We have surpassed week eight of the NFL regular season and as always it is time to reflect a little and hand out the biggest awards if the season ended today. So this is not a projection or prediction for what will happen, but rather who I would vote for as of right now. Obviously there are biases to the quarterback for the MVP or Rookie of the Year award, most of the decisions are largely based around statistics, since I don’t believe a lot of the voters are film-junkies necessarily, and they tend to spread, such as giving Coach of the Year to the hottest name or differentiating between MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. So I just picked the winners based on who I think best suits the descriptions and gave out three more names that I think should be in the discussion. Here is who I would vote for:
MVP – Aaron Rodgers
This early competition for MVP has been pretty interesting up to this point. The reigning winner Patrick Mahomes looked like he would run away with through the first four weeks, but the Chiefs lost their next two with their QB taking a little step back before ultimately hurting his knee at Denver. Then it was Russell Wilson who took over the lead after the first quarter of the season by pulling out magic and not turning the ball over, but he had by far his worst showing in a bad home loss to the Ravens and lost some of that shine. Then there’s a running back in Christian McCaffrey who got some love for carrying his team to four straight victories with their backup QB, but his numbers against the Bucs in London weren’t spectacular and outside of one big run you saw that his impact can be limited in a blowout loss to San Francisco. And finally we have a guy in Houston who is proving that he belongs in that conversation with elite signal-callers by making Houdini-like plays and carving up defenses.
So now I am picking the guy who has been just smoking hot these last few weeks in Aaron Rodgers. I love Russ and he is a close second, but with Mahomes missing some time, I feel like everybody is finally back to appreciating how special a playmaker this guy is. Green Bay’s signal-caller is second in the NFL in passing yards and with 16 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. He has the highest yards per attempt (8.2) and quarterback rating (106.7) since his last MVP season in 2014, while leading a team that now is is 7-1. The Packers have already beaten every other team in the NFC North, won big at Dallas and their lone loss came by a few inches to the Eagles on Thursday Night, where one of Rodgers’ receiver was responsible for one of the QBs two picks on the year and gave away the game with it. Despite the lineup featuring several undrafted free agents at receiver, he is tied for second with 34 completions for 20+ yards. He has also added about 100 yards on the ground with a few crucial scrambles and one extra score.
The next three: Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey
Offensive Player of the Year – Christian McCaffrey
I mentioned a couple of other guys who have put up historic feats individually, but this really is just a very close race between two superstar running backs to me. Michael Thomas’ 73 receptions so far put him on pace to break Marvin Harrison’s all-time reception record for a season with 143. He is also almost 100 yards of the next-closest receiver in terms of yards through the air and despite the heavy volume about 62 percent of his catches have gone for first downs. All that despite only playing with Drew Brees for about two-and-a-half games. The quarterback I included in this conversation is Lamar Jackson, who could easily be mentioned as an MVP candidate as well. Lamar is on pace to be the first player ever to pass for over 3000 yards and rush for another 1000 – and he should easily surpass those numbers. While he is averaging 11.9 yards per rush and has looked borderline unstoppable when taking off, his ability to use different angles and provide big plays as a passer has been even more impressive. He has combined for 14 touchdowns and at least three of his five interceptions can’t be put on him whatsoever.
However, like I said – this has been a neck-on-neck race between Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. Cook leads the league in rushing and has been the engine for the Minnesota Vikings offense. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 10.1 a catch, while scoring nine total touchdowns. Outside of that Chicago game when he was wrapped up in the backfield routinely, he has gone off in every game, with 140+ yards from scrimmage in week of the eight weeks. With that being said, I chose McCaffrey simply because Cook has more weapons around him and the Panthers had won every game with their backup QB until this weekend. Run CMC has already surpassed 1000 total yards in only seven games. He averages 154 yards from scrimmage with 5.2 yards a carry and 39 catches on the season. He has reached the endzone ten times, while logging five rushes of 20+ yards and three of 40+ yards. Until yet he hasn’t put the ball on the ground despite the heavy workload and he will probably add another passing touchdown at some point.
The next three: Dalvin Cook, Michael Thomas and Lamar Jackson
Defensive Player of the Year – Jamie Collins
So far this season has been all about the pass-rushers. Whether that may be former top draft picks, guys emerging after a few years in the league or perennial All-Pros. As disappointing as Cleveland’s 2-5 start has been, Myles Garrett has been a game-wrecker for them. He is tied for the lead-league with ten sacks and eleven tackles for loss, while also forcing a couple of fumbles. Deadlocked with him for the top spots in QB takedowns in Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett, who has been a revelation is his sixth year as a pro. After being more of a rotational piece on the edge for a Broncos defense that has always had first-rounders starting, he has easily been the Bucs best defensive player, forcing four fumbles, getting involved against the run (nine TFLs) and even smartly intercepting a screen pass. And then you could argue for both Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald, who might not be quite up to par with those other guys in terms of their numbers, but have taken over games despite being double-teamed and putting constant heat on opposing passers. With that being said, I went with the best player on the league’s best defense.
