2012 awards: Who will get hardware?

December 20, 2012

With two weeks left in the 2012 NFL season, several NFL awards races are still very much up for grabs. Our two NFL experts, Alex Marvez and Peter Schrager, take a look (and take sides) at whom they’d be voting for if the season were to end this week.


Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos


Even if Adrian Peterson breaks Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards, I think I’m still going with Manning as my league MVP. He’s more than just the best player on the field this season. He’s the de facto offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and team mouthpiece for an 11-3 team. Entering Week 15, Denver has won nine straight and they shouldn’t lose to Cleveland or Kansas City in the team’s final two games. It’s a quarterback’s league and Denver’s got the very best one. I have no problem with Peterson winning the award, but my vote’s with The Sheriff. Anyway, that’s why there’s the Offensive Player of the Year award.

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

We may be witnessing the best season a running back’s ever had, in the midst of an era when it’s all about the quarterbacks. Peterson’s having a tremendous year, obviously, and if either he breaks the record or the Vikings make the playoffs (or both) — I will be just fine with him taking this one home.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Plenty can happen over the next two weeks, especially with the Vikings having to play quality opposition in the form of Houston and Green Bay. But if the Vikings reach the playoffs, Peterson will likely get my vote. If the Vikings fall short of the playoffs but Peterson breaks Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, Peterson will likely get my vote. If the Vikings and Peterson both fall short of the aforementioned goals, it’s a toss-up between him and Peyton Manning.

2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Injury? What neck injury? With 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, Manning is the catalyst behind the NFL’s longest active winning streak at nine games. Like all MVP quarterbacks, Manning’s presence has created opportunities for others like running back Knowshon Moreno, who had never posted back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in his first four NFL seasons until the past two weeks. Wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas also have already posted career-high marks in receptions. This wasn’t going to happen with Tim Tebow under center.

NFL Coach of the Year

Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers

This award typically goes to the teams that went from worst to first or shocked the league. This year, though, I’m going with the coach who made the toughest decision, stuck by it, and silenced all critics by being right. The 49ers were a good, sound team with Alex Smith under center. They’re a downright dangerous team with Colin Kaepernick. Decisions like the one Harbaugh made with his quarterbacks midway through the 2012 campaign are not only rare, they’re downright unheard of. In addition to that move, Harbaugh’s been able to successfully manage a host of new personalities on the team, including Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and the recently suspended Brandon Jacobs. Everyone circled the 49ers as a team that’d either take a giant leap forward or backwards this season. They’ve done the former and they’ve done so with a lot more style and substance than ever was imagined. Harbaugh could have played this season safe. He didn’t. He’s my Coach of the Year.

2. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

Carroll had the courage to start a third-round rookie over a much-hyped offseason free agent signing at quarterback this season. How’s that worked out? Moreover, the Seahawks have won in dramatic fashion in numerous games, feature one of the top defenses in the league and have the entire league on notice after three straight wins. There are more surprising teams in Indianapolis and Washington this year, but no surprisingly successful team resembles their head coach more than the young and confident Seahawks.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts

Arians always wanted the opportunity to become an NFL head coach — just not in this fashion. He was thrust into the position when Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in late September. Arians has since led the Colts to a 9-5 record and likely playoff berth, a remarkable achievement considering Indianapolis was the NFL’s worst team in 2011. Arians also has maintained involvement as offensive coordinator while helping to develop potential NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Luck at quarterback. The Colts are hoping that Pagano can return to the sideline before the season ends. But even if Arian reverts to an assistant role, he has shown enough in the face of difficult circumstances to deserve consideration as an NFL head coach elsewhere in 2013.

2. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins.

Robert Griffin III didn’t get so good so fast on his own. Shanahan and his son Kyle (Washington’s offensive coordinator) deserve credit for revamping their West Coast-style system to showcase Griffin’s athletic skills as a run/pass threat. Shanahan also kept the Redskins together following a foot-in-mouth moment where it looked like he was declaring the season over after the team slumped to 3-6. Washington has won five straight games since then and controls its own playoff destiny in the NFC East even with a defense that has suffered major injuries. The “Mastermind” is again living up to his nickname.

NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Other players get more press, but no player has been single-handedly more dominant this season than Watt. In just his second year in the league, he’s been the game’s most menacing defensive end. His ability to jump and swat passes at the line is going to change the way teams train tall defensive lineman to play the position. Though Aldon Smith gets all the attention, Watt is also at 19.5 sacks for the season — just 3 short of Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22. Consider that the Houston defense hasn’t skipped much of a beat, even with the losses of DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams to free agency and both Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing to injury — and Watt’s value becomes only more evident. He’s the real deal.

2. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

A fourth-round pick in the same draft that highly-touted DTs Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Brian Price were selected — Atkins has breezed right by all three as the best young defensive tackle in the NFL. His 10.5 sacks lead all interior defensive linemen and his presence has helped lift the Bengals to an 8-6 record. He gets double-teamed and still makes plays. Aldon Smith may have more sacks, Patrick Willis may get more press clippings, Demarcus Ware may have more natural ability — but Atkins has been the second-best defensive player in the NFL this season.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

If he breaks the NFL sack record, I may even consider voting Watt as the NFL’s first defensive MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Watt is making the kind of impact that is unheard of from a 3-4 end, especially when it comes to pass defense. No NFL player had ever recorded 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed in one season before. Watt already has 19.5 and 15 respectively with two games left. Oh yeah — he also leads Houston in tackles with 74. Now we know why the Texans were willing to let Mario Williams walk away in free agency. They already had the better defensive end on the roster.

2. Aldon Smith, San Francisco

It's close between Smith and Denver’s Von Miller, a fellow member of the 2011 draft class who has logged 16 sacks. Smith has 19.5 courtesy of a 5.5-sack effort in Week 11 against Chicago. That gives him a legitimate shot at breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5. Smith also has gotten better against the run in his first season as a full-time NFL starter.

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

What Luck’s done this season in Indianapolis is nothing short of amazing. Due to Stanford’s late graduation date, he didn’t join the Colts until mid-June. He learned a new offense, met new coaches, got veterans and rookies alike to trust him, and he magically picked up right where arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game left off. Everyone in Indianapolis is happy for Peyton Manning, but I doubt many fans regret how things shook out back in March. Luck’s got his team one win away from the playoffs and the future is nothing but bright. There have been several great rookie performances, but what Luck’s overcome — considering the Colts’ 2012 season — is remarkable.

2. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

The last time the Redskins held the NFC East division lead entering Week 16 was before the turn of the century (1999). Griffin’s not only done it all on the field for the Redskins, but he’s invigorated a long-suffering fan base with excitement and hope. Washington gave up several draft picks to land Griffin. He hasn’t disappointed. Russell Wilson deserves consideration, here, too — but RG3 is my runner-up to Luck. All three have been fabulous.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

It took RG3 one game to display the makings of an NFL superstar. But a near-perfect performance in that 40-32 season-opening victory in New Orleans was just the start of things to come. Griffin’s flawless execution of read-option concepts have helped generate 748 rushing yards and some of the league’s gaudiest passing statistics (66.4 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions). If the Redskins don’t make the playoffs and Indianapolis does, I could be swayed to vote for Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck instead.

2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

The most ballyhooed quarterback entering the NFL since Peyton Manning, Luck has lived up to the hype while replacing his predecessor in Indianapolis. Luck has taken a beating with 37 sacks and numerous other hard hits playing behind a patchwork offensive line. But he has always shown resiliency, especially in the second half when the Colts usually play their best football. Luck, though, isn’t as protective of the football as Washington’s Robert Griffin III. Luck has 18 interceptions, many of which have come on overthrows (a recurring problem), and five lost fumbles. Griffin has only four interceptions and two fumbles along with eight games where he didn’t commit a turnover. In comparison, Luck has played turnover-free in just three games.

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams

Jenkins was the subject of great scrutiny and ridicule back in March during the pre-draft process. You know the story — he’s got multiple children from different women, he was kicked out of Florida for rumored drug use, and he was deemed “undraftable” by some NFL teams. Well, Jeff Fisher took him in the second round, and he’s excelled in St. Louis. Yes, there was a midseason mishap which caused him to be deactivated for a game due to disciplinary reasons. Other than that, he’s been lights out. Jenkins has three interceptions and three touchdowns this year. He also has 66 tackles for one of the league’s most pleasantly surprising defensive units.

2. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

David’s another second round pick that’s played above expectations this season. Undersized and considered by some more suited for the safety spot than linebacker, he’s been the Buccaneers best player on defense this season. David’s not Derrick Brooks — not yet, at least — but he’s certainly carrying the torch of the position. In a season where fellow rookies Mark Barron and Doug Martin got a lot more press, it was David who racked up 124 tackles.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is one of the few rookies to excel at two different positions. He had 25 tackles in four games at weak-side linebacker before shifting inside to replace the injured Jon Beason. Since Kuechly assumed the middle linebacker role in Week 5, the Panthers are allowing 81 yards less a game. He also is averaging 11.3 tackles in that 10-game span, giving him 138 for the season. That ranks second among all NFL players. No other rookie is ranked in the top five.

2. Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner

Russell Wilson deserves praise, but he isn’t the clear-cut best rookie on Seattle’s roster. Wagner, a second-round pick from Utah State, has quickly blossomed into a standout defender. He ranks third among all rookies in tackles (121) and is the only non-defensive back with more than one interception with three. Wagner also has some pass-rush skills as evidenced by his two sacks.

NFL Comeback Player of the Year

Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: After tearing his ACL late last season, there were reports that Adrian Peterson might have to miss the 2012 season. Not only did Peterson make a full (and miraculous) recovery, but he’s had arguably the best season we’ve ever seen from an NFL running back. He now has 1,812 yards on the ground this season, topping his previous career high of 1,760. He is just 294 yards away from Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,106. He’s the comeback player and that can’t even be argued.

2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

He hasn’t had such a bad "comeback" year, either.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers

On my Associated Press ballot, Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson are likely to split the NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors in some fashion. Both would also be worthy of this distinction. But rather than duplicate, I feel one of the league’s most remarkable comeback stories deserves recognition. No player in NFL history had ever returned from three separate anterior cruciate ligament tears in the same knee until Davis did it in 2012. Davis also is playing at a high level, registering 82 of his 91 tackles since moving into the starting lineup in Week 5. The perseverance that Davis showed to return while playing in just nine games between 2009 and 2011 speaks volumes about his character and love of football.

2. (tie) Adrian Peterson/Peyton Manning, Minnesota Vikings/Denver Broncos

Which would you rather have: A one-legged running back or a quarterback who couldn’t throw? Peterson and Manning were in both of those unenviable positions at this time last year yet have made complete recoveries. This isn’t a copout — I need two more games before I could choose one over the other.

NFL Executive of the Year

Peter Schrager’s ballot

1. Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Colts

Grigson replaced an NFL legend in Bill Polian as GM of the Colts and quickly got them from a 2-14 team a season ago into a playoff contender a year later. He hit home runs with Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen in the draft, hired the right coaches in Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, and was able to convince veteran free agents like Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis to stick around instead of jumping to a more established veteran teams. You wouldn’t recognize Grigson’s face. You might not know his name. He’s probably fine with that.

2. John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks

People laughed at Seattle’s 2012 draft. One that included a guy who was considered a “reach” in Bruce Irvin with the first round pick, a little known linebacker named Bobby Wagner in the second round, and an undersized quarterback in the third. All three players, most importantly Wilson, have been absolute home runs.

Alex Marvez’s ballot

1. John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks

His methods are unorthodox, but they’ve gotten results. Schneider spent his first two seasons in Seattle turning over the roster like a farmer tills soil until finding the right mix of players. Along the way, he found a blue-chip cornerback from the CFL (Brandon Browner) and robbed Buffalo in a trade for one of the NFL’s top running backs (Marshawn Lynch). Even one of the bigger mistakes Schneider made this offseason — signing quarterback Matt Flynn away from Green Bay in free agency to a three-year, $19.5 million contract — was mitigated by his third-round selection of starter Russell Wilson in last April’s draft. That 2012 class also has provided the top rookie in sacks (Bruce Irvin), the second-leading tackler (Bobby Wagner) and a quality backup running back (Robert Turbin). The Seahawks also have almost all of their top players under contract through at least 2013.

2. Rick Smith, Houston Texans

It’s easy to take general managers from winning teams for granted. That’s why Smith will likely get overlooked in consideration for NFL Executive of the Year. He shouldn’t. Smith adroitly maneuvered the Texans through salary-cap issues before the start of free agency by re-signing running back Arian Foster to a long-term contract, releasing popular right tackle Eric Winston and declining to use the franchise tag on Mario Williams, who then left to Buffalo in free agency. The departures of Winston and Williams haven’t hurt the Texans. Some of the money Smith saved was then used to help sign quarterback Matt Schaub and left tackle Duane Brown to contract extensions. The Texans also are getting yield from six members of their 2012 draft class, including outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (six sacks). And the most important result of all – Houston enters this weekend’s games with an AFC-best 12-2 record.