With Week 8 in the books and 119 of the 256 games played it seems like the perfect time for us to reflect on the first half (well, 47%) of this NFL season.
We still have 4 undefeated teams, as well as one who haven’t won a game since since Week 1; but today we’re not going to focus on the teams. Instead, we’ll be looking at the individual players (and coaches) who have made the biggest statements so far this year by handing out some mid-season awards!
The voting was done by the whole NFL staff here at Real Sport in order to weed out any biases and to cover all bases. If you think anyone has been hard-done by, overrated or just plain forgotten about, please let us know in the comments!
- Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
- Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
(Also receiving votes: Cam Newton, Devonta Freeman, DeMarcus Ware)
Tom Brady was a unanimous winner of what would be his 3rd League MVP trophy, and it’s hard to argue that anyone has even come close to his value, production and importance to his team.
Leaving aside PSI and court cases, Brady has been truly outstanding this season. Always one to adapt to his surroundings, in his 16th season Brady has become a quick-release master. With his offensive line heavily changed on the inside this off-season, and then struck with injuries, the Patriots knew they wouldn’t be able to sit Brady in the pocket all day like seasons of old, and so he’s been getting rid of the ball quickly. Very quickly. The ball is often out of Brady’s hands before you can blink, and while his array of weapons has hardly changed from last season (bar the Lewis-for-Vereen swap) his production has rocketed: 20 touchdowns in 7 games and just 1 interception which came on a ball Julian Edelman bobbled twice.
We’ve always known Brady was impossibly accurate with his passes and a master at diagnosing defenses, but he’s also managed to defy Father Time and become more mobile this season, going as far as to perform a patented Tony Romo reverse spin in the last game against Miami.
Until defenses figure out a way to combat this latest incarnation of the Patriots’ offense, #12 is likely to remain #1 in MVP voting.
Offensive Player of the Year:
- Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
- Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
- Phil Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
(Also receiving votes: DeAndre Hopkins, Todd Gurley, Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Rob Gronkowski)
This season wasn’t meant to happen for Devonta Freeman. The blocking wasn’t supposed to be good enough to support a top line rusher. All the pre-season talk was that rookie Tevin Coleman would be the #1 back in Atlanta. In fact Coleman was the man for the first game and a half, until he was injured and they had to go with Freeman.
And then something special happened. Devonta Freeman proved people wrong: 1,062 yards from scrimmage in 6 games and change and a league-leading 10 rushing & receiving touchdowns have changed people’s opinions on Freeman rather dramatically. He’s slithered through holes that were barely there and exploded around the edge for big gains.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense has played its part, as it usually does, in putting the running back in a position to succeed; but the back still has to seize that opportunity. Freeman has done so with both hands and doesn’t look like he’s ready to let go.
Defensive Player of the Year:
- JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texans
- Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers
- Charles Woodson, S, Oakland Raiders
(Also receiving votes: Chandler Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, Aqib Talib, Thomas Davis, Justin Houston, Ziggy Ansah)
It wasn’t a land-slide for Watt like the 2 previous times he’s won this award. That’s not a knock on his performance, but Watt has found himself the victim of even more double- (and sometimes triple-)team blocks this season while the rest of the league’s defensive players have upped their performance. It’s just that none of them are as brilliant in every facet of the game like Watt is.
His 8.5 sacks are tied for the league lead with Chandler Jones – but then Watt has a massive 25 QB hits compared to Jones’ 13. He’s made 21 solo run tackles, more than other vote-getters Thomas Davis (19) or Justin Houston (14). Watt has 5 Pass Deflections, Darrelle Revis has 3!
Watt is quite simply the best defensive player in the NFL today and it’s arguable that he does his job better than anyone else in football does theirs. A 3rd 20-sack season is probably beyond his powers given his relatively slow start, but if anyone can do it it’s probably the only guy with two 20 sack-years to his name.
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
- Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams
- Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders
- Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(Also receiving votes: Tyler Lockett, Marcus Mariota, Stefon Diggs)
All that kept this from being a unanimous win for Gurley was the fact he’s only really played in 4 games. And yet, he’s already 5th in the NFL in total rushing yards, scorching defenses for 6.1 yards per carry.
Gurley’s blend of speed, quickness and power is what causes defenses nightmares; he can run you over or run around you. Then there’s his vision, which for a rookie is simply ridiculous; he can spot a cut back lane, find the crease or just locate the smallest guy on the field to go run over. Todd Gurley looks like that magical running back teams envision when they draft one as high as the Rams took him, and that kind of return-on-investment is what their offense has been lacking for so long.
