With only four teams left standing, I wanted to take a look back at the regular season and pick an offensive and defensive MVP for each team in the league. Some of those guys have been a big reason for their team to make it to the playoffs, while others played like superstars for underperforming teams.
Matt Forte / Pernell McPhee
Forte missed parts of the season, but still nearly reached 1300 yards from scrimmage. Over the last five years or so there hasn’t been a more productive multi-purpose back than him.
The Bears haven’t had a dominant defense for about half a decade now, but they’ve really improved against the pass, moving from 30th to 4th in passing yards allowed. And while the additions in the defensive backfield certainly are a big reason, I think McPhee has been the biggest factor as a consistent pass rusher, who might not have huge sack numbers, but really gets after opposing quarterbacks.
Calvin Johnson / Ezekiel Ansah
He might not be Megatron from a couple of years ago, but he still had another 1200 yards on the year, can take over games and have defensive backs asking for help over the top. If he really retires he definitely is one of the best receivers in regular season history in my book.
It’s crazy to see Ansah with 14.5 sacks even though he only started playing football about five years ago. His outstanding athleticism makes him a nightmare off the edge, as he embarrassed the Eagles’ Lane Johnson on Thanksgiving.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers / Clay Matthews
There’s a reason Rodgers won his second MVP last season – that guy is pretty good. He has certainly not played quite as good as he did during that campaign, but he has really suffered from the injury of his top wideout Jordy Nelson and the rest of the receiving corp dropping a ton of passes. They also had huge problems in protection for parts of the season.
On defense Clay is the guy who holds everything together. He has turned into an outstanding cover man, he is aggressive against the run and still uses his unique abilities to get after the passer. I’m not sure if he wouldn’t have liked to stay on the outside, but he absolutely is one of the best inside linebackers in the league already.
Adrian Peterson / Harrison Smith
It might not be the kind of comeback-season he had in 2012, but AP has been the league’s best rusher once again. He is a smart, hard runner who can break it for a long touchdown on any given play. But I’m sure he’s not satisfied with seven fumbles on the year.
The Vikings gave up less than 20 points per game because of a lot of young talent, including Sharrif Floyd, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, but Harrison Smith is the tone-setter. He can sink deep and challenge shots down the field, but is even better and coming down and laying some wood.
Zack Martin / Sean Lee
The Cowboys O-line hasn’t been quite as dominant as they were last season, but they still might be the best unit in the league and Martin is the brightest star of them all. He was a first team All-Pro in his rookie year – that’s unheard of. And he was even better as a sophomore.
Sean Lee could have easily been an All-Pro in his career already, but injuries have kept him from reaching this honor until yet. He has unbelievable instincts, as he consistently blows up run and screens plays before they even have a chance and also chases the ball over the entire field.
New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. / Landon Collins
You all know the records Odell has broken already and you can just imagine which others he will call his own some day. His ability to find the football in the air and then come down with the ball on spectacular highlight reel catches is unreal. And he comes out of his starting position and the breaks as explosive as any receiver in the NFL. Eli depends so much on the second year man already.
Collins is just a rookie, but he already led the team in tackles as a safety. He stays on the field the entire game and has been one of the bright spots and the Giants D outside of Robert Ayers. He hasn’t really been exposed in coverage against receivers as a lot experts predicted and he comes up and puts a lick on offensive players.
Lane Johnson / Fletcher Cox
Chip Kelly has made some questionable personnel decisions during his time with Philly, but the first round selection of Johnson hasn’t been one of them. As I already said, Johnson had a tough time against the Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, but other than that he has been the most consistent player on a very inconsistent Eagles offense.
The Eagles defense hasn’t been getting the job done the entire year either, but Cox is a disruptive force up front. No matter if it’s against the run or pass, he usually spends most of the games in the opposing backfield.
Kirk Cousins / Dashon Goldson
“You like that?” – I certainly do. Cousins’ development has been a joy to watch. He has had struggles on the road early in the season, but since posting a perfect passer rating in their huge win against the Saints he was a different animal, throwing 15 touchdowns and only two picks. The Redskins would have never won the East with a quarterback-controversy between him and RG3.
