Wednesday, November 5, 2014

SuiteSports' 2014 Midseason NFL Awards

His quarterback is getting more press right now, but Antonio Brown may be the best receiver in football.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Do midseason awards serve any purpose?

Of course not, but everybody does them, so I figured, why not? Now, here is a list of early season trends and standouts that could turn totally around over the next eight weeks.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB, New England

Rumors of Brady's demise were greatly exaggerated after a week 5 blowout loss in Kansas City. To be fair, the Patriots did look plenty sluggish on offense, but talk of rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppollo getting the starting job… That was dumb at the time, and looks even more foolhardy given Brady's play the last five weeks.

In that span, the three-time Super Bowl winner has thrown 18 touchdowns to just one interception and the Patriots have won five in a row. On the season, Brady's 22-3 TD/INT ratio has him tied with Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger for the best in football, and his QBR has jumped from 11th to 5th the last month.

While Roethlsiberger edges him in several passing categories (completion percentage, YPA, etc), much of his production has come in two amazing games. For the whole body of work, and carrying his team to potentially the top seed in the AFC, Brady gets the nod over Ben and his nemesis Peyton Manning.

Well, so far.

Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas

Murray's streak of 100-yard games to open a season ended at eight last week with his quarterback Tony Romo out of the lineup against Arizona. Still, what Murray has done this year is remarkable, and hearkens back to an age of bell cow backs.

Actually, forget the backs of the past, what Murray is doing puts him in a class all his own for workload and effectiveness.

Murray is averaging over 125 yards per game, which is obviously impressive, but it may not actually be more impressive than the load he's carrying, averaging exactly 25 carries per contest. The last time a player averaged 25 carries over an entire season (400 total)? That would be Larry Johnson, who carried 416 times for 1,789 yards in 2006, though it should be noted that Johnson's body broke down shortly thereafter. After back-to-back 1,700 yard campaigns, Johnson never again topped 900 in a season. So, there is a reason coaches try not to give their featured back QUITE so many touches.

Heck, only two players have finished the year with over 350 carries (about 22 carries per game) the last five seasons. One was Chris Johnson in 2009. You may recall that Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards that season, and the other was Arian Foster in 2012, though Adrian Peterson did rush for over 2,000 yards that same season on 348 carries.

If Murray keeps up this work load, and his absurd 5.0 YPC, he should join Chris Johnson and Peterson in the 2,000 yard club. The Cowboy work horse is currently on pace for 2,015 yards, and his combination of work load and efficiency is unprecedented in NFL history.

The last back to average 25 carries per game on over 5 yards per carry? Oh, that's never happened.

The closest would be Terrell Davis, who averaged 5.1 YPC on 24.5 carries per game in 1998, the year he rushed for a career-best 2,008 yards, or Earl Campbell in 1980, who averaged 5.2 YPC on 24.9 attempts per game, though he did miss a game due to injury that year.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston

Watt just does it all for Houston. Not only is he Top-4 in the league with 8.5 sacks and among the NFL's best in tackles for loss, he also has a pick-6 and fumble returned for a touchdown, making him the only player in football with multiple defensive touchdowns this season.

Yes, a defensive end that spends most of his time being double-teamed still lives in opposing backfields, making life miserable for quarterbacks and running backs across the league. As for his reputation as a rusher with the uncanny ability to deflect balls at the line of scrimmage. Well, he's living up to that as well, leading all non-defensive backs with 7 pass breakups this year.

If you want a guy that can consistently beat double teams, deflect passes and score defensive touchdowns, Watt is your man.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England

Gostkowski is a proven commodity at this point, though his biggest competition for this award is a former Patriot great. Adam Viniatieri is a perfect 20/20 on the year, but kicking in-doors with over half those attempts coming from less than 40 yards out, I'm going to give Gostkowski the edge on difficulty and importance to his team.

After all, he's only missed one kick all year (a low snap doomed him in Buffalo), and New England has needed him more (five extra attempts) because, here's a shock, the Patriots are middle of the road when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone. New England ranks 14th in the league, scoring touchdowns on 58% of their drives inside opponents' 20-yard lines. While Indy is actually slightly lower, the Patriots score less frequently when they cross the 50, leading to more FG attempts, especially those of the longer variety for Gostkowski.

On the year, Gostkowski has connected on 11/11 attempts from 40 yards or more away.

Breakout Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh

Is it really possible to "break out" when you're coming off two Pro Bowls in the last three years? Yes, if, like Antonio Brown, you have gone from exciting and noteworthy to "oh my God, that guy might be the best in the world at what he does."

At the halfway point, Brown leads the league in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and, of course "holy crap" moments. The undersized wideout has displayed amazing "start and stop" ability, remarkable footwork along the sideline, excellent hands and a surprisingly effective stiff arm (pictured above). If Pittsburgh makes the playoffs, look for Brown, along with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be in the MVP race.

No, really.

Rookie of the Year: Zack Martin, OG, Dallas

While many will point to Bills receiver Sammy Watkins or Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack, I'm not so sure they're THAT much better than other rookies at their respective positions. After all, Kelvin Benjamin has virtually identical numbers to Watkins and Brandin Cooks isn't far behind, while Anthony Barr has actually been statistically better than Mack at OLB and Baltimore's C.J. Mosley has been outstanding at ILB.

Meanwhile, Martin has been the unquestioned best rookie lineman in this class, and has helped pave the way for DeMarco Murray's historic season. Coming into the season, Dallas' offensive line and defense were both huge question marks. Thanks to Martin and a breakout season from second-year center Travis Frederick, the Cowboys have found some answers on the interior to complement left tackle Tyron Smith. That has fixed the O-Line, though I still don't totally understand how that defense is competent.

Surprise of the Year: Arizona Cardinals

Carson Palmer threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona's win over Dallas, coming up one yard shy of continuing his streak of throwing for 250+ yards and multiple touchdowns in every game he's played in this season.

Hugely disappointing, I know. What hasn't been disappointing is Palmer's play, when healthy, this year, and the Cardinals have squeezed just enough out of running back Andre Ellington to find some balance.

Defensively, Arizona has been bend-but-don't-break, allowing middle of the road yardage, but checking in at No. 4 in the league in scoring defense. The Cardinals have done it with an immovable run defense and secondary that makes plays deep in the red zone. If people thought Bruce Arians had the magic touch before this season, Arizona's 7-1 start and spot atop the NFC standings may place him among the league's elite coaches in the minds of many.

Disappointment of the Year: NFC South

New Orleans is finally waking up, but Tampa Bay's supposed resurgence fizzled before it could even begin, and neither Atlanta nor Carolina has been able to play with any kind of consistency.

In short, New Orleans could probably win this division at 7-9. That's really all you need to know.

No comments :