We have pretty much reached the midseason point and it’s time to look at the prime candidates for all the major NFL awards. I didn’t crown an Offensive Player of the Year since I’m not a big fan of that award and since an offensive player takes home the MVP trophy every year anyway I only have players from that side of the ball up there.
Most Valuable Player:
1. Derek Carr
The Raiders were a sexy playoff tip during the offseason, but most of the hype was around the defense with all the free agent additions they made to that side of the ball. I liked the offense and thought Derek Carr kind of looked like a young Aaron Rodgers, but I don’t think people actually thought we’d be talking about him being among the MVP candidates. Just look at his stats though: 17 touchdowns, just three interception and a QB rating of over 100 while completing just under two thirds of his passes. More importantly he has his team sitting at 6-2 even though his defense is giving up more than 25 points per contest and he is counted on to put up a bunch of scores every single week.
2. Julio Jones
Not counting the Thursday Night game against the Bucs, Jones was just behind A.J. Green in receiving yards in the league while averaging a freakish 20 yards per reception with 80% of his catches gaining a first down. Right now he is the most dominant player at the receiver position. His three bad games statistically came at New Orleans (16 yards), at Denver (29 yards) and just now against Green Bay (29 yards) in which he was clearly banged up – all three of those games were wins. That tells you what kind of attention he draws from defenses right now. Last Sunday against the Packers I saw him get covered like a gunner on punt teams when the Falcons had a goal-to-go-situation. Defenders are afraid of that monster.
3. and who will actually win it: Tom Brady
So far I haven’t see a lot of Brady that hasn’t been perfect. You’d think a guy who missed four weeks would have some difficulties getting back to full speed, but he makes it look so easy, the Patriots already were a good team at 3-1 until Brady came back, now everybody in the AFC is looking up at them again.
Notable mention: Matthew Stafford
Defensive Player of the Year:
1. Von Miller
The reigning Super Bowl MVP is a very close second place in the NFL with 8.5 sacks right now. But not only is he the premier edge rusher in the league, he is a terror in the run game and comes up the biggest when the game is on the line and his team needs to make a play. Unlike a lot of big-contract names this guy has earned every single penny so far and I don’t see him slowing down one bit.
2. Aaron Donald
Now with J.J. Watt out Donald is by far the most dominant force on the interior of the defensive line. He can drive offensive linemen back into the quarterback’s lap, but it’s his uncommon quickness for the defensive tackle position that separates him from the rest. With only three sacks and 23 total tackles his conventional stat line might not be very impressive, but nine of those tackles were for a loss (which is only surpassed by two other players) and he is tied for the lead-league in QB hurries with Miller with 18. Looked at the fourth quarter he played against the Lions and you’ll wonder how the hell the Rams didn’t win that game.
3. Marcus Peters
For most of 2016 Peters has been like a hot oven. People have thrown at him and found success to some degree, but sooner or later he has come up with the ball himself which is shown by his league-leading five interceptions on the season. He might not be perfect but he always sets his offense up to score points and therefore gives them a much better chance of winning. Last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year has deflected 16 more passes, which also leads the league.
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
1. Ezekiel Elliott
Zeke has been everything advertised. He leads the league in rushing behind that Great Wall of Dallas 2.0, he has been exceptional in pass protection for a rookie and will only get more involved as a pass catcher. He runs people over, makes them miss and even hurdles them. He embraces being a workhorse and together with fellow rookie Dak Prescott they have turned a 4-12 team into one of the premier contenders in the NFC, in large part due to the fact their ball-control offense has kept their defense fresh.
2. Carson Wentz
So this offense is ranked 28th in total yards, not quite what you would expect them to be with an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. But they score 25.6 points a game complementing one of the top defensive units well and he has his team in the playoff hunt. The impressive part about it is that he doesn’t have any go-to-guys and the rushing attack has been pretty absent in a lot of contests. For a guy who was expected to not be a third-stringer he has delivered.
3. Jordan Howard
I had Howard on this list before his Monday Night explosion against the number one defense in the league and even considered putting him above Wentz, but since that guy plays the hardest position on the field and his team is not 2-6 I have Howard slide in at the number three position. I love his balance, vision and speed, but what impresses me the most is how he finishes runs. He is an all-purpose back who brings a new element compared to Jeremy Langford, who has probably lost his starting role if you look at what the rookie has done.