This Patriots defense is so good that you could actually go with Devin McCourty or Stephon Gilmore her as well, since the safety leads the league in interceptions and the Gilmore has clearly been the league’s premiere shutdown corner. However, nobody has filled the stat sheet quite like Jamie Collins – 44 total tackles, seven of them for loss, six sacks, three interceptions, seven PBUs and two forced fumbles. Of course he is one of the guys who has already scored a touchdown for them on that side of the ball as well. While maybe having faced a rather soft schedule so far, the Pats D easily is first in points allowed per game (7.6) third-down percentage (15.6 percent), total takeaways (25) and touchdowns scored themselves (six). With some tougher competition down the road, those numbers will probably get back to normal a little bit more and Collins’s totals may not look as favorable compared to some of the elite pass-rushers, but as of this moment, I think both the entire unit as well as their star linebacker deserve the recognition. Collins has been even better in his second stint with New England.
The next three: Myles Garrett, Shaquil Barrett and Khalil Mack
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Josh Jacobs
While the two frontrunners for this award may have been first-round picks, it is important to point out that the other two I’ll mention here have gone in third round and a sixth-rounder respectively. Terry McLaurin was not even the first receiver from his own school of Ohio State to be selected. He was looked at as just one of those guys between Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn and others, but he has been absolutely fantastic. McLaurin is on pace to go for over 1000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, while averaging 16.4 yards per catch, despite already playing with three different quarterbacks and Washington having one of the worst passing attacks in the league. Then there’s the guy who has taken over that Jacksonville fanbase, which had to be absolutely devastated when Nick Foles went down early on in the season-opener, after the organization just decided to pay him some big money to finally give them a capable. Well, the former Super Bowl MVP is still out, but Gardner Minshew has given them a reason to cheer. The man with the mustache has gone 4-3 as a starter with 11 touchdowns compared to just one pick, while providing highlight reel plays off script every week. I also want to give the O-line some love here by putting Erik McCoy’s name out there, who has made the transition from a Pro Bowl center look flawless for the Saints.
As my second choice for the award I have the number one pick. Kyler Murray has had some rookie moments, but he has also given us sequences of brilliance. This is not a very good Arizona team after only winning three games all of last year. Kyler has been already at the same win total and only half a game back from .500, while leading one of the pass-happiest offenses in the league. Only six guys in the league have more combined passing and rushing yards despite playing behind of the NFL’s worst offensive lines. However, at this point I have pretty clear winner in Josh Jacobs. The only RB drafted in the first round of 2019 runs with an explosion and violence that has given the Raiders offense an identity. Jacobs has now reached the top five with 620 rushing yards on 5.0 yards per attempt. All that while averaging about two carries less than everybody else in the top eight. He has also added over 100 yards in the passing game and when you look at the combined numbers, he has ripped off seven plays of 20+ yards. I just love to watch this kid play and I only think he will touch the ball more going forward. Unlike a lot of rookie backs, he has yet to fumble as well.
The next three: Kyler Murray, Gardner Minshew and Terry McLaurin
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Nick Bosa
This was the easiest decision among my picks for all the midseason awards. The Steelers’ Devin Bush has shown a knack for the football with 59 combined tackles, which leads all rookie, and has taken the ball away from the offense seven times, which is best among all defenders. Brian Burns has looked like of the premiere speed-rushing guys off the edge with 4.5 sacks and a game-changing performance against the Jaguars, when he returned a fumble for a 56-yard touchdown and later on forced the game-sealing fumble on a strip-sack. And then there is Jacksonville’s Josh Allen, who not only has recorded seven sacks but also eight tackles for loss on a defense that right now is third in the league in terms of total sacks. He also forced a couple of fumbles just for good measure. Any other year all three of those guys could easily take home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. However, none of these guys has come into the league and looked like a grown man quite like this dude.
