In this article, there is an evaluation of the candidates for each major NFL postseason award (MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year), evaluating the legitimacy of each candidate’s resume. In these evaluations, we will be looking at both who should win the award and who will win the award, which is quite different in some, or even most, cases. Let’s take a look at each award below:
Who Should Win MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Who Will Win MVP: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The MVP award is given out to the most valuable player, not necessarily the best player, but the one who adds the most value to his team. However, in Aaron Rodgers’s case, he happens to be both. Unfortunately, Rodgers will likely not win the award due to a stellar season on Matt Ryan’s part, but more importantly, a disappointing playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship this past weekend, which will likely sway voters towards voting for “Matty Ice”.
Rodgers has been fueling the Packers’ recent tear, in which they won 8 straight games before losing this past weekend in Atlanta. Over this win streak, Rodgers has posted a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio (24 to 2), 2,671 passing yards, and an average QBR of 82.3, all of which are league bests over the past 9 games. Rodgers’ phenomenal play has been instrumental to the Packers’ success, as his stats have improved significantly from the first 9 games; his QBR and touchdown to interception ratio are severely inflated on the back half of the season (3.14 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio and 77.8 QBR through the first 9 games). Rodgers led the league this year with 40 passing touchdowns and was actually so phenomenal over the last 9 games of the season that he threw 24 touchdowns, which is more than all but 13 quarterbacks did over the course of the entire regular season (16 games).
Although Rodgers is much more deserving of the MVP award, Ryan will likely come away with the award next Saturday night because of his phenomenal play throughout the season as well as their huge win over the Packers that earned them a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI. With that being said, Ryan was incredible this season, and many advanced metrics point towards that he should win the award, not Rodgers. Ryan was 2nd in passing yards and passing touchdowns this season, behind only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in those respective categories. Additionally, Ryan led the league in QBR (83.3), as well as in DYAR, (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement), which shows that Ryan excelled against stronger defenses, more so than his stats would suggest. Ryan also led the league in DVOA (Defense-Adjustive Value Over Average) with 40.2%, suggesting that he is 40.2% better than the average QB against an average defense, which is more than 6% better than his next closest competitor, Aaron Rodgers. However, I believe that Rodgers is more deserving of the award even though Ryan might have been better offensively, as Rodgers was much more influential and crucial to the Packers’ success than Ryan was to the Falcons’, as Rodgers had to deal with injury upon injury as well as a bad defense, while the Falcons were generally in good health and had a great defense.
Tom Brady should also be in the MVP conversation as he has posted a 13-1 record since returning from his 4-game suspension because of Deflategate. Additionally, Brady had a touchdown to interception ratio 12 to 1 over the course of the entire season, which is an NFL record. Brady also has a QBR of 83.0, which is second in the league, only behind that of Matt Ryan.
Who Should Win Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Who Will Win Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
In recent years, the Comeback Player of the Year award has become one of the most coveted, especially since Eric Berry won last year after missing the entire 2014 season due to his (successful) battle with Leukemia. The Comeback Player of the Year award has always been very difficult to predict, due to the great diversity in the candidates for the award; the two stereotypes for this award are typically someone who is coming off of a catastrophic injury (usual ACL tear) and returning back to their stellar play (example: Adrian Peterson in 2012) or someone who is coming off of a very poor year of play only to return to their normal form (example: Philip Rivers in 2013).
After missing the entire 2015 due to a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson was absolutely spectacular during the 2016 season, which has made him the front-runner and nearly shoe-in candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Despite being neutralized in a couple of games this season (he had 5 games with under 45 receiving yards), likely due to undisclosed injuries, Nelson absolutely tore up opposing defenses this season, forcing defenses, most notably Minnesota and Chicago, to change their game plans mid-game to hamper his production. Nelson often drew double-coverage and extra attention from the secondary, which allowed other members of the receiving corps, usually Randall Cobb or Davante Adams, to get open and terrorize opposing defenses. In fact, in the 5 games in which he had less than 45 receiving yards, either Cobb or Adams had at least 80 receiving yards, and in most cases, more than 100 (the lone exception being against Jacksonville all the way back in Week 1). Nelson was absolutely crucial in Rodgers’ path to having an MVP-caliber season, as demonstrated by the stats above, as well as the huge increases in Rodgers’ production compared to the prior season; in 2016, Rodgers threw for 600 more passing yards and 9 more passing touchdowns, and had a QBR 14 points higher than he had in 2015. With all of this being said, Nelson looks to be the sure favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, as his production, 1,257 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, was amongst the best in the league.
