We finish up our regular season awards by handing out some silverware to the best individuals of the 2015 campaign. We hand out the same awards as the Associated Press but with a slight twist. Whoever wins our Most Valuable Player will not be eligible for the Offensive or Defensive Player of the Year award. There were a lot of impressive performances for our writers to go through, so let’s see who won… A “*” denotes a unanimous selection. Agree with our selections? Think we missed someone out? Let us know! You can contact us on Twitter or Facebook
Most Valuable Player
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers 2nd: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots 3rd: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals It should be no surprise that the Quarterback of a 15-1 team gets the MVP award. Newton was spectacular this season with his feet, rushing for 10 touchdowns and 636 yards, but we all expect that from him now. What was a surprise was his accuracy when passing, especially deep. Newton developed a good touch on passes and precision underneath but was never afraid to rifle a bullet into tight coverage when needed. The Panthers were particularly impressive in hostile territory under the leadership of Newton, their comeback in Seattle stands out as a turning point in everyone’s opinion of Newton’s ability and Carolina’s status as true contenders in a competitive NFC. Part of what made Newton such a clear winner of this seasons MVP award is the supporting cast, or lack thereof, on the offense. Kelvin Benjamin was lost in the pre-season to injury, leaving the Panthers with Greg Olsen and not a lot else. Yet Newton was able to amass 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns through the air, all while his blind side was protected by Michael Oher who despite his fame has never been a high quality left tackle. When he takes the field on Sunday in Super Bowl 50 it would be hard to argue that he isn’t the best player out there. Not a bad accomplishment given the talent on both defenses.
Offensive Player of the Year
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons 3rd: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals The Offensive Player of the Year award goes to the truly amazing and wildly entertaining Antonio Brown. Brown came into 2015 as the #1 Wide Receiver in the NFL in eyes of many people and he only cemented that status with an incredible 1,862 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in 2015. Amazingly those numbers came with Ben Roethlisberger playing just 12 games. To think we might have had our first 2,000 yard receiver if Michael Vick or Landry Jones had been even average is incredible. What makes Brown so deadly is his versatility. He can run deep routes outside the numbers with the best of them despite his small stature and so-so speed, his route running is precise and his burst of acceleration can generate space underneath from the slot. His stellar season featured 10 100+ yard games, including a truly incredible 284 yard day against Oakland. To top it all off he’s even a deadly punt returner, adding 212 yards and a touchdown on his returns. What more could you want?
Defensive Player of the Year
JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texans Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers Once again JJ Watt picks up the hardware as the best defensive player in the NFL. The NFL sack leader with 17.5, Watt was a destroyer of worlds this season as he racked up an incredible 50 QB Hits over the course of the year. When teams built plans to stop him it opened up space for his team mates to use and abuse, no one else was responsible for so many sacks while being caught in a double or triple team as JJ. It should be stated that he was run close this year by Aaron Donald who’s 2015 campaign was the most dominant defensive tackle season the league has seen in a long time, but when coaches like Bill Belichick are comparing game-planning against Watt to the affect Lawrence Taylor had on an offense you know you are witnessing something truly special.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders It was only a narrow margin between Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston but the Rams running back showed enough to be extremely deserving of winning this award. Despite playing just 13 games Gurley ended up 3rd in total rushing in 2015 with 1,106 yards. His blend of power and speed was truly amazing and often had to be seen to be believed. There have been many superb NCAA backs who have failed to translate their success to the NFL but despite carrying an injury through the pre-season Gurley did not join the ranks of disappointing backs, he lit defenses on fire. Part of what made Gurley so incredible this year was his outstanding vision, helping him spot the tiniest of creases in the defensive front and then when he put his foot in the ground and turned on the afterburners he was almost impossible for just one person to stop. Gurley isn’t quite the complete package yet, he isn’t much of a receiving threat but should he add that to his arsenal then we’re looking at the next great running back in football.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Marcus Peters*, CB, Kansas City Chiefs 2nd: Leonard Williams, DE, New York Jets 3rd: Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings Marcus Peters won in a cake-walk and was our only unanimous award winner. It’s only to be expected from someone who was voted into our All-Pro team really. Peters spectacular rookie campaign came with some expected hiccups and long plays given up, but when you take the ball away and break up passes as frequently as he did a few touchdowns allowed aren’t going to stop the awards rolling in. The question really is if Peters can continue this amazing form into 2016 or if he will come down to earth with a bump. We’ve seen other spectacular rookie corners like Devin McCourty start to struggle as the offensive minds get to work identifying weaknesses.
Coach of the Year
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers 2nd: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots 3rd: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals Carolina’s plans for 2015 revolved around Michael Oher at left tackle, a pair of cast-offs at safety and Ted Ginn Jr as the #2 wide receiver. That then quickly changed when Kelvin Benjamin got hurt and Ginn had to be the main outside threat for the whole year! It’s no wonder then that an incredible 15-1 season crowns Ron Rivera as Coach of the Year. The Panthers were dominant both sides of the ball, leading the NFL in turnover ratio by a wide margin and points differential. Rivera was an impressive 9 of 14 in his challenges and continued his “Riverboat” ways with impressive calls on 4th down.
Comeback Player of the Year
Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs 2nd: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals 3rd: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings Comeback player of the year is a very vague title. Do they have to be coming back from an injury? Or does being rubbish for a year or two and then great again count? Did they have to be an important player before so they could “comeback” to prominence? In the end it doesn’t matter which way you cut it, Eric Berry’s story is impressive. In November 2014 he was diagnosed with Lymphoma and it looked like he might never play again. We have seen athletes return after such conditions, like Jon Lester almost 10 years ago but there is a big difference between throwing 90 mph fastballs and colliding with receivers at full speed. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Eric Berry’s return to football is that he made it back onto the field but that he was at his old, All-Pro level of play. That’s an amazing comeback however you cut it.