (2,023).

McCaffrey's 2023 season is the best MVP campaign from a running back since ____. His own 2019 campaign where he became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000-plus rushing yards and 1,000-plus receiving yards in a season. This season, McCaffrey was tied with Raheem Mostert for the most touchdowns with 21 (second-most in franchise history behind Jerry Rice), set a 49ers record with 14 rushing touchdowns and become the first 49ers player to rush for 1,000 yards since Frank Gore in 2014, which snapped the league's longest streak without a 1,000-yard rusher.

Standout stat: How about seven of them? McCaffrey led the league in rushing, rushing yards after first contact (658), runs of 10-plus yards (44), runs of 15-plus yards (20), rushing first downs and receiving first downs (114), touchdown receptions and receiving yards by a running back.

MVP moment: McCaffrey had 115 rushing yards, a team-high five receptions for 72 yards and totaled three touchdowns in Week 15 against Arizona, which marked his 15th career game with at least one rushing and receiving touchdown (tied for the most in NFL history), with four of those performances occurring in 2023.

5.Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers

First-place votes from our panel: 0

2023 stats: 4,280 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 72.7 QBR (144 rushing yards, 2 TDs)

The type of season Purdy put together, which helped the 49ers become the NFC's No. 1 seed after shaking off a three-game losing streak midseason, calls the need for nuance into the discussion. His passing stats were among the best in the league -- tied with Prescott for first in QBR, first in yards per attempt (9.6) and first in touchdown percentage (7%) -- which isn't just the byproduct of him being in a quarterback-friendly offense.

The most prudent evidence of that is the fact that Purdy was one of five quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,200 yards, broke Joe Montana's franchise record for passer rating (113.0) and led his team to a 12-win season. Purdy belongs on this list because he put together one of the best performances by a quarterback this season. Period.

Did McCaffrey hurt Purdy's MVP chances? Not as much as Purdy's four interceptions did against Baltimore on Dec. 25. It will always be difficult for the 24-year-old quarterback to prove to some that he's more than a system quarterback/game manager because of three things: (1) Being in Kyle Shanahan's offense, (2) having so much of the offense run through McCaffrey and (3) the "Mr. Irrelevant" label. But Purdy cost himself the MVP in the prime-time game after entering as the prohibitive favorite for the award and getting demolished by the Ravens' defense.

Standout stat: Purdy had eight games with multiple passing touchdowns and no interceptions in 2023, the most such games by a player in their first or second season in NFL history.

MVP moment: Purdy's four-touchdown, 314-yard passing performance in a 42-19 demolition of Philadelphia in Week 13 solidified him as an MVP favorite and kept the Eagles out of reach for the No. 1 seed.

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