DeMarco Murray also has a convincing, yet unconventional case to win the Comeback Player of the Year award. After rushing for over 1,800 yards, recording 13 total touchdowns, and tallying more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his 2013 campaign in Dallas, Murray decided to test free agency, and eventually ended up in Philly. It’s safe to say his campaign in Philly was disastrous; after being an MVP candidate in 2014, Murray barely recorded 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2015, and only scored 7 total touchdowns. However, after getting traded to Tennessee for a swap of 4th-round picks, Murray completely revived his career, returning to nearly original form. In 2016, Murray recorded over 1,600 yards from scrimmage as well as 12 total touchdowns, both of which were the second best marks in his career, only falling short of his numbers during his 2014 campaign. Murray did not score so well on advanced metrics such as DVOA and DYAR, overall had quite a solid season. This dramatic revitalization of Murray’s career makes him a very deserving, but not the most deserving, candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Who Should Win Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Who Will Win Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliot was an absolute stud this season, compiling one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history. The only recent rookie campaign that even pales in comparison is that of Odell Beckham, Jr. back in 2015, and even so, that one was nowhere near as impressive as Elliot’s this past season. Elliot was so dominant that he only failed to rush for 80 yards in a game once this season, and that was against the Giants in his first career game. Additionally, Elliot averaged 3.9 yards per rush in every single game this season, except for that same game against the Giants, which is a highly impressive feat. Over the course of this season, Elliot compiled nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage, which is easily the most by a rookie in recent history, as well as an incredible 16 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 1 receiving). Elliot nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-time rookie rushing record but fell a bit short, likely due to rest he had at the end of the season after the Cowboys clinched home field advantage. Elliot provided much-needed help to his fellow rookie Dak Prescott and was instrumental to the Cowboys’ success and 13-3 regular season record.
While his campaign was not nearly as impressive as his fellow teammate Ezekiel Elliot’s, Dak Prescott put up a phenomenal rookie campaign that should be lauded. Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record, which is tied for the best season by a rookie in NFL history (Ben Roethlisberger is the other). 13 wins are extremely impressive for an established, elite quarterback, such as Rodgers or Brady, but for a rookie quarterback, this is practically unheard of. Prescott posted an average QBR of 82.6, which was lightyears ahead of his fellow rookie quarterbacks (Wentz and Goff), and was good enough for 3rd in the NFL. Additionally, Prescott recorded almost 4,000 yards from scrimmage, as well as 30 total touchdowns, both of which are impressive feats for a rookie.
Although he’s no Elliot or Prescott in terms of his value to his team, Tyreek Hill is a rising young star, who had a stellar rookie campaign, which definitely should at least bring his name up in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. After a fairly slow start through the first 5 or so weeks of the season, Hill went full beast mode for the rest of the season. Hill compiled nearly 1,000 return yards and 3 return touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns, where he quickly established himself as one of the best returners in the league. Additionally, Hill also racked up more than 900 yards from scrimmage and 9 offensive touchdowns. By the end of the season, Hill established himself as a game-changing playmaker with elite speed, as well as one of the most promising young prospects in the NFL.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers
Who Will Win Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers
While some of the other races for postseason awards might be hotly contested, the MVP race, for example, the Defensive Rookie of the Year award should not even be close. Joey Bosa has demonstrated that he is by far the best defensive rookie in the 2015 draft class, and possibly one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. After a contract dispute that left him sidelined for the first 4 weeks of the regular season and deeply angered the Chargers organization, Bosa ended negotiations in late August and turned out to be well worth it once he got onto the field. Despite missing the first 4 games of the season as well as being a rookie who needs to learn the Chargers’ playbook, Bosa finished the season with 10.5 sacks, which easily led all rookies. Bosa finished tied for 13th in the NFL with his 10.5 sacks, which gave him the same number of sacks as Brian Orakpo, and just 0.5 sacks behind feared, veteran pass rushers, such as Khalil Mack, Ryan Kerrigan, and Chandler Jones. What’s even more incredible is that Bosa might not have even been playing his very best for the entire year; Bosa recorded at least one sack in the final 5 games of the regular season, tallying 6 over that 5 game span. He played so well over that span that his name has already come up in the conversation for most feared pass rusher for the 2017 NFL season.
Although a couple of other defensive players had good rookie campaigns this past season, no one came even close to what Joey Bosa did. Jalen Ramsey also lived up to expectations in Jacksonville, embracing his role as the #1, lockdown cornerback for the horrific Jaguars defense. Ramsey’s stats don’t tell the full story, as quarterbacks often avoided his side of the field in the passing game due to his late season dominance. Ramsey forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble) in the last 3 games of the season, just a glimpse at his immense potential. Although Jacksonville’s defense was downright horrific for the majority of the season, Ramsey actually led a stout passive defense for Jacksonville that surprisingly finished 5th in the NFL in passing yards per game.
