2016 NFL Awards Race: Derek Carr for MVP, Ezekiel Elliott Rookie of the Year

Looking at the 2016 NFL awards race entering Week 14 from MVP to Rookies of the Year to Coach of the Year.

Now let’s dive into the 2016 NFL awards race late in the season, starting with Coach of the Year.

Oct 23, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell looks on during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at Ford Field. Lions won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Coach of the Year: Jim Caldwell — Detroit Lions

Runner-Up: Jason Garrett – Dallas Cowboys

While you have to respect what Jason Garrett has done with the Dallas Cowboys given the unique circumstances and though Bill Belichick is always deserving of credit, Jim Caldwell has emerged as the leading and unlikely Coach of the Year candidate in my book entering Week 14. At the start of the season, you’d have said Caldwell was more likely to be fired than anything else. However, the job he’s done with the Detroit Lions this season has been phenomenal.

In fairness, Caldwell owes much of the credit for his lead in this race to the efforts of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Once Cooter took over the offense in the middle of last season, things have turned around. Now the Lions are sitting at 8-4 with a two-game lead in the NFC North with only four games left on the schedule. Considering most predicted this team to finish third in the division, that’s damn impressive.

Cooter can get all of the credit for the offense, but Caldwell’s work with the defense and the culture he’s established have been impressive. The talent on the defensive side of the ball in Detroit is, shall we say, lackluster at most spots. However, Caldwell has them playing respectable defense around league-average. He’s even helped guide them to big performances, like the one in Week 13 in a huge matchup against the New Orleans Saints. And with the way he has this Lions team believing in themselves and performing in the clutch, he’s your Coach of the Year at this point.

Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates a first down during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB — Dallas Cowboys

Runner-Up: Dak Prescott, QB – Dallas Cowboys

But anyone could run behind the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, right? No, that’s not right and that argument is becoming tiresome at this point. Ezekiel Elliott was taken No. 4 overall by Dallas and, thus, the expectations were sky-high out of the gate. And the Ohio State product has met those expectations time and again.

Even coming out of their Week 13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football, it’s hard to not be wowed by Elliott. He may have only accrued 86 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, but that doesn’t account for the multiple massive runs that were called back due to penalties—some of them dubious at best. For the season now, Elliott is averaging 107.08 yards and a touchdown per game on the ground. Moreover, he’s adding 26.83 receiving yards per game (per ESPN). He’s been far and away the best running back in football this season, but that pales in comparison to his production relative to fellow rookies on offense.

Yes, there’s a case to be made for Elliott’s teammate in quarterback Dak Prescott. That the rookie signal-caller has performed phenomenally in leading his team to 11-1 entering Week 14. That said, his last two outings haven’t helped his statistical case. Thus, it’s the running back that holds the lead.

Oct 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) rushes during the second half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, DE — San Diego Chargers

Runner-Up: Karl Joseph, S – Oakland Raiders

Normally, a player who doesn’t play in every one of his team’s games for reasons other than injuries can take a hit when it comes to awards. However, what Joey Bosa has done through eight games with the San Diego Chargers has been too impressive to ignore or to not reward. He’s been immensely dominant right from the jump and has shown remarkable consistency in his dominance to start his career.

Per Pro Football Focus, Bosa has accrued at least three quarterback pressures in every game he’s played except in Week 10. As PFF also notes, that was also the game that Bosa rushed the passer the fewest times this season. In eight games, Bosa has amassed 24 combined tackles and 5.5 sacks. Additionally, he’s also added a forced fumble to his rookie campaign. Week-in and week-out, the Ohio State product has come in hot and hasn’t relented through the octet of contests he’s played in.

Hats off to Karl Joseph of the Oakland Raiders, though. He may slot in well behind Bosa in this regard, but he has continued to be the jolt of life that their defense needed. Yes, that side of the ball is inconsistent for the 10-2 Raiders, but they were a saloon door for 60 minutes before Joseph came in on the back-end. For that, he deserves praise. But ultimately, it’s the year of the Buckeyes in the rookie class.

