Super Bowl LI is quickly approaching, but a day before the big game, the NFL will first hand out its many awards at the NFL Honors ceremony. The most prestigious award of the night will go to the league’s MVP in the culmination of the most competitive race in recent memory. Here’s who I have taking home trophies in some of the biggest categories.
Most Valuable Player: Falcons QB Matt Ryan- As I wrote here, even into the last month of the season, nine guys were still in contention for the MVP award. Here’s the quick case for each. Matt Ryan led the league in passer rating with the #1 scoring offense, Tom Brady had the best TD: INT ratio in NFL history, and Aaron Rodgers threw the most touchdowns and went on a crazy tear over the last six games of the year. Ezekiel Elliott won the rushing title by over 300 yards while teammate Dak Prescott had the most wins as a starting quarterback. Derek Carr led the Raiders to 12 wins and their first playoff appearance in 14 years, David Johnson finished top of the league in total yards, LeVeon Bell averaged the most yards per game, and Matthew Stafford delivered eight fourth-quarter comebacks. So, who deserves to win the award?
Matt Ryan. The Atlanta Falcons were absolutely unstoppable on offense this season, averaging just shy of 34 points per game, nearly five points more than any team in the league. The Falcons scored over 40 points five times while being held to under 23 just once, and while the team has plenty of weapons, the bulk of the credit goes to Ryan, who produced the fifth-highest passer rating for a QB in NFL history. Ryan threw for nearly 5,000 yards while completing 69.9% of passes and attempting 80 fewer throws than in 2015. What stood out to me the most was Ryan’s consistency. While playing all 16 games, “Matty Ice” never took his foot off the gas, which saved a defense that finished 25th in yards allowed and 27th in scoring. If the award goes to the league’s best player, it likely should be given to Ryan. If it’s based on who contributed the most to his team’s success, Ryan has it on lock.
Offensive Player of the Year: Cardinals RB David Johnson- Technically, if Matt Ryan is the league MVP, he should also win Offensive POY. However, I don’t like giving both awards to the same person, so I’ll use this spot to acknowledge what was quietly one of the best seasons from a running back in league history. Despite being on a Cardinals team that finished just 7-8-1, Johnson finished with over 100 total yards in every game except for in week 17, where he left with an injury. Johnson ended the year with 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns in just his second season in the league. Coach Bruce Arians says Johnson can be even better in 2017, and if that’s the case, the whole NFL better be on the lookout.
Defensive Player of the Year: Raiders DE Khalil Mack- Despite Derek Carr receiving the most attention as the leader of the Raiders, Khalil Mack was a star on an average at best Oakland defense, doing his part and then some to send the Raiders back to the postseason. The third-year defensive end racked up 11 sacks on the year, also forcing five fumbles and recovering three. Mack also returned a Cam Newton interception for a touchdown in what ended up as a three-point Raiders victory. Mack might not be quite the household name of a Von Miller or J.J. Watt, but he’s a beast who seems likely to take down this award come February 4th.
Coach of the Year: Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio- Staying with the Raiders, Jack Del Rio gets my vote for Coach of the Year. It’s another interesting contest, with Jason Garrett of the Cowboys and Patriots coach Bill Belichick in the conversation, but straight out of the gates in week 1, Del Rio boldly set the tone for the Raiders season deciding to go for two against the Saints to win the game instead of attempting an extra point to send things to overtime. The Raiders played aggressively all season long and the franchise has a new swagger I haven’t seen from the team before. The future is bright for Del Rio and his team.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Giants Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo- Call it a homer pick if you will, but it’s one heck of an accomplishment for a team to go from having the 30th ranked scoring defense one year to the 4th best the next. The Giants spent a boatload on defensive free agents in the 2016 offseason, and Spagnuolo went straight to work in turning New York’s defense into one of the most feared units in the league. Getting better as the season progressed, the Giants had the #1 red zone D in the league, and Landon Collins emerged as a potential defensive MVP candidate while other new additions Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison, and Eli Apple proved worthy of their hype.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott- What Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott did as rookies for the Cowboys this season was unprecedented, and while you could argue the award should go to either, and that Prescott might have the edge because of the extra responsibilities of the quarterback, I find it hard to argue against rewarding Elliott’s outstanding debut campaign. Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards without even playing in the final game of the season. At only 21 years old, Elliott has the potential to be one of the greatest backs in league history should he stay healthy, which scares me as a Giants fan. The Cowboys were able to control the clock this season a run-heavy attack, and it led to the #1 seed in the NFC.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chargers DE Joey Bosa- The NFL career of Joey Bosa had a rough start, to say the least. The #3 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft was engaged in a contract holdout until late August and then missed the first four weeks of the season with a hamstring injury. However, once Bosa hit the field, he quickly proved his value, registering 10.5 sacks in 12 games. The Chargers are moving to Los Angeles next season, but no matter where they play, Bosa looks to be a future star for the team.
Comeback Player of the Year: Packers WR Jordy Nelson- Aaron Rodgers’ #1 target missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL, but you wouldn’t be able to tell judging by his performance this season. Nelson caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Nelson suffered broken ribs in a playoff matchup against the Giants, but when he’s on the field, Nelson is a smart, reliable receiver who always seems to get open when Rodgers manages to extend a play.
Those are my picks for many of the awards at the upcoming NFL Honors. Comment any differences you would have, and tune in on February 4th to see if the voters agree.