Leonard Floyd also had a stellar rookie campaign out in Chicago, putting together an impressive resume as a pass rusher. Chicago wanted Floyd so badly that they traded up in the draft to get the pick before the New York Giants, who likely would have picked him due to their need for a pass rusher, and their bet appears to have worked out for them. Since being drafted by Chicago, Floyd has made his presence as an edge rusher felt, and although he is not as feared as Bosa, he definitely provides quite a bit of trouble for opposing defenses. Floyd recorded 7 sacks this season, which is second to only Bosa, but his stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story, as his presence was felt much more greatly than the 7 sacks would suggest. Keanu Neal, Eli Apple, DeForest Buckner, and Vonn Bell all had respectable seasons as well, but were not quite on the same level as Ramsey and Floyd, not to mention even in the same universe as Bosa.
Who Should Win Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Who Will Win Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
I know that you are all probably thinking that I am crazy right now, as I am picking Bill Belichick as the most deserving candidate to win Coach of the Year. But before you start, I want to establish that I agree that Jason Garrett likely will win the award, as he is a very deserving candidate and completed a wild transformation down in Dallas. Let’s just establish something first: Coach of the Year is given to the best coach in the NFL, the one who makes the most happen with what he has on his roster, not necessarily the coach of the team that is most improved. With keeping that in mind, let’s look at the cases for both Belichick and Garrett, but more specifically, how Belichick was able to make the most out of his limited personnel.
Not that the Coach of the Year award should be always be awarded to the coach of the team with the best record, but I think it is well worth mentioning that Belichick’s Patriots had a league-best regular season record of 14-2. As I mentioned earlier, Coach of the Year should be awarded to the coach who makes the most happen with what he has on his roster, and I think Belichick truly embraced that on his path to his 7th super bowl in the Brady era. It is quite important to note that the Patriots were far from healthy this season, which made Belichick’s job much more difficult. Rob Gronkowski, undoubtedly the best tight end in football and a premiere red-zone target for the Patriots, only appeared in 8 games this season due to various injuries and forced Tom Brady to look elsewhere besides his favorite target. Dion Lewis, a crafty back with elite playmaking skill both on offense and special teams, missed 9 games as well due to complications with his ACL tear in the prior season. On top of that, Tom Brady, quite possibly the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, missed 4 games due to suspension (Deflategate), forcing the Patriots to start 3 different quarterbacks over the first 5 games. In fact, Belichick is the first coach ever to have 3 different starting quarterbacks (Garoppolo – filling in for Brady during suspension, Brissett – filling in for Garoppolo while he was hurt during Brady’s suspension, and Brady – the starter) and finish with a record of 14-2 or better. During the middle of the season, the Patriots also traded Jamie Collins to the Browns for future draft picks, which did not make his job any easier as well. However, what I think truly speaks volumes about how great of a coach Belichick is that the Patriots still managed to go 3-1 and be extremely dominant without Tom Brady, the undoubted leader of their offense.
Let’s just establish something first: Jason Garrett had an absolutely phenomenal year, coaching the Dallas Cowboys to one of their best finishes in recent history. Just as Belichick had to do with his Patriots, Garrett had to overcome tragedy quite early in the season, also in the form of injury. Tony Romo went down with a back injury during a preseason game in Seattle that turned out to be devastating, ruling him out for at least 6-8 weeks. Little did the Cowboys know that this was a blessing in disguise … In stepped Dak Prescott, a rookie out of Mississippi State, now the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did Garrett have a starting rookie running back (Elliot), but also a starting rookie quarterback (Prescott), which is quite a handful. And what did Garrett do with it? Absolutely amazing things. The Cowboys were super dominant this year, finishing with a regular season record of 13-3, which was second in the NFL only to the New England Patriots, before losing in a thriller versus the Packers in the divisional round. The only, and I mean only, the reason that Garrett should not win Coach of the Year is that the Cowboys had a lot more talent to work with than the Patriots did. Arguably, the only two “stars” on the Patriots team are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who missed 4 and 8 games respectively. On the other hand, the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in football to work with, as Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters, as well as 2 huge playmakers in Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliot.
Who Should Win Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Who Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Although the terms MVP and Offensive Player of the Year have become synonymous in recent years, these awards are quite different and should be awarded accordingly. While MVP refers to the player who was most crucial to their team’s success, Offensive Player of the Year refers to the best offensive player, not necessarily the most valuable. This might be a tad bit confusing, as in most recent years, the most valuable player has happened to also be the most valuable one (despite the trend to not give both awards to the same player), as you might have seen the play of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, LaDanian Tomlinson, etc.
