Halfway through, who are likely leaders for AP NFL awards?
The Associated Press hands out the NFL’s individual awards on the eve of the Super Bowl at the NFL Honors television show. Halfway through the schedule, there remains murkiness for many of those awards.
Here’s what five of the 50 members of the voting panel are saying as the league heads into the stretch drive.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Often, this award winds up in the hands of someone who has turned around the fortunes of his team. That would put first-year head coach Sean McVay of the Rams, Philadelphia’s Doug Peterson and Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, also a rookie, as the front runners.
Our mini-panel was split among them and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer, with the Saints’ Sean Payton also getting mentioned.
“While it would be easy to give the midseason choice to Doug Pederson for his 8-1 start, McVay is doing for the Rams in Year 1 what Pederson is doing in Year 2,” says John Clayton of 710 ESPN Seattle. “McVay’s creative and aggressive schemes had gotten the most out of Jared Goff and has turned the Rams into a potential playoff team with one of the best offenses in the league.”
The parameters for votes on this award are wide open. It can be players coming back from any kind of adversity or even coming out of retirement.
That means a varying range of picks: Keenan Allen, Todd Gurley, Jaylon Smith and Justin Houston.
“Houston missed all but five games last year, and while he admittedly missed those games early in the year and was back late in the season, he was still limited to four sacks,” notes Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
“He’s still reportedly battling some knee issues, but his statistics don’t show that. He had at least one sack in four of his first five games this year, and in the game he didn’t collect a sack he had a pick-6.”
Deshaun Watson probably had surpassed Kareem Hunt , Leonard Fournette and Alvin Kamara when he went down before Week 9 with a torn ACL. That seems to put the race for this award in the cleats of those running backs.
For now, only Salguero of our five voters, was supporting someone other than Watson.
“This would have been a fascinating race between Hunt and Watson had he stayed healthy,” Salguero says. “I was even tempted to put Watson in here at the halfway mark so as to give him a much-deserved tip of the hat. But Hunt leads the league in rushing. He’s averaging over 5 yards per carry. And he has eight runs of 20 yards or more, which is among the league leaders, if not in fact the league leader.”
Cornerbacks and safeties reign here.
Marshon Lattimore , Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White stood out through the halfway mark.
“Having a guy like Marshon in coverage can help give the New Orleans defensive line a little extra time to get to the quarterback,” explains Nick Pavlatos of SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I’m sure Cameron Jordan can attest to that.”
Two statistics often sway the voting on this award: sacks and interceptions.
Certainly the quarterback traps Jacksonville has gotten, led by Calais Campbell , have impressed the voters.
“The Jaguars struck pay dirt with this free agent signing,” Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News says of Campbell. “Campbell has been a major factor in the Jaguars’ defensive success in the first half of the season.”
Adds Pavlatos: Calais is a great veteran presence who has helped improve an already impressive ‘Sacksonville’ defense. Calais is proving to be the biggest offseason acquisition of the year.”
Looks like a three-man race and, considering where the NFL game is these days, they all are quarterbacks: Carson Wentz, Tom Brady and Alex Smith.
Defensive players rarely even get a look for MVP — if J.J. Watt couldn’t come close to winning the award, it’s going to take a Herculean effort for a defender to be in the running. Nor do most offensive positions, except running back and QB.
Brady, at 40, looks like Brady at 30, when he tore up the NFL and won the first of his two MVP honors.
“I’m trying my best to ignore the fact that Brady is 40 years old and should be off somewhere playing golf,” Domowitch says. “Regardless of his age, he’s having another phenomenal year. Since that Week 1 stinker against the Chiefs, he’s had just two games with a completion percentage below 68.0. Like Wentz, he’s been superb on third down.
“What clinched it for me is the fact that he’s kept the Patriots on track despite a defense that has been 32nd in yards allowed, 18th in points allowed, and tied for 20th in third-down efficiency.”
The Wentz camp includes Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
“Poor Cleveland. The Browns passed on this guy?” Bell says in astonished wonder. “Wentz, the straw who stirs the drink for the hottest team in the league, is just a plain ’ol baller who is so fun to watch. After being rushed into the lineup as a rookie, named the starter eight days before the opener after the Eagles previously indicated he’d have a virtual redshirt season, he’s also demonstrated what an entire offseason of preparation can do for building on rookie lessons.
“Wentz gets an extra nod because this is all so fresh.”