Goldson has become the Skins’ defense unquestioned leader in just one year with the team. His 110 combined tackles led the team and while he might not have had the kind of numbers against the pass he did during his time at San Francisco he is the guy who gets everyone ready and who his teammates feed off.
Julio Jones / Desmond Trufant
Antonio Brown has been the most productive receiver in 2015, but Julio is a different type of receiver. While he doesn’t have the quickness of AB, he has unbelievable range and can come up with balls in the air no other player in the league can. Even on a clearly declining team over the course of the season, he won the league title for receiving yards. And that catch and score against the Panthers might be the play of the year.
Dan Quinn builds his defenses around sticky cornerbacks and Trufant has shown the traits of a lockdown corner. He’s not quite there yet, but the Falcons were one of the worst teams at getting to the quarterback. So he is asked to cover way longer than others at his position, who are surrounded by talented pass rushers.
Cam Newton / Josh Norman
Cam is not only the Panthers’ MVP, but probably will receive the league trophy as well. While there might be quarterbacks out there with better statistics, he has made all the big plays for his team to win. He has had games where the other team tried to keep him in the pocket and he responded with big days passing for up to five TDs, others where he got it done with his legs and then there were games where he did pretty much everything, just like the one against the Giants. He got all this done with an average offensive line and one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL.
On defense it was a little more difficult for me to pick the right guy, but I went with Norman, because I think he gives the Panthers the ability to rotate coverages away from him, putting him in tough one-on-ones, in which he excels. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Kawann Short should be serious considerations as well though – this tells you how good their defense really is.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees / Cameron Jordan
Brees might not have put his team in championship contention in recent years, but when you look at his statistics as a passer, he’s right near the top with close to 5000 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 11 picks. With Drew at the helm the Saints lead the league in passing yards per game and they have been one of the highest scoring offenses. They won’t win a lot of games though when their defense gives up the most points in the league.
One of the few bright spots on D has been Jordan with ten sacks. He also picked up 27 quarterback hurries and 15 tackles for loss (TFLs). Just as a comparison – nobody else on their defense had more than six. And the only other player I even considered here was Stephone Anthony, who had an outstanding rookie season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin / Lavonte David
Some might argue Jameis Winston has turned around this team, but I really think it were some upgrades on the O-line and the re-emergance of the muscle hamster. Martin rushed for 1400 yards on 4.9 yards a carry – which ranks him second only behind Adrian Peterson. The funny thing is I’ve never heard his name in a discussion for the best halfbacks in the league (before being named All-Pro).
David pretty much is the prototype for today’s linebackers – he’s athletic, extremely fast to the ball, he can cover any back or tight-end, he plays well in space and he is relentless. Most of all though, he is a playmaker. He had three picks, two forced fumbles and 13 pass delections.
Carson Palmer / Tyrann Mathieu
Palmer is one of the top candidates for league MVP with one of the best seasons for a 36-year-old. He overcame another ACL injury in tremendous fashion, posting career-best numbers in touchdowns, passing yards and most importantly wins. In addition to that he has led his offense to the number one spot in total yards and number two in points.
The Honeybadger has easily been the most versatile defensive back in the league. He has played at corner, nickel, safety, he has been used as a blitzer, all over the field in zone coverage, he has played one-on-one against elite receivers and has made tremendous plays for the defense all year long. What a shame he won’t be able to help his team for the rest of the playoffs with a torn ACL.
St. Louis Rams
Todd Gurley / Aaron Donald
Gurley should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He can break it at any point, much like AP. His talent, vision and hard running-style have lifted a Rams offense, which at times has struggled to get anything going through the air.
Donald won the DPOY last year and right now is the best defensive tackle in the game. He’s only 6-1, but he has outstanding quickness inside and with that low pad level he really gets under people. There are only a couple of interior linemen out there who are nearly as disruptive as he is.
San Francisco 49ers
Joe Staley / NaVorro Bowman
If there has been one 49er who has gotten it done on a weekly basis on offense it has been left tackle Staley. He has started every game and he has played hard every game. He rarely gets out of position as a pass blocker and does a lot of things in the running game for you.
