Tim Benz: NFL, Steelers midterm election results
The midterm elections are over.
Now please get those atrocious campaign commercials off my television set so they can make room for equally awfully Christmas merchandising ads instead.
We’re also at the midpoint for the 2018 Steelers. They are 5-2-1 with eight games over in a 16-game regular season.
So, I’m going to do my Pittsburgh sports writer civic duty and cast my vote for a few midway NFL and Steelers superlatives.
Winner: Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Are my impressionable voting sensibilities being swayed by the hip, young candidate who hasn’t been around long enough to screw up anything significant yet?
Yeah. Probably. But I can’t think of another player who has been more singularly responsible for a team’s transformation than what Mahomes has done for the 2018 Chiefs.
Plus, the second-year star is leading the NFL in passing yards and throwing touchdowns, is second in passer rating, and is third in yards per attempt.
Accuse me of a familiarity bias against the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or even Todd Gurley, if you like. Mahomes gets my vote. Gimme a sticker.
By the way, after those five names, I put James Conner next.
“I totally agree,” said Steelers guard Ramon Foster. “First half of the season stats and goals, he’s up there with the top guys.”
Conner trails only Gurley in yards from scrimmage (1,230 to 1,085) and rushing yards (868 to 706). He’s tied for fourth with 10 touchdowns.
Steeler Team MVP (Offense)
Winner: Running back James Conner
Plus, let’s remember who Conner replaced on the ticket. Those numbers above are impressive enough on their own. But we also have to take into consideration how those stats have softened the blow of losing Le’Veon Bell. His presence has allowed the Steelers offense to operate as it has in the past without missing a beat.
That’s especially been the case the past month since the coaches seem to have truly bought in to what they have at running back in Conner.
“He blocks, he runs. He scores touchdowns running and catching the ball. He makes a lot of big plays,” receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said of Conner. “He’s the guy right now everyone is looking at.”
NFL Defensive MVP
Winner: Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald
The Pitt product started slowly by his standards. He didn’t have a sack through three games. Suddenly, he is second in the league with 10.
Plus, he does stuff like this.
And, if you are into Pro Football Focus numbers, they say he was the best interior defender in the league through the first two months of the season.
Steelers Defensive MVP
Winner: Cornerback Joe Haden
The Steelers defensive improvement since Week 4 has largely been due to his improved health and expanded role as a designated shutdown corner.
Julio Jones, John Brown, and A.J. Green have combined for just 162 yards in three games when Haden had exclusive or significant coverage responsibilities against them.
He has been a stabilizing factor for a defense sorely in need of a leader in the secondary. And his talents have aided the back third of a defense that desperately needed athletes who can cover.
NFL Rookie of the Year
Winner: New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley
I think we all saw this coming. This is like Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale.
He leads all rookies in receiving yards and he’s second in rushing. He’s tops among first-year players (non-quarterbacks) in yards from scrimmage, with plays like this one.
Steelers Rookie of the Year
Winner: Safety Terrell Edmunds
Edmunds is essentially running unopposed here. He’s been starting at safety. The rest of the rookie class barely plays.
He’s been good. Not great. But good.
Edmunds has been asked to do more than expected. But he doesn’t look overwhelmed. I disagree with the assessment from Mike Tomlin that he can’t keep playing at this rate. Why not? He’s a first-round pick. You expected him to contribute. And if he is healthier and better than Morgan Burnett, so be it.
NFL Play of the Year
Winner: Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins vs. the Dolphins
I’m using a write-in vote here. I know it didn’t count. But I don’t care.
Steelers Play of the Year
Winner: Vance McDonald’s stiff arm on Chris Conte
This will win the popular vote and the Electoral College.
Those are your “2018 midterm” awards. Check back in January after the regular season ends to see who is singing “Hail to the Chief.”
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.