I’m one of the 50 voters for the Associated Press NFL postseason awards. It’s an honor and a privilege I take seriously. I think it is important to remember all 16 games when voting at the end of a season.
Here are my choices for the NFL awards at the midway point of the season, SCHEIN 9 style.
Give these cats half of a trophy, or something like that.
Let the debate begin…
1. MVP – Aaron Rodgers
As if there was any other choice. He is the single best and most dominant player in pro football for the undefeated Packers. That defines MVP. Rodgers has become the single best quarterback in the NFL, having a season for the ages. I can give you the stats and tell you he has thrown for 2,619 yards and 24 touchdowns, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 2,600 pass yards and 24 touchdowns in his team’s first eight games of the campaign. I can tell you Aaron Rodgers has attempted 265 passes and has been picked off just three times, completing 73 percent of his passes. It’s like he’s on auto pilot, playing pitch and catch with his receivers in the backyard with nobody defending. The stats are incredible, but it is so much more than that. Rodgers’ leadership is contagious and his knack for performing in the clutch is epic.
Eli Manning, Matt Forte, and Frank Gore are distant candidates.
2. Offensive Player of the Year – Fred Jackson
Rodgers is clearly the MVP but the candidates for this award at the midway point are numerous. I’m going with the running back that has been the centerpiece of the surprising 5-3 Bills. Don’t let Jackson’s pedestrian game on Sunday against the Jets ruin the buzz he had for the first seven games. Fred Jackson leads the NFL in rushing yards with 803. He is tied for the league lead with five 100-yard games. Jackson also has five rushing touchdowns and is averaging 5.35 yards per carry. Jackson also has 30 catches for 390 yards, making him a legit dual threat. Nobody thought he was going to be this dominant.
Rodgers, Matt Forte, Calvin Johnson, Frank Gore and Wes Welker also get consideration.
3. Defensive Player of the Year – Darrelle Revis
Two years ago, I voted for Charles Woodson over Revis. One of the main reasons was Woodson’s incredible ability to make plays. In 2011, Revis, the best cover corner in the NFL, is making plays. He saved the Jets season with a 100 yard pick-six against the Dolphins, swinging the momentum from Miami to New York as the Dolphins were looking to pad a stunning lead. And against the Chargers, Revis did the same with a vital fourth-quarter pick of Philip Rivers.
The competition is great. Woodson’s had a great season, with five interceptions and an incredible knack for making plays. DeMarcus Ware has been excellent. Three different 49ers defenders, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Justin Smith, have all excelled.
4. Coach of the Year – Jim Harbaugh
There are a lot of great candidates for this award at the midway point. Chan Gailey and Marvin Lewis have their teams already past the win total I predicted for the Bills and Bengals for the season. Mike McCarthy has the Packers at 8-0. Tom Coughlin has the Giants in first place, having dealt with injuries and adversity. Jim Schwartz has changed the culture in Detroit.
But this one is easy. It’s Jim Harbaugh. He has totally changed the culture and accountability in San Francisco. Basically, this is the same cast that Mike Singletary, the worst head man we’ve seen in the NFL since Rich Kotite, failed with over the last few years. Look at the work Harbaugh has done with Alex Smith, who is having the best year of his career under Harbaugh. Smith has turned into a model of efficiency working with Harbaugh. The Niners have established a physical, hard-nosed, no-nonsense identity. They have a bruising running attack with Frank Gore and a great offensive line. They stop the run. San Fran used to always lose when they traveled east. Under Harbaugh, they are 4-0 in the Eastern Time zone. The Niners have won six straight and they are 7-1 and in the driver’s seat to get the No. 2 seed in the NFC. That’s coaching.
5. Offensive Rookie of the Year – Cam Newton
Newton’s start has been eye-popping and impressive. He’s been a machine, ranking sixth in the league with 2,393 yards. Newton’s also been a major factor running the ball, with some majestic scampers for first downs and touchdowns.
But this was hardly an easy call. In fact, it was practically a flip of the coin. Newton has major competition in Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who has adroitly guided the Bengals to six stunning wins at the midway point. Dalton actually has more touchdown passes and fewer picks than Newton. I’m giving Newton the edge on his sheer domination, but it hard to ignore what Dalton has done leading the Bengals. He could win or lose this award in the Bengals’ four games in the second half against the Ravens and Steelers.
6. Defensive Rookie of the Year – Aldon Smith
The Niners rookie gets the nod based upon his production of 6.5 sacks. The Niners ask Smith to do one thing, and he does it well. But Von Miller (who also has 6.5 sacks), Ryan Kerrigan and J.J. Watt are close behind in a category where I am not overwhelmed at the midway point by the candidates.
7. Comeback Player of the Year – Ryan Fitzpatrick
I’ve asked the Associated Press for direction on this award. What is a player coming back from? Is it injury or sub-par play? Is it coming back from legal issues? How about going from sub to consistent starter? I’ve been told that the award is purposely ambiguous. OK, fine. Thus, I’m choosing a player who one year ago was labeled a journeyman and a tomato can. Now, he’s a franchise quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick is my comeback player of the year. He’s ninth in the NFL in quarterback rating, ahead of players like Mike Vick, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. Fitzpatrick has 15 touchdowns against nine picks. And the Bills just rewarded him, deservedly so, with a freshly minted, mega-buck contract. I most certainly count that as a comeback.
I have Alex Smith a close second with the Panthers Steve Smith also on my short list. Alex Smith has totally turned around his career, with just two picks this season. Steve Smith was irrelevant last season and now teamed with Cam Newton, he’s back to dominating.
8. Executive of the Year – Rick Smith
The Texans general manager told us this offseason that his goal was to solely improve the defense, and he did just that. Smith’s top draft picks, J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, have been excellent and are getting better. Smith signed Jonathan Joseph and he has been an instant upgrade at cornerback. This defense has morphed from an embarrassing, pathetic sieve a year ago to the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Joseph and fellow Smith signing Danieal Manning have helped totally transform this pass defense from the worst to dominant. And Smith encouraged Gary Kubiak to change defensive coordinators and hire Wade Phillips. Smith’s genius is all over the first-place Texans, from how he put together the best offensive line in the NFL this season, to Arian Foster, to the play and development of Brian Cushing at linebacker.
9. Assistant coaches of the year – Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer
The Bengals duo is most worthy of this high praise, guiding Cincy to an incredible 6-2 start. I raved about Gruden last Friday in my weekly “Sizzle and Fizzle” column. The first-time play caller has done a remarkable job with brilliant neophytes in Dalton and A.J. Green. The Bengals’ offensive line has gelled. Gruden has done a great job establishing balance on offense, while putting Dalton in position to succeed and dominate.
Zimmer is just flat-out remarkable. The Bengals are top five in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense. Look at what Zimmer has done with retreads like Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson. If he doesn’t get serious consideration for head coaching positions in the off-season, I don’t know what else I have to believe in.
Why would I give Zimmer the edge over Wade Phillips? Phillips has more talent, including Zimmer’s former cornerback Joseph.