Bowman has finally come close to his former self before suffering a devastating knee injury. He led the league in tackles and has been the unquestioned leader for the San Francisco defense. If he can get back to being the kind of pass defender he once was, he will earn some more All-Pro selections.
Russell Wilson / Michael Bennett
In case anyone hasn’t noticed yet – Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback. Anyone who disagrees simply mixes up pure play with optics. He has thrown 34 TDs to only 8 INTs and at times has even played so much better than his stats indicate. The O-line has been for most of the year, they never really got Jimmy Graham going and Beastmode only rushed for about 400 yards on the year. DangerRuss has gotten it done from within in the pocket, he has made a ton of plays completely on his own, he always keeps his eyes downfield and he wins games.
Bennett has been tremendous for them. He can take on blockers and bring down ball carriers before even making it back to the line of scrimmage in the run game as a base D-end and then shift all over the line on passing downs. For all the talk about the defensive superstars, he has been the difference on a lot of Sundays. This has been his first season with double-digit sacks and a Pro Bowl nod.
Marshall Yanda / Brandon Williams
The Ravens had a terrible year when you look at their injuries, but still managed to stay competitive in every single game outside of their meeting with the Chiefs. The most important thing was the heart the entire team showed, but another big factor was good play up front by their leaders. Yanda is a nine-year veteran who has been the best guard in football for three years now. His tough, aggressive demeanor combined with outstanding play is something opponents have to respect.
On the opposite side of the ball big Brandon Williams certainly would have deserved a Pro Bowl bid as one of the finest nosetackles in the league. He doesn’t post big sack numbers, but he defeats double-teams all game long and frees up his teammates to make plays.
A.J. Green / Geno Atkins
Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert have certainly done their job and the Red Riffle deservedly was an MVP candidate at the start of the season, but I simply have to give this to A.J.
When he’s covered one-on-one you simply have to feed him andwhen there’s help over the top he still comes down with the catch on a regular basis. The Bengals have a very good receiving corp, but I have no idea why they don’t give him the ball even more often.
Geno Atkins is officially back and better than ever before. He had a dominant 2012 year before injuring himself and then having a hard time getting back to his usual form, but he has been a different breed this season. He is a professional disrupter and the only defensive tackle I’d consider to put ahead of Aaron Donald. Quite funny how similar they are when you look at their stature and style of play.
Gary Barnidge / Karlos Dansby
Who saw this one coming? Gary Barnidge with over 1000 yards receiving? He had about 600 combined during his first seven years. And he only had a two million dollar cap hit in 2015. So if you talk about who produced the most for what a team could expect from him, Barnidge might have had more value to the Browns than any other player had for a franchise. Some might argue that they didn’t have any receivers to throw to, but I can tell you one thing – that should have made it even easier for defenses to focus on Barnidge in the passing game.
On defense I went with another veteran. Dansby is 34 years old – an age where most linebackers start to think about retiring, but he doesn’t slow down. He just makes things happen from a takeaway standpoint. He forced a couple of fumbles and picked off three passes. That way he ended up in the end zone two times.
If you talk about who the best player overall on the roster was, there is no question that Joe Thomas has been brilliant once again. People don’t talk about offensive linemen a lot, but he had one of the best year of any offensive tackle in NFL history. He only allowed one sack and had one single holding penalty called against him.
Antonio Brown / Lawrence Timmons
AB is a one hell of a player. He had a lot of games this season in which he completely destroyed the coverage. He can run every route, catch every ball and make everybody miss. He finished the year the most catches, over 1800 yards and 10 TDs. And he has Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton catching a lot of passes as well. To show you how good he really is I just want you to look at this stat: Of the 193 passes thrown his way he caught 136. And he didn’t even have Big Ben for four-and-a-half games.
The Steelers have a lot of talented young players on their defensive front seven, but the most important one has been the veteran Timmons, who not only led them in tackles, but also had five sacks from the inside and was a dominant presence for opponents attacking the heart of their D.
