Is Drew Brees a dark horse MVP candidate after strong turnaround? Analytics say he could be

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By RADIO.COM

Remember all that Drew Brees noodle arm talk?

Okay, so Brees may not be doing most of his damage while showcasing his arm strength. He actually ranks dead last in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks in intended air yards per pass attempt, with a figure of 5.7. But that's just who Drew Brees is — he's been in the bottom five in that statistic the past three seasons — and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Apparently, it ain't broke, though that seemed to be the case early in the season. Since Week 4, however, Brees has completely reversed course.

His counting stats over that span are as follows:
- Weeks 1-3: 1-2 record, 760 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks, 1 fumble, 0 rushing TD
- Weeks 4-7: 3-0 record, 858 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT, 5 sacks, 1 fumble, 2 rushing TD

While it may not be overly evident from the counting stats, the Saints' record and the analytics show a ton of improvement in several aspects of his game. Pro Football Focus's Steve Palazzolo explains how quarterbacks are graded:

The PFF grading system is all about isolating the quarterback’s performance on a given play. We bring context to every throw, with a focus on timing, decision-making, accuracy and much more.

The system accounts for the timing and difficulty of the throw, while also gauging the decision-making with respect to the quarterback’s progression on a given play.

The key to remember is that the result of the play doesn’t change the quarterback's grade, so pinpoint downfield passes that are dropped will still earn the same grade despite showing up as 0-for-1 in the boxscore.

The ratings make a little bit more sense considering Brees has helped the Saints to generate over 30 points per game over the Week 4-7 span despite Michael Thomas' prolonged absence and missed games from Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders. And as for decision-making, he's one of six starting quarterbacks with three or fewer interceptions and he leads all quarterbacks in completion percentage (72.6), which has been the case the past three seasons.

Pinpoint passes? That's the norm.

But is he really an MVP candidate? It's too early to call him that, and I don't expect it to be the case, but with the way his play has been trending, PFF says it's unwise to rule him out quite this early. Here's what analyst Timo Riske said about Brees in their latest MVP rankings, labeling him as one of the "biggest movers" in the league:

Don’t look now, but Brees has quietly been the highest-graded quarterback since the start of Week 4, and the Saints are back to having one of the best offenses in the league. It temporarily looked as if he was incapable of garnering MVP consideration. Still, if he can extend this streak of excellence over the rest of the season, he would certainly be back in the conversation.

With all of the favorites somewhat struggling in recent games, the door has opened for him once again. It’s unlikely he ends up with the award, but he has more of a chance than his betting odds... imply at this point.

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Brees' regular season MVP odds are nearly nonexistent at 100-1. For the No. 1 ranked quarterback in the NFL over a four-week span, it's no wonder that PFF views his odds to be a little higher. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk also said that Brees was someone to watch, considering quarterbacks of No. 1 seeds often tend to get support in the voting. The three quarterbacks whose odds sit at lower than 10-1 are Russell Wilson (1-1), Patrick Mahomes (7-2) and Aaron Rodgers (6-1). Tom Brady is fourth at 13-1.

If he can lead the Saints to a division title over Brady and his powerhouse Tampa Bay Buccaneers without the services of top wide receiver Michael Thomas — and given we have no definite idea of when he might return, that's a distinct possibility for a solid chunk of time — we might be able to see Brees capture the first MVP of his long career.

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