The NFL Awards are a great consolation prize for a lot of fans whose teams either fail to win in the playoffs or fail to make it. Most teams, at least recently, that have won the Super Bowl, often do not win awards in the same year. For instance, the last MVP/SB winner was Kurt Warner in 1999.
That’s not to say that MVPs can’t win or what not. They just haven’t. But if you’re superstitious, then cross your fingers that your guys lose. Here I’m going to give you my expert opinion on who I think will win. That doesn’t mean I’d vote for them, but it’s who I think will win since I know how the AP voters think and I can analyze the field.
Now without further ado, let’s begin with the rookies!
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott.
This is the easiest one. It’s a unanimous choice. Jack Conklin and Dak Prescott would be a good argument for second place, but the rookie running back wins by leading the league in rushing by 318 yards. Oh, and the Cowboys didn’t bother to start him Week 17 and rested him in the second half of Week 16.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa.
The only rookie who can compete with Bosa is Jalen Ramsey, and he falls short by a fair margin. A few months ago, there was legitimate worry that Bosa wouldn’t suit up for the season because the Chargers had to quibble and squabble over ‘contract language’ involving bonus money that was unprecedented and harming to Joey Bosa, which highlighted how cheap an organization they are.
Now, Bosa is getting universal praise after the Chargers finally caved. 10.5 sacks in only 12 games because the Chargers screwed around with ‘contract language?’ The real tragedy, imagine if he’d been there in the first four games?
Now, a lot of you might think, ‘Oh Cogs, you’re stretching on this one.’ and maybe I am, but hear me out. So much of a team’s success relies on they start the season. No team has started 0-3 and won the Super Bowl. Less than a handful of teams have started 0-2 and turned it around. The Chargers were 1-3 in their first four games. Their three losses were by margins of 6 (OT game), 4, and 1.
Well, I’ve read accounts that Bosa played like a five-year veteran on day one. Guys like that impact games. A great pass rusher can keep a touchdown off the board per game, that’s far from unprecedented. Also, Joey Bosa recorded two sacks in his debut game against the Raiders, who have a top 3-5 overall offensive line in pass protection. Is there any reason to think he can’t get a pass-rush on the Chiefs, Colts, or Saints and keep points off the board?
I can’t help but wonder if Bosa doesn’t play the whole slate, the Chargers don’t win more. Sure, according to my theory, they go 8-8 instead of 5-11. Well…these things tend to have a domino effect. Certain events play off each other, momentum builds, and boom. They may be in the play for the wild-card or what not. That’s a bit of a stretch on my end, but it’s a what-if that can’t be determined because the front office screwed around instead of giving Bosa a standard contract. That’s illogical foolishness graduated from sheer greed and San Diego football fans deserve better. Los Angeles is going to have a hard time trying to pick between which poorly run franchise to root for in the next few years.
The craziest for me about Bosa, I’m ashamed to say, is that I wasn’t high on him coming out of college. I didn’t like he had an off-field problem. I didn’t like that he was a “high ceiling” player, which meant he was going to have to develop but he “could” become huge.
“High ceiling” is to NFL like “prospect” is to MLB. If an analyst isn’t careful, they can get caught up in thinking that ‘Ooh this is going to be a stud great player!’ but in reality they get an okay player, an above average player, maybe even a very good player, but they get disappointed because they rarely get what they imagined.
Bosa looks like he’s becoming the exception to that rule.
Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson
This award is confusing to people because isn’t the MVP typically on offense so wouldn’t he win this too yadda, yadda? Well, the MVP is mostly for players on playoff teams who were the biggest reason their team won games. They contributed the most, the team fed off them, and the how high of a bar did their performances clear. David Johnson would be MVP if the Cardinals had had the season they planned to have when the year began, but they were a 7-8-1 team. Thankfully for him, NFL Offensive Player of the Year is voted on regardless of team standings.
If Julio Jones doesn’t miss three games, it’s possibly him, but David Johnson’s league-leading 2,118 yards from scrimmage (1,239 rushing/879 receiving), and 20 touchdowns feature a career year that any running back would love to have. He caught 80 balls as a receiver for Carson Palmer.