Tyrod Taylor / Preston Brown
The Bills might have extended their series of missing the playoffs to sixteen season, but if there’s one thing they have one is that they found themselves a franchise signal caller. Taylor has been a true playmaker for Buffalo. At times he really spread the ball around well, while in some games when the offense struggled to get anything going he put them on his back and scrambled down the field. Another development coaches and the fans probably love to see is the connection he built with Sammy Watkins later in the year.
Rex Ryan didn’t nearly get the kind of production from the defensive line as they showed the season before, but his young talented linebackers took the next step. Brown was their man in the middle who made his presence felt against both the run and pass. He started all 16 games and to me already is one of the top five inside linebackers in the AFC.
Jarvis Landry / Reshad Jones
I thought about putting Lamar Miller up there for a second since he gave the Dolphins a running game they didn’t have for a couple of years now, but I couldn’t ignore the immense production out of Landry, who has caught more passes in his first two season than any other player in NFL history. He was a regular member of the highlight videos around the league with crazy effort plays after the catch or OBJ-like one-handed catches.
Let me tell you one thing – Olivier Vernon was a force! Don’t let the 7.5 sacks mislead you, he was an outstanding player, with 18 tackles for loss, but I had to go with Jones here. I thought the Phins’ biggest weakness was their secondary at the start of the year. Brice McCain was completely exposed in a couple of games. Jones was the one who gave them a different attitude. As he started to get things going offenses stopped attacking parts of the field he was near, because he either let your receiver feel it or make a play on the ball. He finished the year with the most tackles for a safety (135) and five picks, with two of them going for touchdowns.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady / Jamie Collins
Gronk certainly deserves recognition here as one of the most valuable offensive players outside of quarterbacks, but Brady probably had his finest season until the last quarter of the season. At that point he had 3600 passing yards, 28 TDs, a QB rating of 100 and his team had just lost their first game of the year. And he did that with different starting O-line seemingly each and every week and he also missed Gronk, Edelman and Amendola for parts of the season. He did so much with so little help in a lot of games. That’s value!
On defense I thought Jamie Collins was a rising star in his first two years, but in 2015 he was a terror for offenses. He is a special athlete, who disrupts running plays, has a lot of range in pass coverage, gets consistent pressure when asked to rush the passer, knocks balls loose (5 forced fumbles) and runs sideline-to-sideline all game long. If he didn’t miss four games he should probably be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
New York Jets
Brandon Marshall / Muhammad Wilkerson
Brandon would probably put his quarterback up there and I thought about Fitzpatrick as well, because he really gave the Jets a much better chance of winning, but you can’t ignore what Marshall did this season. He set all kind of Jets receiving records and truly was a man amongst the boys. Some of those catches he came up with, even though the defender was right there, were incredible. He fought for every ball and had a purpose when he had it in his hands.
Wilkerson was in a contract year and probably earned himself a monster deal with unbelievable disruption. He put a lot of pressure on opposing signal callers, finishing with 12 sacks on the year, but was at least as effective against the run, bringing down ball carriers in the backfield or making them stop and redirect because of his penetration.
DeAndre Hopkins / J.J. Watt
This might be the best combination of offensive and defensive MVPs on one team. Hopkins has put up Odell Beckham Jr. stats even though he had four different starting quarterbacks and no consistent running game to give him easier coverages to go up against. At times whoever threw the ball simply gave him a chance and he outworked the defender to come up with the ball.
Not only might he be the Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in four years, he may end up as the greatest defensive player to ever play the game. Watt is a one-man wrecking crew, who can’t even be held back with a broken hand. The effort he puts in every week and the way he manipulates offensive gameplans is unrivaled.
T.Y. Hilton / D’Qwell Jackson
The Colts offense was supposed to be dynamite, but without Andrew Luck or at times any sort of protection, they didn’t come anywhere close to their potential. The one who stood out was Hilton, who still went over 1100 yards receiving and snagged 6 TDs. Donte Moncrief also had a fine season himself.
On defense it was pretty easy for me to pick. On that side of the football there were the big question marks, but some young defensive linemen’s quick development and the leadership by Jackson saved them. He finished the year second in total tackles in the league and was the one who held everything together, as he had the best season of his career so far.
