Every NFL team has now played at least half of their games this season, so it’s time for Pro Football Weekly to hand out its midseason awards.
Remember, Alex Smith and Carson Wentz were the MVP favorites at this time a year ago, so things can change — quite dramatically. But it’s fair to point out the leaders of the pack and the players and coaches who have done yeoman’s work to this point.
We polled five PFW writers for their picks for each of seven categories. Here’s what we came up with:
Hub Arkush: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Bob LeGere: Saints QB Drew Brees
Greg Gabriel: Patrick Mahomes
Arthur Arkush: Patrick Mahomes
Eric Edholm: Drew Brees
We’ve got a two-horse race here — one young buck and one venerable stallion. That’s two votes for 39-year-old Brees, who by the way has never won an MVP award, and three for the 23-year-old Mahomes.
There’s no denying that Mahomes has been brilliant after entering the season with but one start and a high bar set before him by Alex Smith. As Hub said, defending his choice: “I always worry about one-year wonders, but Mahomes looks like the real deal every way he can,” and it’s hard to argue with that.
Mahomes has played one more game than Brees and has the head-to-head edge in TD passes (29 to 18), passing yards per game (322.3 to 292) and yards per attempt (9.2 to 8.4). Brees has the edge in completion percentage (76.3 to 66.2), interceptions (1 to 7) and passer rating (120.6 to 116.7). Each team has one loss, and they easily could meet in Atlanta for the Super Bowl.
What a terrific debate this could shape up to be.
Hub Arkush: Rams DT Aaron Donald
Bob LeGere: Aaron Donald
Greg Gabriel: Aaron Donald
Arthur Arkush: Aaron Donald
Eric Edholm: Aaron Donald
Read ‘em and weep, a clean sweep. There’s not much we can say these days that others have not regarding Donald, other than to note how he’s second in the league in sacks with 10 behind Danielle Hunter (who has 11.5) and is doing so after skipping training camp and signing the richest deal ever given to a defensive player. Donald also has a forced fumble and two recoveries — this after a somewhat slow start to the season, by his standards anyway.
Simply a dominant interior rusher and run defender who plays at an entirely different level than anyone else at his position.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Hub Arkush: Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay
Bob LeGere: New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Greg Gabriel: Saquon Barkley
Arthur Arkush: Phillip Lindsay
Eric Edholm: 49ers OT Mike McGlinchey
Barkley isn’t just a popularity pick. For a one-win team, his numbers have been borderline astounding. As LeGere pointed out, “Not only is Barkley averaging 4.7 yards per carry, but he’s on pace to catch 116 passes. Wow.” (The record, in case you’re wondering, for most receptions by a running back is 102 by the Bears’ Matt Forte in 2014.)
Added Gabriel on Barkley: “He’s the best combo of run and pass.” Even with the debate about whether the Giants made a poor long-term decision to take a running back over a quarterback, this is hard to argue right now.
But Arthur “went with the long-shot” choice of the undrafted Lindsay, who has been a revelation with 751 yards from scrimmage (second among rookies behind Barkley) and also has contributed as a kick returner.
Arthur also noted that there are “not such great candidates outside of Lindsay, Barkley and [Calvin] Ridley,” and that might be true among the skill-position players. But don’t overlook the work of McGlinchey, who clearly has been the best rookie tackle so far.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Hub Arkush: Broncos OLB Bradley Chubb
Bob LeGere: Bradley Chubb
Greg Gabriel: Roquan Smith
Arthur Arkush: Chargers S Derwin James
Eric Edholm: Packers CB Jaire Alexander
We’ve got all three levels of the defense covered here in what looks like an excellent rookie crop.
Gabriel cites Smith’s “consistency game after game” for making him the choice. Arthur considered Chubb, Browns CB Denzel Ward, Colts LB Darius Leonard and Panthers CB Donte Jackson, but noted that “none are as versatile as James,” who has played deep safety, box safety, rushed as a blitzer and even lined up as a nickel and outside corner.
This author's choice is Alexander, who might be the best pure man-cover corner to enter the league — with Ward close behind — in a few years.
Coach of the Year
Hub Arkush: Chiefs head coach Andy Reid
Bob LeGere: Saints head coach Sean Payton
Greg Gabriel: Rams head coach Sean McVay
Arthur Arkush: Andy Reid
Eric Edholm: Andy Reid
Another terrific debate here, with three different votes from five panelists.
Hub on Reid: “Almost everybody and their brothers had the Chiefs taking a step back this year, yet Reid has them playing better than ever.” Very true. Added Arthur, it’s “hard to overstate how brilliant he’s been in handling Mahomes.” Also true. That’s why I also cast my vote for him, not to mention brilliant special teams and an improving defense, but clearly running one of the most effective offenses in recent league history with a first-time starting QB will be what might win it for him.
LeGere, however, goes for Payton because “everything the Saints have done this season has been impressive, especially beating the ‘unbeatable’ Rams — by 10 points.” Decent point. The Saints are the hottest team in the league right now.
Comeback Player of the Year
Hub Arkush: Washington RB Adrian Peterson
Bob LeGere: Texans DE J.J. Watt
Greg Gabriel: Colts QB Andrew Luck
Arthur Arkush: Andrew Luck
Eric Edholm: Andrew Luck
Arthur accurately portrays the conundrum here, as his “bypassing Watt for comeback was tricky,” but he adds that the “coin flip between [Luck] and Watt” was settled because “Luck’s return feels more improbable.”
Watt has nine sacks in nine games. He also has four forced fumbles. It’s almost stunning — given how prone to hyperbole people were with Watt pre-injuries — how little he’s been talked about this season nationally.
Even Luck’s comeback feels like a great story but one shrouded a bit amid the Colts’ climb back to respectability. By season’s end, he could have career-best numbers in several categories, and the lack of sacks and hits he’s taking compared to years past has to be credited for part of his success.
Peterson also can’t be ignored, not with 604 rush yards (fifth best in the NFL) and five games with 96 or more on the ground. Remember, he’s approaching his 34th birthday and looked absolutely cooked last season in New Orleans and Arizona down the stretch.
Most Improved Player
Hub Arkush: James Conner
Bob LeGere: James Conner
Greg Gabriel: Bills LB Matt Milano
Arthur Arkush: 49ers TE George Kittle
Eric Edholm: Rams OG Austin Blythe
Gabriel has a nice off-the-radar choice in Milano, who spearheaded the Bills’ upsets over the Vikings and Titans with some huge plays, noting that the “second-year linebacker has taken big strides” this season.
Conner clearly will be a popular national choice, given his breakout season. The only issue is that we didn’t know how good Conner might have been last season when he was buried behind Le’Veon Bell. Of course, Bell might not have realized that either, as his holdout has cleared the way for a tremendous season from the second-year back who has become Pittsburgh fans’ darling.
Arthur says Kittle might be “the best blocking-receiving combo TE in football with Gronk ailing,” even though he admits he considered Colts DE Margus Hunt for his choice here.
I went a bit out there with the Blythe pick, but it felt wrong not to have one member of this Rams offense represented. And besides, the Colts — who were absolutely starved last year for OL talent — cut Blythe, who was then a center. The Rams smartly picked him up, and he not only pushed Jamon Brown out of a job after his two-game suspension, but the Rams even waived Brown. Blythe has quietly been excellent in one of the league’s most explosive attacks.