Once again it’s time to give credit where it’s due. The NFL Honors show will air Saturday 8:00 pm ET and players will receive awards for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and many others. I didn’t try to predict the winners for these trophies, I simply put my top three candidates up and made my case for each of them.
Most Valuable Player:
1. Matt Ryan
2. Tom Brady
3. Derek Carr
Nobody has consistently pushed the ball down the field quite like Ryan and his Falcons. At the quarter-mark of the season I had Julio Jones in the number two slot and I still think he’s the best receiver in the game today, but Ryan has spread the ball around to everybody, no matter which position or where they are on the depth chart. He was the centerpiece on the league’s number one ranked offense and won eleven games with a defense that gives up 25.4 points a contest. He deserves this.
On the other hand Brady had the league’s top defensive unit in terms of points allowed when he got off the field. Still, he had a magical season and maybe his best ever with a 28:2 touchdown to interception ratio. Not only was I impressed with his statistics that included a passer rating north of 110, he moves around more and better than what he did in his early 30s. He ranks second because of a schedule that included the 49ers, Rams and Jets – twice – in the second half of the season and because he obviously didn’t play in the first four games (in which his team went 3-1).
I had Carr at number one in my MVP rankings after four games and I have no problem with him sitting at three compared to most analysts who don’t include his name in this conversation. I feel like everybody forgot how good this guy was in his third season as a pro. Their defense (especially Khalil Mack) turned it on later in the year, but they gave up 25 points a game until the final quarter of the season and the whole team relied heavily on Carr to put up points and win games for them. If he didn’t get injured the Raiders might have beaten the Broncos in week 17 and grab the second overall seed in the AFC and who knows what could have happened then.
Notable mention: David Johnson
Since 1973 no player has won the MVP award when he wasn’t on a playoff team and the Cardinals didn’t even finish with a winning record, but I could easily make a case that no single player did more for his team than Johnson. He rushed for 1239 yards. The next closest on his team had a 157. He finished second on the Cards with 80 catches on the season. That’s twice as much as their number three guy. That all amasses to more than 2100 total yards from scrimmage and a ridiculous 22 touchdowns. He did it all for them.
Defensive Player of the Year:
1. Von Miller
2. Landon Collins
3. Aaron Donald
The Super Bowl MVP carried his postseason for the ages into this season ending up with the second-most sacks in the league (13.5). There aren’t a lot of great pass rushers who play the run equally as tough, but you can see Miller chasing down running plays from the backside constantly. A lot of people think of him as the dominant edge rusher who can bend around the edge like nobody else and he is, but he does an excellent job with the dirty work such as setting a hard edge or dropping into the flat to take away check-downs. What should win him this award is the fact he makes his biggest sacks in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
The Giants defense made a huge jump from 2015 when they were the worst in yards allowed and third-worst in points allowed to the second-least points given up. The free agency additions played a huge part in that, but the clearly best player on that side of the ball for them was Collins. The second-year man out of Alabama was thrown into action right away his rookie campaign and even though he struggled in coverage at times I thought he was their defensive MVP. But not even I thought he’d have the type of year he had as a sophomore. He is the first player in NFL history to record 100+ tackles, two sacks and five interceptions. He actually had 125 tackles and four sacks for good measure. Not only is he a huge playmaker though, he is the tone-setter for this unit.
Without J.J. Watt since the third week of the season Donald clearly was the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Even though he finished the year with only eight sacks he was dominant in pass rush situations with 31 QB hurries. I think he is even better against the run though. He is so quick off the ball and gets around guards to make plays in the backfield. That is indicated by his 17 tackles for loss, tied for tops in the league. He is a terror for offensive coordinators.
Notable mention: Khalil Mack
Mack is probably the favorite to take it home and he was a force this season. He racked up 11 sacks, forced five fumbles and made a ton of plays in the backfield on run plays. I don’t have him among my top three in large part due to him disappearing at times. Over about four to five weeks of the season I felt like he was the best defensive player in the league, but he started slow and didn’t finish on a very high note logging one sack in weeks one to five and zero in the last three.
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
1. Ezekiel Elliott
2. Dak Prescott
3. Jordan Howard
Everybody talked about Dak and Zeke in Dallas all year long and in the end it pretty much was clear one of those two will be crowned Offensive Rookie of the Year. I went with Elliott simply because he was the bellcow for the Dallas offense. He learned to be patient behind his big offensive line and ran the ball extremely hard once he got to the second level. His speed and power certainly scared defensive backs once he got past the first wave of defenders and so ended up with league’s rushing title with 1631 yards. He also caught 32 balls and was a premier pass blocker at his position for a rookie.
Like I said Prescott certainly is in the conversation for this award just because he didn’t play like a rookie quarterback at all. If you can find quality play from a rookie quarterback you are already lucky. If he throws 23 touchdowns and only four picks with a QB rating of over 100 you hit the jackpot (even more so when you find him in the fourth round). That is all very impressive and he has earned the rights to be the Cowboys’ signal caller of the future, but I have him at number two in my rankings because his job was made much easier by a run-based offense with Zeke going wild and the best offensive line in football.