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
- Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
- Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings
- Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills
(Also receiving votes: Delvin Breaux, Bud Dupree, Hau’oli Kikaha, Kwon Alexander, Jordan Hicks)
A cornerback hasn’t won this award since Charles Woodson in 1998. That should tell you what kind of a year Marcus Peters has been having.
Peters was a starter from Week 1, and not just a “Stick him in the slot and hope no one picks on him” kind of starter, but a left corner, on-the-number-1-receiver kind of starter. And what did he do? An interception in his first 2 games, including a beautiful pick 6 on Peyton Manning where he read Demaryius Thomas’ out route, got his eyes up to Manning and broke on a cut-off route to catch the ball. Some of his play this year has been phenomenal, and it’s all underpinned by an aggressive and technically sound style. There’s little free-lancing and guess work, just genuine athleticism mixed in with a desire to not just force incompletions but make the QB regret ever looking his way.
Lineman of the Year:
- JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texans
- Marshal Yanda, RG, Baltimore Ravens 3=. Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots 3=. Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams
(Also receiving votes: Joe Thomas, Fletcher Cox, Ziggy Ansah, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Russell Bodine)
A second trip to the podium for JJ Watt, so lets take a minute to discuss the runner-up here; Marshal Yanda.
Guard is perhaps the least talked about position in the NFL, but it can have a huge influence on the fortunes of an offense. Just ask Dallas when they drafted Zack Martin last season, or Arizona and their acquisition of Mike Iupati this off-season.
Yanda truly flourished last season under Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, much of which has been retained this season. It’s Yanda’s incredible agility that makes him such an impactful blocker, especially in the run game. He can scamper out to help the OT get movement on his man, then pivot and crack a pursuing linebacker to seal the inside off. Those fast feet and low centre of gravity also help against the new breed of pass rushing interior linemen, and while Yanda can stuggle against a true edge rusher when kicked inside it’s nice to have a reminder than some people are mortal after all.
Coach of the Year:
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
- Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
- Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
(Also receiving votes: Jack Del Rio, Ron Rivera, Wade Philips, Todd Bowles)
It’s hardly surprising to see Belichick top the voting here. The Patriots coach has made adjustments on adjustments to his team to overcome the personnel changes in the secondary since that magical end to Superbowl XLIX. He’s overseen a change in along the entire offensive line from the first day of training camp to today and the offense hasn’t missed a beat. The Patriots players, no matter who they are, always look like the most prepared team in the world because their coach is as meticulous and detailed in his game plans as anyone. The Patriots always have a new wrinkle ready for their next opponent, a plan B and a new disguised coverage for the really big moments.
Then there’s the fact that he’s the General Manager as well. Responsible for finds like the incredible Dion Lewis and David Andrews, an undrafted rookie who has started every game at center and looked for all the world like a seasoned veteran.
He isn’t the most likable coach around, but his track record speaks for itself. The Patriots are undefeated this season, lead the NFL in points differential and top every power rankings. The reason is our MVP and hooded master of ceremonies Bill Belichick,
Comeback Player of the Year:
- Chris Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
- Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
(Also receiving votes: Doug Martin, Dion Lewis, Brandon Marshall, Eric Berry, Navorro Bowman)
Our final award is often the hardest to pin down. For some this is about who has comeback from injury or suspension; for others it’s about players bouncing back from a poor season.
Our top 3 were separated by very little, but in the end it was the man who was a free agent and probably out of football in mid-August when the Cardinals came calling.
Chris Johnson, now 6 years removed from that famed 2,000 yard campaign, has been having a renaissance in the Arizona desert this year despite the bullet still lodged in his shoulder as a result of being a bystander during a shooting in March. He’s already surpassed his rushing yards from last season when he was a New York Jet and is posting a 4.8 yards per carry average, his best since 2009. Johnson has been the beneficiary of a much-improved offensive line and a deadly vertical passing game that keeps safeties pinned back but as ever, it’s down to the player to seize his opportunities and Johnson is doing just that.
Nothing quite sums up this season’s version of Chris Johnson like his week seven peformance against Baltimore. He ran over and through safeties, burst through the smallest gaps and showed great wherewithal to get up and continue running after landing on a defender and not the turf. That blend of his physical attributes of old and a more seasoned mind has made him almost as deadly as he was in those glory days in Tennessee.