By Alexander C. Lawrence
It’s that time of the year again and that’s midseason NFL awards! We all love them and let’s be honest, it’s always fun to look back at and see how right or wrong we were come seasons’ end. This season of candidates for each award is like no other year. There is no shortage of talent, just some familiar faces missing such as Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr and Matt Ryan, all of whom were seen as potential MVP candidates. I’ll take us through some MVP, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year choices.
1) Carson Wentz – The Eagles are off to a great start as Wentz and Co. are 8-1 now and in firm control of the NFC East. A big reason for this is Carson Wentz, who has played out of his mind in his second full-season in the NFL. It’s crazy to think during Wentz’ rookie season there was talks of Chase Daniel starting over him.
Wentz is pacing the NFL with 23 touchdown passes. The duo of Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffrey is becoming more and more dangerous and it’s time to consider the Eagles a serious playoff threat. He has the Eagles with the best record in the NFL. He is second in passing yards and third in passer rating among QBs. Not to mention all the tight coverage throws he has completed and made look easy all season.
Wentz is having the type of season that makes you check the record books. That’s just how good he is right now. For example Donovan McNabb has the club record with five games in a season with four or more touchdowns passes. Wentz is currently at three. The most touchdown passes by an Eagles’ QB in a single season is 32. The North Dakota State product is on pace to have a staggering 41 TD passes. Wentz is seemingly re-writing the Eagles record book and well on his way to breaking a few of them.
2) Alex Smith – Mr. Efficiency himself is now in the MVP conversation as the Kansas City Chiefs started off the season red-hot. And who was behind this great start? Not the defense, but Smith and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who himself is on the verge of having a rookie of the year campaign (see below). Alex Smith has been known as the conservative QB who doesn’t attempt to throw down the field that often and is more of a check-down guy. You might be surprised to know he leads the NFL this season with 8.4 yards per pass attempt. He also leads the NFL in passer rating with 115.4.
3) Tom Brady – Every year Brady plays it seems like he’s in the conversation for MVP and until he stops playing I don’t see that stopping. He has the Patriots atop the AFC East right now; clearly father-time hasn’t impacted his playmaking ability. He’s won the award before and he’s always the team’s MVP, but this season he has some deadly weapons, even with Julian Edleman out for the year. Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks are proving to be very reliable targets which are keeping Brady’s numbers on pace to warrant the MVP talks. Where Brady separates himself from the rest is how he performed with the Pats’ poor defensive play in the first half of the season and being forced to keep pace with other offenses. Still, he’s picking apart opposing team’s defenses to win games and managing to supplement a bad defense. Tom is very much in this race each and every year until proven otherwise.
4) Russell Wilson – People were disappointed with Russell Wilson’s play last season, but a strong season in 2017 has put Wilson firmly back in the MVP race. The Seahawks just traded for Duane Brown, one of several great trade deadline moves, who will only help Wilson feel more comfortable and less pressured during games. If you saw that epic 41-38 win over the Houston Texans you know why everyone may believe the hype around Wilson and what this offense can achieve. I don’t believe all their cards have been dealt and I can see the Seahawks being a sleeper candidate to make an appearance in the Super Bowl. Wilson has to carry the load of the team and put it on his back much like Tom Brady. He’s showing he can be up to the task to shoulder the offense and as long as he continues to put up points, Wilson will be in MVP talks.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1) Deshaun Watson – Okay before you tell me Watson is out for the year just hear me out for a minute. Since becoming the starter in his short stint with Houston, the rookie has helped the offense put up 13, 33, 57, 34, 33, and 38 points during the games he did start. That is more than enough offense to win some games which he did. He went 3-4 as a starter, but he was tied (with Carson Wentz) for passing TDs with 19 up until his ACL injury. The talent was there and I see no reason why he couldn’t have continued to be a rookie revelation, even if his numbers eventually fell back to Earth. He’s a good candidate nonetheless since he proved he can tear a defense a part. He threw for 402 yards against a Seahawks D in Seattle and kept the game going back and forth. Anyone who can put up that much offense should be seriously looked at. He is everything we’d hope he would be when he came into the league.
2) Kareem Hunt – The Toledo product who most saw as no more than an afterthought quickly became a break-out rookie. His top tier production has been boosted by the injuries in the Kansas City Chiefs’ backfield. He leads the NFL in rushing yards though Zeke Elliott and Le’Veon Bell are quickly approaching behind him and with 32 receptions he has made an impact through the air as well. He came onto the scene quickly and is already a critical piece of that offense. He’s averaged over a 100 yards from scrimmage, no easy feat to achieve. Look at what he’s done for Alex Smith and helping Smith balance out his game with an effective and consistent run game.
3) JuJu Smith-Shuster – There’s something in the air in Pittsburgh. Much credit goes to the coaching staff, since it seems the Steelers are always developing wide receivers well; JuJu Smith is just the latest. Among the rookie receiver class he doesn’t have too much competition at this moment. Watch out as he already does have over 400 receiving yards and averages 17.7 yards per reception. Regardless of how many targets he is given, he should continue to be one of the most electrifying rookies this year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1) Marshon Lattimore – It’s clear why many scouts viewed him as the top CB prospect in the draft and the New Orleans Saint were more than happy when he fell to them. It was a match made in heaven and Lattimore is proving it every week. Lattimore’s impact has made the Saints a surprisingly good defense which we haven’t seen for quite a while now. He tackles well and is outstanding in coverage. For last decade the Saints have typically been awful on defense and the playmaking ability he brings to that team is enough to outshine most other defensive rookies.
2) Marcus Maye – Talk about getting your own “Legion of Boom” version for Gang Green when they drafted Jamal Adams (1st round) and Marcus Maye (2nd round) in the 2017 NFL draft. Marcus Maye has performed well to this point and has been a real leader for that Jets defense and looks to be a cornerstone for years to come. He is tied with the team lead in interceptions with two and his nose to get to the ball and make plays this season can’t be ignored.
Defensive Player of the Year
1) Jalen Ramsey – No need to really explain this one as Jalen Ramsey has quickly made his mark in the NFL and is perhaps the best Cornerback in the league. He has made a huge difference with the Jaguars defense and stepped up to be a leader. He should be an obvious candidate and maybe a favorite to win DPOY if he can continue to play at such a high level with amazing consistency. He controls the defense and how he has helped transformed that secondary is well deserving of the award. I do realize that Calais Campbell is leading the NFL in sacks and destroying opposing offenses in his own right so while both are deserving of the award, I have to give the nod to Ramsey.