Blake Bortles / Telvin Smith
I know Bortles led the league in interceptions with 18, but he finished as number two in passing touchdowns with 35. You just don’t see that from a second year man. He had one of the best receiving corps in the league, but the protection was mediocre at best and I thought he really gave them a chance of winning almost every week.
If Telvin Smith was on a team in the national spotlight he would be considered one of the top linebackers in the game. With the way it is you have to watch the tape to see what a special player he is. He doesn’t have any weaknesses and he has a knack for making big plays. If you want to know what I mean just watch his game against the Bills – he was on fire that day.
Delanie Walker / Jurrell Casey
I would have liked to go with the rookie from Oregon here, but he missed four games and I was just too impressed by Walker all year. He cracked the 1000 yards receiving mark for the first time in his career and almost had a hundred catches. But not only was he the main weapon for them in the passing game, he is an excellent run blocker for a team that really struggled to get any consistency out of the running back position.
Casey has been one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL for three years now and I feel like he finally starts to get the recognition he deserves. Forget about the seven sacks he put up. He gives offensive linemen nightmares with his quickness and power to get them off their feet. Against the run he makes even better plays than with the way he can push the pocket.
Emmanuel Sanders / Von Miller
I know Demaryius Thomas caught 29 more balls for about 170 yards more than Sanders, but I really thought Sanders was the most consistent player for the Broncos offense. Other than Thomas he didn’t drop a lot of passes and made big plays for them when they needed it most. He’s certainly no number two in my book.
The Broncos defense was so good all year, there are at least four or five players you could pick here, but I went with Miller because he was the best pass rusher on a unit that was at its best when they got after the quarterback and forced him into mistakes. Von didn’t just get 11 sacks and force a lot of hurries, he also made opponents run away from him, because of his ability to free himself up and bring down ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith / Marcus Peters
Andy Reid has always gotten the best out of his quarterbacks and this year he really got Smith ready to play. He always played smart and could avoid turnovers, but when the Chiefs got things rolling you started to see him play with a lot of confidence and pushing the balling down the field. He combined that with excellent running in critical moments, as he finished the season with 498 rushing yards and ten straight wins.
Has Marcus Peters been a shutdown corner? – No. Has he been beaten this year? – Sure. But he is a baller! He might not be able to completely take away receivers yet, but he fights back and makes tremendous plays on the ball. He finished the year with 8 interceptions, with two of them going for touchdowns. And he doesn’t shy away from coming up and tackling much bigger guys than him. The outstand play of Derrick Johnson in the middle and the boost Eric Berry brought to the team should bring them proper recognition as well though.
Derek Carr / Khalil Mack
The only guy who I thought had a better sophomore season than Blake Bortles was Carr, who has brought a lot of hope to the Black Hole. After teaming up with Amari Cooper and having another full offseason to work with him and the rest of his receiving crew, he looked like one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He reminds me a lot of Aaron Rodgers honestly and I can’t wait to see what he will do in years to come.
Mack is the only player to ever be named first team All-Pro at two different positions in one year. And I can tell you one thing – he deserved it! Those almost-sacks he had last year turned into 15 sacks this year, but he might be an even better run stopper, because of his insticts and ability to bring down ball carriers in the backfield (23 TFLs). This year there were a couple of games he just completely took over.
San Diego Chargers
Danny Woodhead / Melvin Ingram
The Chargers had a really bad season. There’s no way you can say this in a nice way. To show how bad it actually was here’s a little something to think about: Melvin Gordon had a total of 32 touchdowns his final year at Wisconsin. His first season with the Bolts – 0!
With Keenan Allen out after a tremendous start, by far the most consistent offensive player for them was Woodhead, who led them with 80 receptions. A lot of times Rivers simply dropped back, checked it down to him and he beat the linebacker one-on-one for the first down. There were drives built on that. I can’t really think of a running back who made that many plays pretty much on his own.
I can’t even tell you how happy I am for Ingram, who finally stayed healthy and lived up to his potential in 2015. He finished with double-digit sacks on a defense that had a total of only 32. But he also got it done against the ground game, picking up 14 TFLs. He could be a guy who plays in Pro Bowl for years to come.