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Ben Axelrod column: Browns' Myles Garrett belongs in the NFL MVP discussion

Through 10 weeks, Myles Garrett has been the Cleveland Browns' most valuable player. Could he also be the NFL's MVP?

CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from Nov. 15, 2020.

It took all of one half of football into the Cleveland Browns' 2020 season for the "where's Myles Garrett?" tweets to pop up.

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For those of you lucky enough to not spend every Browns game scanning Twitter, "where's Myles Garrett?" is a semi-regular post that makes an appearance when fans feel like the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NFL Draft isn't living up to his billing. "Where's Myles Garrett?" and its derivatives were especially prominent during and after Cleveland's 38-6 season-opening loss to the Baltimore Ravens, in which the 2018 Pro Bowl selection delivered just one tackle (albeit for a loss).

But in the weeks that have followed, "where's Myles Garrett?" has largely been absent from the lexicon of Browns Twitter. That's because if you've been watching the Browns this season, then you know that the Texas A&M product isn't hard to find, as he's typically been spending his afternoons in the backfields of Cleveland's opponents.

Through 10 games, Garrett has tallied 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles -- both of which are the most in the NFL despite the Browns having already had their bye week. And while the NFL Most Valuable Player Award is typically reserved for quarterbacks and the occasional running back -- only two defensive players have ever won it with the most recent being Lawrence Taylor in 1986 -- you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who's meant more to his team this season than Garrett.

For as impressive as Garrett's numbers have been, they paint just a fraction of the portrait that is his value to the Browns.

Beginning in Cleveland's Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Garrett posted strip-sacks in three consecutive games. All three were game-altering plays that came in wins that helped the Browns jump out to a 4-1 start for the first time since the 1994 season.

RELATED: Watch: Browns' Myles Garrett's strip sack sets up Nick Chubb touchdown

RELATED: Watch: Myles Garrett strip-sack helps seal Browns' win over Washington

Now sitting at 6-3, it'd be tough to tell what Cleveland's record might be without its star defensive end. After his three-game streak, the 24-year-old Garrett posted a fourth strip-sack in a 37-34 Week 7 win over the Bengals and crucial fourth-down goal-line stuff of Deshaun Watson in the Browns' 10-7 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Only adding to Garrett's case is the reality that Cleveland's defense simply isn't that good. Entering Week 10, the Browns ranked 19th in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA and currently rank 29th in opponents' third-down conversion rate.

Garrett's big plays haven't just altered the outcomes of games -- they've often times been necessary for getting Cleveland's defense off the field. They've also at times helped set up short fields for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who's largely been inconsistent through the 2020 campaign.

Add it all up and there's a compelling -- if not convincing -- case to be made that if not for Garrett, Cleveland would be more likely to be 3-6 than 6-3.

I'm not under any delusions that voters will skew from their offense-only approach to MVP voting. But if you ask me where Myles Garrett is now, my answer is simple: the MVP race.

Or at least, he should be.