Latest NFL generation, listen up! When you hear the name “Marshall Faulk” dropped by NFL analysts or adults and you wonder who is Marshall Faulk? Well, think David Johnson, but a notch better and that’s Marshall Faulk. Faulk had four consecutive seasons from 1998-2001 where he had 2000+ yards from scrimmage and a 1,300+/700+ yardage line.
Faulk won three Offensive Players of the Year from 1999-2001 in St. Louis. Johnson should win his first here.
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack.
This is a tough one because there were a lot of great defensive players this year. Vic Beasley, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Landon Collins, Bobby Wagner, and Aaron Donald would be my top candidates.
Now, cross off the nonplayoff guys (sorry Von Miller and Aaron Donald).
Next, understand that this award favors pass rushers because they get the sweet stat known as sacks. I like Wagner and I think he’s a great player, but my gut says he’s falling short. Same goes for Landon Collins who I wish was on my team and I’m stunned that the entire NFL let him fall to the second round. He’s been a deadly weapon at safety, but I think this award is going to the edge guy.
So that leaves Beasley and Mack. The problem with Beasley is while he’s the NFL sack leader, the Falcons are a bad defense with him (scary to think what they’d be without him), but some writers will ask, “Why aren’t they better?” Because a guy like Lawrence Taylor or DeMarcus Ware or Derrick Thomas would make them better than 27th in scoring defense, 25th in yardage, and 28th against the pass. Whether that logic is rational or not, I guarantee it is going through some of their heads.
Also, the Raiders haven’t been great in a long time and Mack is a huge reason for their turnaround. The media loves Khalil Mack and so does the AP voters. I think Mack wins it though I might’ve voted Miller or Collins if it was my ballot.
Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett.
I’m not sure that he deserves it, but he’s probably going to get it after securing the top seed in the NFC. The thing I don’t like about Garrett is he’s a formula coach. He gets players to play to his formula of coaching that’s based off the 90s Cowboys he played under. Run the ball, throw it a bit, maybe even a lot in today’s game. But at the end, he trusts his defense and his run game to preserve a lead.
Well, I can tell you from three PAINFUL years of 8-8 seasons that I can’t stand how many times the Cowboys had the ball with like 3-5 minutes left on the clock and this man’s offensive strategy was to “run” the ball with an average back instead of a play-action to a top-7 QB to get the first down. 4th down would come up, Dallas would punt, and then the defense would not be good enough to stop the opposition. All like clockwork.
Finally, like in 2014, Garrett has the players who FIT his formula. Ezekiel Elliott is behind three of the best linemen in all football and two pretty decent others. Dak Prescott is playing quite well and the coordinators are winning chess matches. But that’s not great coaching, that’s becoming a great team.
What Bruce Arians did in 2014 with a busted up Cardinals team and still making the playoffs, that was great coaching. What Bill O’Brien has done, winning the AFC South in back-to-back years with nothing at quarterback, that’s great coaching. Players leaving him never cripple Bill Belichick, he plugs in the next guy and coaches them up. That’s great coaching. That’s what great coaches do. They scrape out wins with lesser talent. Jason Garrett wins because he has great players.
However, the Cowboys have gone 13-3 with a ROOKIE quarterback. That cannot be ignored, so I guess he deserves the trophy. My pick is personally Bill O’Brien, but Jason Garrett is going to win the award.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan.
This is an award where the analyst has to look at the results of a unit versus the overall talent the unit possesses and/or what the unit did before he came around. Then the margin of results to in ratio to talent level measures out an idea of the candidates. Translation: which coach got their squad to exceed reasonable expectations the most.
You can argue a lot of coaches to be quite frank. The Cowboys have had brilliant coordinating, especially a rookie quarterback. The Patriots went 3-1 without Tom Brady with brilliant coordinating as well. But the name that I’m highlighting is Kyle Shanahan. Before this year, the highest number of points the Atlanta Falcons entire franchise scored was 442 (the 1998 Falcons who went to the Super Bowl). Under Shanahan’s play calling, they scored 540 points and franchise bests in offensive ranks for points scored (1st) and yards gained (2nd).
