2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
There is no question that Patrick Mahomes is the most important player in the NFL. Until proven otherwise, he sits atop the list of MVP candidates and might honestly remain the favorite to win MVP despite currently ranking third. Mahomes is having another fine season as he keeps Kansas City within Super Bowl contention.
He is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for the 7-2 Chiefs, tossing more than double the amount of touchdowns than interceptions. Mahomes ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards, and he's doing it despite having a fairly underwhelming supporting cast. Tua Tagavailoa may have the more impressive numbers, but he has Tyreek Hill now and other impressive players around him. More to the point, Mahomes' Chiefs beat his Dolphins in their last meeting.
1. CJ Stroud, QB, Houston Texans
Yes, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft is the No. 1 MVP candidate so far in the 2023 season, and the only question some are asking is, why wasn't he No. 1? Carolina Panthers' top draft choice Bryce Young has plenty of talent and shouldn't be criticized because of Stroud's success, but from the Houston Texans' perspective, they are beyond thrilled with their decision to land the former Ohio State standout.
Fans familiar with Stroud's collegiate play are not in the least surprised by his NFL success, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who expected the 22-year-old to look this incredible through his first nine games. After winning fewer than five games in each of their last three seasons, Houston have already matched that total with a 5-4 record and are in the thick of the playoff hunt, thanks to Stroud.
Not only is Stroud the NFL's leading passer in terms of yardage, but he's also the least prone to interceptions despite being a rookie. Usually, rookie quarterbacks struggle to take care of the football. Even Peyton Manning was an interception machine coming out of Tennessee. Yet Stroud has thrown just one pick this season, meaning he throws an interception on just 0.4 percent of his dropbacks. That's a number you have to blink twice and squint at in order to believe.
Stroud is averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt and is winning games all by his lonesome. Since he is a young quarterback, it is no illusion or coincidence that he is growing in strength and stature with each passing week. He fired off 456 yards and then 356 in back-to-back three-point wins to emerge victorious in shootouts with former top draft picks Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow. Right now, Stroud is the leading MVP candidate. He has the numbers, and, more importantly, he is the player doing the best job of captaining his team to success.