With Week 8 of the 2015 NFL Season in the books and Week 9 underway let’s take a look at who would take hardware home if the season were to end today. I give you the 2015 Mid-season Awards.
Most Valuable Player – Tom Brady
My take: Through the first 8 weeks (7 games) of the 2015 NFL Season “Tom Terrific” is playing at the record setting pace he displayed during the 2007 season when he had career highs in completion percentage (68.9%), touchdowns (50) and passer rating (117.2). During that magical 2007 run the Patriots ran the table during the regular season and fell just short of a perfect 19-0 campaign after losing the first of two Super Bowls to the New York Giants. What makes Brady’s 2015 performance (7-0) thus far so impressive is that this current iteration of the Patriots roster doesn’t have a Randy Moss to blow the top off of the defense nor are they the defensive stalwarts that helped lead the franchise to three championships in four years . That isn’t to say that New England’s defense isn’t underrated, or that Rob Gronkowski isn’t the best tight end in the game or that Julian Edelman isn’t completely un-coverable if you don’t disrupt him at the line of scrimmage but let’s face it, a 38-year-old quarterback shouldn’t be getting better. At least it seems that way. Brady currently has a 20:1 TD/INT ratio and while Brady has always taken great care of the football, a perpetually changing offensive line littered with inexperienced players hasn’t led to any ball security issues whatsoever. Tom is delivering the football so quickly and precisely that even the best of pass rushes is nullified. And for those of you who believe the Patriots are cheaters (that includes me) Brady is executing at a historic rate amidst the most (competitive advantage) scrutiny the Patriots have had as an organization. Super Bowl hangover? Not a chance.
Season-long outlook: I don’t think Brady will reach that 50 number he did back in 2007 nor do I believe that the Pats will go 16-0 but I am willing to wager that Tom Brady will be named the NFL MVP (barring an injury).
Offensive Player of the Year – Devonta Freeman
My take: The Atlanta Falcons got off to a 6-0 start under new head coach Dan Quinn but have struggled as of late resulting in an 0-2 record in the NFC South. Inconsistency on both sides of the ball led to an up and down October performance. However, the one constant has been the revelation that is Devonta Freeman. Since becoming the unquestioned starter following his Week 3 (30/141/3) outburst Freeman has managed to rack up big yardage and touchdown totals. In fact, the second-year back out of Florida State currently leads the NFL in: rushing yardage (709), rushing touchdowns (9), total touchdowns (10) and total yards from scrimmage (1,062). The young tailback has made the most of his opportunity and the marriage between his decisive running style, exceptional burst and Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme has been tremendous. But what’s most impressive about Freeman is his ability as a pass catcher. In a pass happy league that demands that running backs make plays in the passing game out of the backfield Freeman not only provides that dimension but has the ability to split out wide and track the football downfield. Freeman’s prowess in the passing game is evidenced by his ranking 2nd among running backs in receptions (40) and third in receiving yards (353).
Season-long outlook: I have gone on record describing Freeman as “unspectacular” and I was absolutely wrong. Freeman is exceptional in the passing game including his pass protection and while he is certainly better than I thought as a ball-carrier I still don’t think he’s a ‘special’ runner. Statistics aren’t the only barometer and the zone-scheme has made replacement level running backs look great. That being said, Freeman isn’t garden variety, I’m just not convinced he keeps up the pace he’s currently on. I think a quarterback (Brady) is ultimately named Offensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Norman
My take: I considered Carlos Dunlap, Aqib Talib and the ageless Charles Woodson but I feel good about my decision to go with Josh Norman for “mid-season” Defensive Player of the Year. Norman has been nothing short of terrific throughout the 2015 season, building on a strong 2014 campaign. Norman is tied for 2nd in both interceptions (4) and passes broken-up (12). He’s currently 3rd in the NFL in interception return yards (110) and tied for 1st in defensive touchdowns (2). Norman has also thrown in a fumble forced and a fumble recovered for good measure. He’s consistently defending the opposition’s best receiver successfully week-in and week-out. So much so that he only gave up 32 yards passing when targeted in the month of October according ProFootbalFocus. Football heads are well aware of Norman but the masses may still be unaware. If he continues to perform at the level he’s currently playing at he will be a household name come 2016.
Season-long outlook: If Norman’s second half of the 2015 season is anything like his first he will definitely receive his fair share of votes for Defensive Player of the Year. But, his lack of name recognition will ultimately cost him the DPOY crown. That being said there is no doubt that Josh Norman is playing the cornerback position at an elite level.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley
My take: Sorry Amari Cooper… Todd Gurley is peerless among rookies. Heading into the 2015 season I was certain that Cooper would walk away with OROY honors in large part because I had no idea when Gurley would get healthy. I assumed the Raiders would trail a ton and with competent quarterback play from Derek Carr and Cooper’s polish he would rack up target after target and post astronomical numbers in terms of receptions and yardage. To that point, Cooper has been terrific but Gurley has been a force of nature. Not only was health a concern with respect to Gurley (missed first two games of season) but the Rams offensive line was/is a huge question mark and with limited weapons on the outside and the greatness that is Nick Foles under-center I thought it would be tough sledding for Gurley initially. Well, after being on a pitch-count (6 carries) and unproductive (9 yards) in his pro-debut Gurley has rushed for no fewer than 128 yards in his last four contests. With so few featured-backs remaining in the NFL Gurley is a breath of fresh air. He’s currently averaging a league best 115.0 yards rushing per game and is tied for 2nd in runs of 20+ yards (7). That’s in only fours starts. It was obvious that he was special when he torched the SEC as a freshman at Georgia. Three years later he’s steam-rolling NFL defenses.
Season-long outlook: Gurley’s combination of patience, size, speed and vision makes him the prototypical workhorse back. The Rams’ decision to make Gurley the first running back selected in the first round in several years appears to have been the right course of action. Jeff Fisher will undoubtedly give him plenty of opportunities to continue to “wow” us all. As long as he’s healthy I don’t see anyone wrestling OROY honors from Todd Gurley.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Peters
My take: The Chiefs’ 2015 first round selection may have very well been the top defensive back selected had he not had off-the-field baggage that resulted in him being dismissed off of the Washington Huskies football team. However, thus far he’s lived up to his first round billing. Peters made an immediate impact intercepting a pass in his professional debut (Week 1). The ball-hawking rookie has started from day one and hasn’t looked back. He certainly isn’t playing at an All-Pro level but every week you see the youngster battling and making plays. With good size, speed and exceptional instincts Peters is tied for 4th in the NFL in passes broken up (11), tied for 5th in interceptions (3) and has a “pick six” for good measure. There have been a couple of rookies that have flashed this season (Kwon Alexander, Eric Kendricks, Damarious Randall) but outside of Alexander, Marcus Peters is the only rookie defender that’s really stood out to me.
Season-long outlook: Peters is the real deal. He’s brimming with confidence, talent and upside and he plays in a talent laden defense (although under-performing). He has a legitimate shot to win DROY but he’s going to have to continue to make splash plays to hold off Kwon Alexander.
Comeback Player of the Year: Carson Palmer
My take: Carson Palmer was enjoying quite the season in 2014 prior to suffering a season-ending ACL injury. But 2015 has been even better to him as the Cardinals sit atop the NFC West division. The 35-year-old really has flourished in Bruce Arian’s vertical passing offense. Palmer is currently tied with Tom Brady for 1st in the NFL in terms of touchdown passes (20) and he’s 5th in the league in passing yards (2,386). His completion percentage which sits just under 65% and his 10:4 TD/INT ratio are both excellent considering the fact that Arian’s scheme isn’t based on a lot of high percentage throws. Vertical passing is the name of the game as Palmer leads the NFL in yards per pass attempt (9.18). You may recall how inept the Cardinals were offensively after Palmer suffered his knee injury last season. No such issues with Palmer in the lineup as the Cardinals are averaging a whopping 417.4 yards of total offense per contest.
Season-long outlook: I think Palmer has this one in the bag. I believe the only way he doesn’t win Comeback Player of the Year is if he gets injured again or the Cardinals completely meltdown and miss the playoffs. Otherwise, this is a one-man race. That being said, I’m going to go out on a limb and declare Le’Veon Bell the 2016 Comeback Player of the Year.