NFL

NFL Midseason Awards: MVP, Rookie of the Year and More

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Since we’re at the halfway point of the season, it feels like the perfect time to run through the top candidates for the NFL’s various awards.

It also serves as a time to reflect on the unpredictability of the NFL.

The defending NFC East champions the Dallas Cowboys are currently in last place at 2-5, and what’s more surprising is that future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning has the lowest quarterback passer rating (75.1) amongst starting quarterbacks in the league…yet his Denver Broncos are a perfect 7-0.

Speaking of 7-0, how about those Carolina Panthers, who finished last season 7-9 and already have equaled last years winning total with nine games to spare.

For every assumption we got right we likely had another dozen or more wrong.

At the halfway point for most teams, we can begin to try to predict some of the upcoming accolades that will be bestowed on current players going above and beyond.

MVP – Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots


The spectacle of Deflategate ignited one of the leagues fiercest competitors to up the ante on his competitors. Brady is enjoying one of his finest seasons and that is saying a lot considering he has already won league MVP twice (2007 and 2010).

The Patriots are 7-0 and dominating opponents, being led by their four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback who leads the league in quarterback passer rating (115.8) and tied for the most touchdown passes (20) with the Arizona Cardinals Carson Palmer.

With the wins mounting and no blemishes in the loss column the question begins to emerge – Can the Patriots match the 1972 Miami Dolphins with a perfect season?

“We’ve got one mission,” said Brady, via WEEI. “It’s this week. It sounds like a cliché but it’s not, because it works, and it’s what our team’s about. We’re short-term focused.”

Brady has a 20-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and averaging 344 passing yards per game. New England’s offense ranks 5th overall and 2nd in passing offense.

 

Comeback Player of the Year – Chris Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Let’s take into consideration Johnson’s situation prior to signing with the Cardinals in late August.

He was recovering from a shotgun wound to his shoulder sustained in March and coming off the worst season of his seven-year career.

Johnson was released by the New York Jets following the 2014 NFL season after he failed to make an impact and was losing carries to Chris Ivory, who simply was the better player.

“He’s got great balance with that speed,” head coach Bruce Arians said, via Josh Weinfuss ESPN staff writer. “The way he this on an angle and bounces off people is incredible for his size.”

No one predicted that Johnson, would return to his Pro Bowl form behind the Cardinals offensive line, but that is exactly what he is doing in Arizona. He ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards (676) after eight games. Johnson has already surpassed his entire 16-game production (663) from last season as he makes the most of his first season in the desert.

 

Rookie of the Year – Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams

 

It’s electric when a collegiate athlete superstar carries over his skills to the professional level and excels. After suffering a torn ACL at Georgia, Gurley rehabbed and eventually was selected with 10th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Gurley quickly is establishing himself as one of the best running backs in the entire league.

After his fourth consecutive 100-yard plus rushing game, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher fielded some questions on – Just how good is his rookie running back?

“I’ve been around some really good ones,” Fisher said, via Nick Wagoner ESPN staff writer. “Chris Johnson was outstanding early. Eddie George was outstanding early. I don’t recall them having the numbers that they had after three full games like Todd has.”

 

Defensive Player of the Year – Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos

Talib is just one of the talented pieces to the puzzle that currently make up the top defense in the NFL.

He has intercepted three passes and leads the league in interception return yards (123) and is tied for first with two pick-sixes.

In seven games, the Broncos’ secondary has totaled nine interceptions. Talib, an eight year veteran arrived in Denver last season and quickly adapted to the new system.

Denver ranks No. 1 overall in total defense and is pass defense. Sunday night they held Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards passing – Not in a quarter, but an entire game.

Talib brings a swagger that is rubbing off on his teammates. They are making key plays in critical situations.

 

Most Improved – Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals

Pound-for-pound there may not be a tougher or more physical player than Mathieu. He is becoming a true force to be reckoned with defensively, while still providing his ability to amaze with his overall athleticism.

Mathieu (5-foot-9, 186 pounds soaking wet) is the team’s second leading tackler (46) and has two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown).

During his time at LSU, Mathieu displayed as much God given ability as the man upstairs could provide, but repeated failed drug tests derailed his draft stock.

His level of play is not revisiting the days he spent as a Tiger down in the bayou, but now he’s a Cardinal in the desert.

 

Most Improved Team – Oakland Raiders

Plenty of teams could fall into this category such as the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) or Carolina Panthers (7-0), but to think of the historic success and fan base of the Raiders and it becomes an easy decision.

The Silver-and-Blacks current record is 4-3 after convincingly beating the New York Jets on Sunday, 34-20.

Second-year quarterback Derek Carr is continuing to develop while simultaneously building chemistry with rookie receiver Amari Cooper.

The team is finally out of cap salary hell and can begin to keep the talented players in house while plucking a selective few from other teams next year when free agency begins.

 

Most Disappointing Team – Detroit Lions

When your first choice on the free agent coaching market is a guy named Jim Bob Cooter….Well that explains current predicament the Lions occupy.

Cooter replaced recently fired Joe Lombardi as the team’s offensive coordinator and inherits an offense loaded with talent.

General Manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Caldwell might both be unemployed sooner rather than later if this team doesn’t turn it around.

After eight weeks last year the Lions were 6-2 and on their way to the playoffs and now they are 1-7 and eyeing the top spot in next years NFL Draft.


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.