Notable mention: Dak Prescott
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
1. Jatavis Brown
This is a guy who isn’t talked about enough. He leads the Chargers in tackles by a wide margin, he’s an excellent blitzer and at his best when he can play in space. When I evaluated him going into the draft I really liked what he presented athletically, but I thought his body type wouldn’t hold up in the run game. He has excelled in his role in the middle of that D as a sure tackler and free-roaming playmaker.
2. Deion Jones
Much like Brown I thought of Jones as a better athlete than player. He has surprised me with his feel for the game and the willingness to attack downhill. I didn’t see those kind of instincts when I evaluated him in pre-draft processes, but Dan Quinn has put him and fellow rookie linebacker De’Vondre Campbell in a position to succeed. What I saw from Jones in Senior Bowl coverage drills and at the Scouting Combine was outstanding and that’s what he’s brought to the field – he moves so fluid and runs down people. He has already picked off two passes for 42 yards and a 90 yard touchdown.
3. Joey Bosa
It took a while for Bosa to see the field, but he’s been everything advertised since he’s stepped on it. What I thought separated him from every other edge rusher in the draft was how good he was with his hands clubbing, ripping and swimming around offensive tackles as a pass rusher and how he stands up blockers in the ground. He has taken that to the NFL level and in the four games he’s played he has been as good as any defensive end in the league.
Coach of the Year:
1. Mike Zimmer
Coming into the year the Vikings seemed like one of the best young NFL teams before Teddy Bridgewater went down with a torn ACL. Just a couple of days later they acquired Sam Bradford from the Eagles and they went on to win their first five games of the season. The defensive mastermind Zimmer fields an insanely talented defensive unit that I had ranked number one before losing their last two contests. Still this is an elite defense and Bradford has taken care of the ball and played very well behind a suspect offensive line. They are without the best running back of the last decade, have a QB who arrived not even a week before their season opener and have missed a couple of defensive contributors in different weeks and yet here they are – atop the NFC North with a 5-2 record. Zimmer has established what Bill Belichik has done for seemingly forever in New England – that no-excuse, next-man-up mentality.
2. Bill Belichik
Tom Brady was suspended for the first four weeks, they traded away their clearly best pass rusher in Chandler Jones and ended the season with a game in which their future Hall of Fame signal caller seemingly was put on his back every second time he took the snap. They fired their O-line coach, shuffled some players around along the line and have opened up holes for Legarette Blount who’s simply been running over entire defenses. The defense has been just fine allowing a whopping 16.5 points per game with an offense who put up more than 27 a contest. The Patriots have the best record in the league at 7-1 and Brady is just seeking revenge. I’d like to get an explanation on why they traded away Jamie Collins for a compensatory pick though (which they would have received when letting him go in free-agency anyway).
3. Jack Del Rio
Like I already said when I talked about Derek Carr as the frontrunner MVP candidate the Silver and Black were thought to be one of the top defensive teams and it simply hasn’t happened. The additions to the defensive backfield haven’t paid off the way they expected it to and they have allowed the second-most yards per game in the league. Yet here they are here at 6-2. Sure, one could argue they have faced a rather soft schedule, but it’s been the nature of their wins and I think a lot of the credit is due to Del Rio for making the big calls like going for two at the end of the New Orleans game, the several times they went for it on fourth down and simply the trust he puts in so many young players of his.
Comeback Player of the Year:
1. Andrew Luck
I know the Colts own a 3-5 record and they don’t seem like a real threat in the AFC at this point, but they wouldn’t have won a single game without Luck at the helm. He plays with one of the worst defenses in the league and he has been sacked a ridiculous 31 times already, yet he has still been one of the top QBs so far. And the stats don’t lie – a TD-to-INT ratio of 15-6, a QB rating of almost 100 and he has picked up first down on scrambles consistently all year.
2. Terrell Suggs
T-Sizzle is back as the emotional leader of the Baltimore Ravens, but not only has he been vocal, he has also led by example with his play. He leads the team with five sacks and he has been a terror setting the edge and stopping outside runs in the backfield on several occasions. The most inspiring thing he’s done though has been has willingness to play through a torn biceps the last three weeks and send a message to a Ravens team that has lost their last four games.
3. Jimmy Graham
After a season that was far under his standards which ended in week twelve because of a gruesome injury Graham is re-emerging as one of the best tight-ends in football. Right now he is third in receiving yards among the position and I feel like he and Russell Wilson just begin to build a great connection. He averages almost 15 yards a catch and the Seahawks have yet to really take advantage of him in the red-zone.