Sep 30, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) falls into the end zone with a touchdown catch while defended by Miami Dolphins cornerback Jamar Taylor (22) during the second quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

NFL MVP Watch: Five darkhorse candidates after Week 5

Five weeks into the NFL season, the NFL MVP race is in full swing and a few candidates are starting to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field. One candidate in particular–a certain fella by the name of Peyton Manning–has done about as much to sew up the MVP trophy by Week Five as anybody in history.

With Peyton’s astronomical numbers and his team off to a 5-0 start, it’s hard to imagine a scenario (barring injury) where Manning doesn’t claim his fifth NFL MVP trophy. And even if he were to go down with an injury, Drew Brees has put up some impressive numbers of his own and also has his squad out to a perfect start.

However, sitting behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are a slew of candidates–some of familiar name and others of not-so-familiar name. And while their chances seem incredibly long at this point, these are the five best darkhorse (as in “unexpected”) candidates to win the award.

No. 5: Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens)

Torrey Smith might just be a deep threat, but he’s evolved into the best deep threat the NFL has to offer. And this season, with the offense taking a starring role in the Baltimore Ravens’ quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions, Torrey Smith has become integral to the Ravens success. He’s second in the NFL in receiving yards going into Monday Night with 556 yards on 27 catches. That’s good for an astounding 20.6 yards per catch.

No. 4: Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)

There’s nothing eye-popping about Richard Sherman’s numbers thus far (11 tackles and two interceptions) and outside of his pick-six that helped propel the Seahawks to an overtime win over the Houston Texans, there haven’t really been many highlight reel plays by Sherman. However, Sherman is currently getting the Revis treatment, and he’s making a strong case (a case he’s been making for over a year now) as the NFL’s best cornerback. The rangy corner has completely locked down one side of the field in Seattle, and he makes life a lot easier for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks.

No. 3: Justin Houston (Kansas City Chiefs)

It’s not as if Justin Houston’s emergence as a star is entirely unforeseen. He had 10.0 sacks in 2012 and has shown flashes of being a dynamic player off the edge in Kansas City. However, I don’t think anybody expected this type of production this quickly. The No. 2 sack man in the NFL has been arguably the best player (sorry Eric Berry) on the league’s best defense to date. He’s piled up 8.5 sacks and it’s been that defense that has paced the Kansas City Chiefs on their way to a 5-0 start that puts them in the thick of the AFC West race with the preseason favorite Denver Broncos.

No. 2: Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)

For as good as Drew Brees has been (and let’s make no mistake, it’ll be Brees who gets the majority of the NFL MVP hype), Jimmy Graham has been the reason why Brees has looked so good and the New Orleans Saints have been so dominant offensively. With Darren Sproles coming out of the backfield and wreaking havoc in matchups with linebackers, it opens up the middle of the field for Graham and there simply aren’t any safeties in the NFL that can cover the guy. He became the first tight end in NFL history to win the NFC Player of the Month award in September, and if he continues to produce at this rate, he’ll be hard to ignore come award season.

No. 1: Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys)

Romo managed to match wits with Peyton Manning (and then some) in an absolutely sensational shootout on Sunday afternoon. The 506-yard, five touchdown performance was impressive. Unfortunately, the late interception was a brief glimpse back into what makes Romo so mercurial as a quarterback in the first place. Yet, Romo’s numbers have been incredible this season, and in an NFC East that is just begging for somebody to come out and seize control, he’s still got the Cowboys in a position to win the division, greatly increasing his shot at taking home the NFL MVP.

These five players have all been relatively surprising in their candidacy, and while names may rise into–and ultimately fall off of–this list, these are five darkhorse candidates who may garner some attention in the NFL MVP vote. Although, I think we’re all on the same page.

It’s Peyton Manning’s award to lose.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens Dallas Cowboys Drew Brees Jimmy Graham Justin Houston Kansas City Chiefs New Orleans Saints NFL Peyton Manning Richard Sherman Seattle Seahawks Tony Romo Torrey Smith

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