Nick Bosa has been so incredible that he not only is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, but also in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Despite missing the season-opener, the second overall pick is tied with Josh Allen for the most sacks among all rookies (7) and blows the rest of the bunch out of water when it comes to total quarterback pressures, while adding a fumble forced, one recovered and that leaping interception against Carolina last Sunday. He has the whole repertoire of speed-to-power, double-hand-swipes and he is a force on D-line twists. What people don’t give both the Bosa brothers enough credit for is their run defense. Right now Joey has ten tackles for loss, while Nick is tied for tops with eleven. Most importantly however, the younger brother has been the biggest reason that this 49ers D-line that was filled with first-rounders finally turned into the ferocious front we wanted it to and he has given that unit some attitude. That guy entered the league with an NFL body and technique, while immediately translating his game to the pros. He will lead that San Francisco front for the next decade and be a perennial Pro Bowler, just like I always thought.
The next three: Devin Bush, Brian Burns and Josh Allen
Comeback Player of the Year – Cooper Kupp
I always thought that the criteria for this award is kind of vague, since you have guys winning it coming off an injury, others who just had a few years of underperforming and then even some guys who were just out of the league for a while. For me, I ended up with two guys who got hurt last year and two who just had a bad 2018 season, but have turned it around so far. One of those injured players from a year ago is Jimmy Garoppolo. With the 49ers being one of only two undefeated teams left and the offense averaging just under 30 point a game, he deserves to be mentioned here, even if the QB has been more above-average after his ACL tear. The two guys I think have taken their game to a completely new level compared to last season are Leonard Fournette and Matthew Stafford. The Jags RB simply didn’t look as fast or physical as he did coming out of LSU and during his rookie campaign before missing some time, but he is now second in the league in rushing yards with a league-leading four runs of 40+ yards and being just one catch short of his rookie total in receptions. Matt Stafford on the other hand was in a situation where for the first time in his career the offense wasn’t about him lining up in shotgun 40 times a game and being asked to pull off late-game heroics. Now he has adjusted to playing more on schedule and converting third downs, while still showing the ability to take over when needed.
The guy I ultimately went with is third-year receiver Cooper Kupp however. While the Rams certainly were not the same team at the end of the last year without a fully healthy Todd Gurley, I thought the loss of Kupp to the ACL injury was also a huge deal, since he got them a lot of cheap yardage and was the go-to guy on third down for them. This year he has come back even better and he has been on an absolute tear so far. Right now he ranks second in the league with 792 receiving yards and leads all players with 15 catches of 20+ yards. He is also tied for fifth among receivers with 32 first downs gained and has reached the end-zone five times. We saw what he can really do last week in London, when he destroyed the Bengals on seven catches for 220 yards in only two-and-a-half quarters. I always loved this guy since I first watched his tape at Eastern Washington and he has turned into one of the toughest guards in the league. As the offense continues to revolve more around the pass, you can tell that he is clearly the WR1 on an offense that also features Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, who have gotten way more of the praise up until this point.
The next three: Leonard Fournette, Jimmy Garoppolo and Matthew Stafford
Coach of the Year – Kyle Shanahan
I kind of like how all of this shook out as well with my candidates. I ended up with head-men from four teams that all have different records – 7-0, 8-0, 7-1 and 5-2. Let’s start with the obvious one in Bill Belichick, who should have won the award several more times if the voters didn’t get cute. The defense has been phenomenal with him being the per se coordinator and his team is not only undefeated at the half-way point, they also boast by the far the biggest winning margin at +23.7. You could also argue that Sean Peyton deserves the honors, since his team’s only loss came at Los Angeles when Drew Brees had to leave the game a few series in with that thumb injury. He has turned the Saints into one of the most physical teams on both sides of the ball and his offensive game-planning and play-design had the offense scoring 30+ points in three of the five games without the future Hall of Famer, while doing the same in the two contests he finished. And finally I want to give Frank Reich and his crew a lot of credit. If I had told you the Colts would be 5-2 at the midway mark after Andrew Luck just retired, you would have called me crazy. However, they are leading the AFC South with Jacoby Brissett at the helm in large part due to Reich’s opponent-specific gameplans.
While those four are all very worth candidates, my vote goes to Kyle Shanahan. I was one of the very few people out there who projected the 49ers to win the NFC West, because I saw all that talent on defense and a genius playcaller on offense. To me Shanahan is almost in a class of his own among offensive minds, when it comes to run-design, play-action off it and the way he binds it all together in the mold of the “Trinity of the zone run game”. While we have seen guys like Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and George Kittle go off, until the trade for Emmanuel Sanders, there were actually not a lot of dependable playmakers around and his quarterback has not played particularly well. Still, the offense is third in the league with 29.6 points per game despite that mudfest 9:0 game at Washington and San Francisco is outscoring the opposition by an average of 18.6 points a week – second only to New England, who has faced a much softer schedule. After that shellacking of the Panthers last Sunday, I think the Niners might be the best team in the league and Shanahan deserves a ton of credit.
The next three: Bill Belichick, Sean Peyton and Frank Reich