With the NFL regular season wrapping up, here are a few thoughts on the individual honors yet to be handed out.
Barring an incredible performance that allows Adrian Peterson to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record in the final game of the season, I think this one eventually goes to Peyton Manning.
Peterson’s season has been breathtaking as he’s compiled a highlight reel of dazzling runs. Still, barring a record and/or final game performance that lifts the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs, it seems odd to say the most valuable player in the league was part of a team that missed the playoffs. Should the Denver Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs, the only other possible contender with a better record would be Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan deserves more credit than he gets, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find voters willing to elevate him above Manning.
Comeback Player of the Year
This feels like the consolation prize for whomever doesn’t win MVP (assuming it’s either Manning or Peterson). Then again, both have equally impressive stories. Peterson returned better than ever after ripping his knee apart – an obviously damaging injury for someone who runs for a living. Manning is submitting one of his finest seasons after multiple neck surgeries that required him a rehabilitate a nerve that at one point left him virtually unable to throw a football – an obviously damaging injury for someone who throws a football for a living. It’s really a pick ‘em. Both are incredibly impressive feats, and both deserve commendation.
Defensive Player of the Year
Right now I still think Von Miller is on the outside looking in, but he’s making up ground and could potentially seal the honor with a big performance this Sunday. J.J. Watt is still riding the name recognition wave, and deservedly so. However, should (read: when) the Texans Houston lose to the Indianapolis Colts, Watt’s case could take a big hit.
At this point it’s apparent, at least to me, that Aldon Smith’s candidacy should really be a dual honor. A vote for Aldon Smith is really a vote for Aldon and Justin Smith. Since Justin Smith left the New England Patriots game with an injury, Aldon (and the rest of the Niners defense) hasn’t looked the same. This isn’t to say Aldon Smith is purely a beneficiary of Justin Smith’s hard work, but it’s probably fair to say his 19.5 sacks total to date drops quite a bit if Justin Smith isn’t on the team.
Right now it’s Watt, but Week 17 could change things.
Executive of the Year
What makes one an, “Executive of the Year?” In the absence of statistics its a difficult honor to quantify. The two current front-runners have to be John Elway and Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts, although Bruce Allen of the Washington Redskins deserves an honorable mention, maybe. Side note: as Mike Shanahan is also executive vice president of football operations it’s hard to say which moves were Shanahan, and which were Allen.
It’s a tough call. Elway’s resume is very different as he took a playoff team and made it legitimately better while Grigson had to essentially rebuild after the Colts blew up the roster. Grigson had an optimal draft situation, and albeit drafted well, while Elway made his biggest splash in signing arguably the most valued free agent in league history. Tough call.
I’m inclined to go with Elway though. Peyton Manning had options. Landing him was a combination of Elway effectively mixing both football and financial rationales into an offer too good to pass up. Again, I have huge respect for what Grigson and the Colts have accomplished this season, but Grigson walked into a home run front office situation. Most executives in the NFL spend years trying to make due while hoping that elite, franchise quarterback chip falls their way. Grigson started with the most crucial personnel piece in place while Elway had to close the deal.
Oh, and add an extra degree of style points to Elway’s accomplishment as he managed to smoothly shutdown the biggest sports phenomena of the past year without a major amount of fan backlash. No, Elway couldn’t have possibly planned for all of this to happen, but his ability to make the best moves possible when opportunities became available is the sign of a great leader, a strong executive, and Elway has done just that.
Coach of the Year
It’s not a stretch to throw John Fox’s name into this mix, but his chances of winning are probably a little less favorable than the above candidates. Fox has continued to proved steady leadership, letting his coordinators and position coaches do their jobs, and allowing Peyton Manning the same level of input and seniority he enjoyed with the Colts. Ultimately, despite the Broncos impressive season, it’s difficult to say Fox played a major role guiding the Broncos to this record. Not to discredit the great job he’s done the past two seasons, but this one feels like it belongs to Bruce Arians/Chuck Pagano.
Rookie of the Year
No Broncos are in contention for this award, but I figured I’d throw in my two cents on it as it’s a good debate. My selection would be Andrew Luck. Of the three great rookie quarterbacks this year, Luck entered a situation with the fewest amount of pieces in place. The Washington Redskins were bad last year, but not 2-14 blow-up-the-roster bad. Robert Griffin III has been a joy to watch, but Luck has been the difference in leading Indianapolis to a winning season. He has the game-winning drive record to prove it. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is probably best suited for a deep playoff run, and while he has thoroughly impressed, the “beneficiary” rule that applies to veteran quarterbacks should also apply to Wilson. He’s displayed all the trappings of a future elite quarterback, but so did Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez when their defenses were lights out. Wilson looks like a star in the making, but it doesn’t hurt that he has the most complete team of the three. Luck’s done more with less, replaced a legend, and given Colts fans many reasons to embrace life without Manning. That basically never happens for a rookie, and that makes Andrew Luck the best one this year.