Any other year Howard would be the front-runner for this award, but because of the two Cowboys rookies nobody even talks about him. He started third on the depth chart at the start of the season and now he is one of the top ten running backs in the league. He averaged an outstanding 5.2 yards a carry for more than 1300 and had another 300 yards receiving. And he did it behind a mediocre offensive line and with Jay Cutler and Matt Barkley at quarterback. He was pretty much the lone bright spot on the Bears this season.
Notable mention: Michael Thomas
Any time you get the triple crown for rookie receivers you should be mentioned in this conversation. Thomas impressed me with improved route-running and great ball skills as he worked himself into the number one role in New Orleans’ passing attack.
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
1. Deion Jones
2. Joey Bosa
3. Jalen Ramsey
Through all 16 games I don’t think any rookie played as well defensively as Jones. He is a super active and fast modern day linebacker who runs sideline-to-sideline. I had my doubts with him coming out of LSU because he struggled taking on big blockers in the SEC, but Dan Quinn and Mike Smith have done an excellent job putting him and fellow rookie LB De’Vondre Campbell in a position where they can run around free and chase down ball-carriers. Jones made more than a hundred tackles and picked off three passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He was a game-changer.
The obvious vote here would go to Bosa, who was as dominant on the defensive line as I can remember in past years. Everbody talks about his 10.5 sacks, but he was also tied for first in tackles for loss. He plays with great technique really knowing how to use his hands and he will be one of the premier edge players for the next decade. The reason I have him behind Jones is the holdout. It’s not like he couldn’t have played in those first four games and availability is the most important ability of them all.
Ramsey was the fifth overall pick in the draft, but I didn’t hear his name called from the beginning of the season until week 16 when he had his first career pick six. He was a shutdown corner for the Jaguars this season. The coaching staff asked a lot of him manning up some of the premier receivers in the game and he held his ground. With just two interceptions on the year I don’t think he has very good chances to win the award, but he might be the only one of the three who would crack the top ten of players at their respective position.
Coach of the Year:
1. Bill Belichick
2. Jason Garrett
3. Andy Reid
I know BB could take home that trophy every single year, but I think he should finally do again this season. Look at what he did – he started the season with a future Hall of Fame quarterback suspended and went 3-1. Then he had one more loss against the Seahawks in which they came up one yard short of the victory. He had the game’s best tight-end for less than half the year, he traded away their biggest star on defense and they still finished as the number unit in terms of points allowed. The most impressive game to me was when they shut the Texans out 27-0 in week three with a rookie at quarterback in his first ever start. Belichick and his staff outcoached every team on the way to their record-setting seventh Super Bowl appearance.
The Cowboys went from a horrible 4-12 team to the number one seed in the NFC in just one year. Everybody thought they wouldn’t have a chance without Tony Romo again, but the rookie stars shined like nobody else and the defense played much better than you’d expect when you go through their depth chart and consider their lack of true pass rushers. In a pass-heavy league they didn’t shy away from running the ball more than 50 percent of the snaps and didn’t panic to fill their defense with any stars. They just played great fundamental football and took it to their opponents.
Andy Reid is one of my favorite coaches in the league and he finds a way to get his team ready to play. They were without their two biggest stars on offense and defense when the year started – Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston. And while Houston made a phenomenal return when he recorded three sacks against the Broncos he wasn’t really a factor in any other game, because he simply didn’t play or was really banged up. Charles only carried the ball 12 times in very limited action before he went down with a season-ending ACL injury. They grabbed the number two seed in the AFC because they led the league in turnover differential and because they used their strengths in all three phases of the game.
Comeback Player of the Year:
1. Jordy Nelson
2. Andrew Luck
3. Terrell Suggs
I didn’t think Jordy had the same type of burst early on, but he really made his presence felt down the stretch. I still don’t think he was a 100 percent this season, but he will have another offseason to get ready and even improve on some impressive numbers including 1257 yards and 14 touchdowns. He and Rodgers really have a connection and when both are right they’re tough to stop.
The Colts have one of the worst overall rosters in the league in my opinion. They’ve had one of the bottom-ranked offensive lines in the league pretty much since the Stanford standout arrived, not a lot behind Frank Gore – the oldest running back in the league, a lack of depth and true difference makers on defense and then there’s Luck. He is on the cusp of making his way into the top among quarterbacks once again and the only reason they don’t hold one of the first three picks in his upcoming draft.
T-Sizzle might not have the same pop and agility he had in his first decade plus, but he is still an outstanding player. He has great play-recognition, core strength and an ability to slither his way to opposing QBs. He racked up eight sacks and three forced fumbles with a torn biceps for most of the year after coming off major injury once again at 34 years old.