Dec 4, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) prepares to throw the ball during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Player of the Year: Tom Brady, QB — New England Patriots

Runner-Up: Matthew Stafford, QB – Detroit Lions

Tom Brady is not my NFL MVP and, no matter what he does, he won’t be. While I have no problem giving awards to players who are dominant despite missing games if the situation is right, that does not apply to the league’s MVP. It especially doesn’t apply when the New England Patriots still went 3-1 without Brady on the active roster. But when you look at his body of work in eight games, Brady is a shoo-in for Offensive Player of the Year.

In addition to notching his 201st career win by topping the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13, Brady has been lights-out virtually every time out in his eight starts. The greatest-of-all-time candidate ranks fourth in the NFL in yards per game at 309 on the season. What’s more, he’s already thrown for 19 touchdown passes while still holding strong with only one interception thrown on the year (per ESPN). What’s more, Brady’s been able to do this with Chris Hogan being one of his key weapons and with Rob Gronkowski being in and out of the lineup—and now being out for the rest of the season.

There’s no escaping what Brady has done this season, even with the suspension looming over his MVP candidacy. In terms of the runner-up, some might call for Matt Ryan to get the award and that’s just considering his production in 2016. My vote goes to Matthew Stafford, though, because of his work in the clutch. The production overall isn’t on the same level as Ryan’s, but the job that Stafford has done on game-winning drives and without a semblance of a running game to aid him has been fantastic.

November 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) grabs the football on a fumble by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1, not pictured) during the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Panthers 35-32. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, DE — Oakland Raiders

Runners-Up: Von Miller, EDGE – Denver Broncos | Aaron Donald, DT – Los Angeles Rams

Khalil Mack was the preseason pick to win Defensive Player of the Year for many people. But after the Raiders defense and the stud defensive end got off to a slow start, it seemed like his candidacy was dwindling in the wake of Von Miller and Aaron Donald predictably looking like monsters. But then Mack got into his groove and has been an indomitable force in Oakland since. In fact, he’s played himself into being my winner of Defensive Player of the Year.

While the Raiders defense remains slow-starting in games and inconsistent overall, Mack has been both productive and clutch. After earning just one sack through the first five games of 2016, Mack’s pace of late has been ridiculous. The Buffalo product has nine sacks in his last seven games to give him 10 overall on the season. At this rate, he’ll certainly touch his mark of 15 that he set last season. What’s more, Mack also has 58 combined tackles and five stuffs for a loss of seven yards.

When you talk about the clutch performances, you’re most often talking about offensive performance. However, Mack has seemed to save his best efforts for when it matters most. Of the four forced fumbles and three recoveries that Mack has on the year, two of them have come in the last two weeks on game-sealing strip-sacks and recoveries. Throw in the fact that he also notched his first career interception—a pick-six no less—and this award is his to lose after the way he’s come on.

NFL Awards

Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Billsduring a NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

MVP: Derek Carr, QB — Oakland Raiders

Runner-Up: Matthew Stafford, QB – Detroit Lions

For the reasons mentioned in the Offensive Player of the Year discussion, Stafford is in the mix to win MVP. He’s been an absolute revelation and, though maybe not statistically, he’s having the best season of his career. However, he’s not having the year that Derek Carr is having with the Oakland Raiders. Carr has simply been magnificent as he’s established himself not just as the franchise quarterback in Oakland, but as a bonafide superstar.

Carr’s production is impressive in itself. He’s tied for fourth in the NFL in passing yardage at 3,375 while also completing an impressive 65.5 percent of his passes. What that doesn’t wholly account for, though, is that he’s been even better than that. The Raiders receivers, while fantastic at their best, have had their issues with drops this season. In Week 13 alone, they had numerous drops on terrific throws that would’ve gone for big gains. That can’t be discredited. And even with that issue, Carr has still averaged his 281 yards per game while through 24 touchdowns to just five interceptions (per ESPN).

Much like Stafford, Carr’s greatest strength this season has been his work in the clutch. Per Adam Schefter, the Raiders quarterback has thrown for 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the second half or in overtime when his team is trailing. That’s the true sign of a leader and he has the game-winning drives to prove it. With the resurgent Raiders looking like Super Bowl contenders, Carr deserves the bulk of the credit. So much so that he’s your 2016 MVP after 13 weeks.

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