All of this production came while having the pressures of an overwhelmed and porous defense on the field and zero reasons to believe in them in the back of their mind. The Falcons offense knew in order to win, they could not afford to make mistakes. Their worst performance came against the Eagles where they lost 24-15, and their other four losses were by margins of 7, 3, 2, and 1 point(s). Let that sink in for a bit. Shanahan’s first year was a bumpy ride, but now Atlanta fans are praying that Shanahan misses out on a head-coaching job so he can stick around for one more year.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson
The typical Comeback Player recipients are players who sustained an injury, recovered, and then came back to play great football. However, the parameters of the award include acknowledging those who went through downturns in their career, overcame them, and then clawed back to the status they once had. This award is somewhat miscellaneous because of the specific criteria it holds, but next to MVP, it has the most prestigious set of NFL alumni.
Nine current Hall of Famers, Eight Super Bowl MVPs, 11 MVPs, and Jim Harbaugh, a Super Bowl head coach, have won Comeback Player of the Year, and it’s an award that highlights a point of adversity in these players’ times that many of us can look to for inspiration because even NFL players, even all-time great NFL players, have challenges to overcome.
This year, it is the biggest toss up of the awards. It’s between Jordy Nelson and DeMarco Murray. Nelson had the usual case of a costly injury (a torn ACL) in 2015 that cost him the entire season. He rebounded this year with a 97/1,257/14 receiving line. That’s 5th in catches, 6th in yards, and 1st in touchdowns.
DeMarco Murray’s case is the unique storyline. In 2014, he was Offensive Player of the Year after being a workhorse for the bursting 12-4 Dallas Cowboys. He left for Philadelphia in free agency and it was a colossal error on the Eagles. Murray is an I-formation back who runs best in a standard handoff. Chip Kelly’s offense was a gun offense where the snap goes to the quarterback and then handed off.
Almost nothing went right for Murray that season and he only had one game with 100+ yards rushing and his yards from scrimmage total was truncated by more than half than what he had in the final year with Dallas. The Eagles managed to trade Murray to Tennessee and as a Titan; Murray showed he had plenty of skill left with a 293/1,287/9 rushing line and a 4.4 YPC average. He was 3rd in the league in yards and tied for 8th in touchdowns.
As a Cowboys fan and fan of the unique stories, I personally would give the award to DeMarco Murray. However, I think the fact that Nelson’s Packers are in the playoffs is going to tilt the scale towards him. The truth is this is one of those votes where it is so close, that a tie result is something to be embraced because both players are equally deserving.
And now finally. The grand award. MVP.
My MVP Prediction: Matt Ryan.
I personally tricked my own boss and colleague Robert Cobb into a friendly bet on the results. If Ryan wins, Cobb will have to put a picture of the Dallas star as his profile picture on Facebook for a month. If Rodgers wins, I do the same but with the Cleveland Browns logo.
However, I will triumph because Matt Ryan will win his first NFL MVP off a career year (4,944 yards, 38 TDs-7 INTs) that could’ve been even higher had the Falcons not been as devoted to running the ball (fifth in team rushing). To sum it up, Ryan was the most productive passer. He was the Charmin Ultra “Less is More” quarterback since he was 11th in pass attempts, but 2nd in the league in passing yards, touchdowns, and led the league in TD%, Y/A, Y/C, QB rating, and other advanced statistics on Pro Football Reference.
Quite frankly, it’d be a historic upset if Matt Ryan did not win NFL MVP because of the Associated Press, the same group of writers who vote for the Associated Press All-Pro Team, votes for the MVP.
This year, Matt Ryan was the first-team All-Pro quarterback. Tom Brady was second-team. Aaron Rodgers was third. The only time a QB MVP was not first-team All-Pro was in 1987 when the second-team choice, John Elway, beat out Joe Montana for the trophy. Never has a third-team choice won.
We can argue all day on whether Matt Ryan’s steady contributions to his team over 16-games and the fact that he led his team to the no. 2 seed in the NFC can compare to the second-half surge of dominance that Aaron Rodgers had that led to him leading the league in TD passes (40), but this isn’t about the arguments as much as it is knowing the voters, which is what I do.
Rob…You’re going to look good in silver and blue. Hehehehehehe.