As mentioned in the MVP award section, many advanced metrics would point towards that Matt Ryan was the best quarterback in the NFL this season, and probably the best player in the NFL as well. Both DYAR, defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and DVOA, Defense-adjusted value over average, show that Matt Ryan was far and away the best quarterback in the NFL, as he is significantly in first place in both stats. These metrics adjust the quarterbacks’ stats to account for better or worse competition and show that Matt Ryan would have a leg up on everyone against an average NFL defense. If you’re not convinced that these two stats accurately represent his performance, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees are (or were) consistently in the top 7 for these two stats every single year.
It is hard to argue that Matt Ryan is not the best offensive player in the NFL due to his array of amazing stats (see MVP section), but it is much more difficult to defend his case for MVP. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan had an absolutely phenomenal year, but received great help on both sides of the ball, which would hamper his case for MVP, but not Offensive Player of the Year. The Falcons were the only team in the NFL to have all 80 starts for their offensive line, meaning that each of their 5 linemen started each of their 16 games, which is quite an impressive feat. Ryan enjoyed this luxury, which likely played into his success, but nonetheless can’t really be used against him for his case for Offensive Player of the Year. The Falcons also enjoyed a stellar defense led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Vic Beasley, as well as an arsenal of playmakers on the offense, in Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, which certainly made his job easier.Fortunately for Ryan, this award is given to the best offensive player (regardless of the help around him; MVP is the opposite), and in my opinion, should certainly be given to Matt Ryan.
Except for a couple of exceptions in recent years, historically, the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards have gone to separate players, pointing towards that the winner will either be Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers, depending on which one does not win MVP. However, there have been 3 exceptions in the past 4 years, as Cam Newton (2015), Peyton Manning (2013), and Adrian Peterson (2012) all won both the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards so we might be in for a surprise this year.
Who Should Win Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta Falcons
Who Will Win Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Out of all of the awards given out, this one has certainly given me the most trouble on deciding both who will win and who should win. Although there were many amazing defensive performances by a variety of different players with different styles at different positions, there was just an overall lack of star power and an obvious candidate for the award. Many of the front-runners for the award, including Patrick Peterson, JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, Tyrann Mathieu, and Aaron Donald, either got injured or played at or below their expected levels, not what is expected from the Defensive Player of the Year. In my mind, 3 guys, in particular, stood out: Vic Beasley Jr., Von Miller, and Landon Collins.
Vic Beasley Jr. was absolutely phenomenal this season, improving leaps and bounds from his disappointing rookie campaign, and in my opinion, is the most deserving candidate for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Beasley led the league this year in sacks with 15.5, leading his next closest competitor (Von Miller) by 2.0 sacks. What’s even more incredible is that Beasley only had 1 sack through the first 4 games of the season, meaning that he recorded an astounding 13.5 sacks over the last 12 games of the season. In fact, the only player to match his incredible sack streak was Von Miller, who achieved the exact same feat but over the first 12 games of the season. Additionally, Beasley was tied with Bruce Irvin for the league lead with 6 forced fumbles, yet another stat that represents his dominance as a perimeter.
Von Miller also had quite a stellar season, as I briefly described above, but was not quite as good as Beasley in most aspects of his game. Unlike Beasley, Miller started off the season red-hot, recording 13.5 sacks in the first 12 games of the season. However, once again unlike Beasley, Miller’s production dropped off the cliff late in the season, as Miller failed to record a sack in his final 4 games of the season. While Miller also recorded 3 forced fumbles, they were pale in comparison to Beasley’s 6.
Landon Collins also put together an impressive season, building on a solid rookie campaign from the season before. Collins had 125 tackles this season, which was the second most for a non-linebacker, only behind Johnathan Cyprien, who was on the field a ridiculous amount of the time because of Jacksonville’s disaster of an offense. Collins went on a midseason tear, recording 5 interceptions over a 4 game span, which started to draw attention to him. Collins really came onto everyone’s radar after winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in consecutive weeks, a feat that puts him in elite company. He is the first New York Giant to ever do this and the first since Charles Tillman did it back in 2012.
Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year – Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Walter Payton Man of the Year – Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs (punt return TD versus Denver Broncos)
Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 – Brian Dawkins, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, Terrell Davis, Isaiah Bruce, Terrell Owens, and Ty Law
Data courtesy of ESPN, NFL.com, CBS Sports, Football Outsiders, and Yahoo Sports!. Thanks for reading!
Written by Jason Platkin
Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo