Defensive Rookie of the Year
Looking through the history of this award shows how difficult it is for a defensive back to be named the winner. Marcus Peters won this award in 2015 in part because he was tied for the league lead in interceptions. The last defensive back to win before Peters? Charles Woodson, in 1998. For defensive backs to win defensive player of the year awards, rookie or otherwise, they typically need to post high interception totals. Luckily, we don’t live in a world anymore where the only data we have available to us is tackles and interceptions. With all due respect to Carl Lawson, T.J. Watt and Zach Cunningham, this award for me comes down to two corners.
Runner Up: CB Tre’Davious White, Bills
White, a piece added via the Mahomes trade, is the second highest graded defensive rookie by Pro Football Focus. On the season, White has allowed only 48.9% of passes to be completed that were thrown into his coverage. He has amassed 12 pass breakups, 26 tackles, and an interception.
Winner: CB Marshon Lattimore, Saints
On the season Marshon Lattimore has allowed 14 receptions on 26 targets thrown his direction for 126 yards, 2:1 interception-to-touchdown ratio, and an 83.0 passer rating allowed. Marcus Mariota currently sits at 23rd in passer rating with a rating of 83.1. Lattimore is the highest graded rookie this season by Pro Football Focus and received the highest rookie grade ever from PFF after seven weeks.
The Saints have the 4th best pass defense by DVOA through the first eight weeks of the season. Last year the Saints had the 30th ranked pass defense by DVOA. Lattimore is not the only Saint contributing to this turnaround but his coverage has been nothing short of outstanding. Overall the Saints have climbed from the 31st ranked defense by DVOA last year to the 16th ranked defense as of this writing. You simply won’t find another defensive rookie making such a large impact that is also adding as much value to the whole as Lattimore.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
This is a pretty clear two horse race so let’s dive in. (Note: Watson’s torn ACL was reported after this article had been written)
Runner Up: QB Deshaun Watson, Texans
A lot of people will put Watson first simply because he is a quarterback and has a larger burden on his shoulders, and that is fine.
Here are the positives on Watson:
He leads the NFL in passing TDs with 19
He set the record for the most TD passes through the first seven games of a career (19)
He leads the NFL in TD% (9.3)
He is 5th in passer rating (103.0)
He is 5th in DVOA
He is 1st in QBR (81.9)
He ranks 7th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) (7.19)
But there are also negatives:
He is tied for the 4th most INTs (8)
He has the 4th worst INT% (3.9)
He has the 8th worst sack% (8.5)
Not all sacks are created equal and I mentioned yesterday how the Texans offensive tackles and guards rank among the worst at their positions in the NFL. Watson has been more than the Texans could have ever asked for through his first seven games, but I don’t see the negatives for the winner…
Winner: RB Kareem Hunt, Chiefs
Here are Hunt’s negatives:
He fumbled on his first career touch
That’s it. Here are his positives:
He leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,070)
He leads the NFL in rushing yards (763)
He has the 3rd highest catch rate among running backs (87.5%)
He is 3rd among running backs in yards per reception (11.0)
He set the NFL record with seven consecutive games over 100+ scrimmage yards to begin a career
Defensive Player of the Year
As I alluded to earlier it is difficult for defensive backs to win defensive player of the year awards. Since 1985 a defensive back has won this award only five times. Those winners are Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, Ed Reed, Bob Sanders, and Troy Polamalu. Woodson and Sanders are already enshrined in Canton and will one day be joined by both Reed and Polamalu. As for Sanders, he was absolutely brilliant on the field before injuries destroyed his career.
You needn’t look further than every winner since Polamalu in 2010 to understand the type of player that wins this award in a typical season. Terrell Suggs, J.J. Watt (three times), Luke Kuechly, and Khalil Mack are the award winners spanning 2011-2016. So what do I make of 2017 halfway through the season?
Edge Joey Bosa, Chargers
On Sunday against the Patriots Joey Bosa set the record for most sacks through the first twenty games of a career. He now has 19 sacks in 20 games. This obviously encompasses more than the 2017 season, but I’m setting the stage for how incredible Bosa is. He is third in the NFL in sacks with 8.5, has 38 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles and a pass defended. Bosa is the driving force behind a Chargers defensive front that ranks 6th in adjusted sack rate.
Edge Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
Demarcus Lawrence has blossomed into an elite edge defender in the NFL. He currently leads the league in sacks with 10.5, and has also contributed 29 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The Cowboys rank 8th in adjusted sack rate and Lawrence accounts for over 40% of Dallas’ sack production.
Runner up: Edge Calais Campbell, Jaguars
Calais Campbell (and A.J. Bouye) has been worth every dime the Jaguars spent on him in free agency. Campbell is tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 10 and also has 27 pressures, 32 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles and a pass deflection. The Jaguars lead the NFL in total sacks and adjusted sack rate and Campbell is the main force behind those numbers. Unlike Bosa, (and with all due respect to Yannick Ngakoue, who has been very good this year) Campbell is doing this without someone the caliber of Melvin Ingram lining up opposite him.
Winner: CB Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
Patrick Peterson is an alien God who was sent to earth to cover any rips in the space-time continuum. Peterson is on pace this season to allow 16 catches. 16! Here is the list of victims that have had to enter his shadow coverage this season:
Marvin Jones Jr.
I know there is more to being a pass rusher than sacks. How many pressures, quarterback hits, hurries and knockdowns matter almost as much as, or sometimes more than, sacking the quarterback. But if you get one sack a game, you get 16 over the course of a season, an invite to the Pro Bowl and a nice fat contract on the open market.
The Pittsburgh Steelers run an average of 34.5 pass attempts per game, which puts them 16th in the NFL. Washington is 17th, at 33.9 pass plays per game. We can roughly assume an average of 34.2 pass plays per team, per game in the NFL.
If we take Calais Campbell’s per game sack average (1.43) and add his per game pressure average (3.86) you get 5.29 plays per game where Campbell is making a major impact on those 34.2 plays. (Yes, I realize I am completely shortchanging him here on any run game contributions)
On the flip side, Patrick Peterson is completely eliminating your best passing game weapon on 33.2/34.2 plays per game. I understand pass rushers are more valuable than cover corners; all you have to do is look at the open market and the draft to realize such. However, through this point in the season you cannot tell me that any defensive player is performing better or means more to their team on a per snap basis than Patrick Peterson.
Offensive Player of the Year
It seems that this award has become sort of a consolation prize for the guy who doesn’t win MVP, although I don’t quite get how you can win MVP and not be the offensive player of the year. Either way, instead of duplicating my efforts for the two awards, I’m going to let you just read my MVP breakdown and then consider the runner up the winner of offensive player of the year.
QB Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Wilson’s Seahawks are 5-2 with nothing that even comes close to resembling even a below average running game. Wilson ranks 4th in ANY/A, 7th in INT%, and 6th in TD%.
QB Drew Brees, Saints
Brees, and the Saints defense, has dug New Orleans out of a 0-2 start to the season to now sit at 5-2 atop the NFC South. Brees ranks 3rd in both DYAR and DVOA, 3rd in ANY/A, 8th in INT%, 4th in yards per game, and 2nd in sack%. He is also leading the league in completion percentage at 70.6%.
QB Carson Wentz, Eagles
I’m sure I will get a lot of heat for not having Wentz as the winner or runner up, especially considering that Alex Smith gets Kareem Hunt and Wentz doesn’t. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable putting Wentz here. The Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 7-1 and Wentz ranks 7th in DYAR, 9th in DVOA, 3rd in QBR, 5th in ANY/A, tied 1st in TDs, and 2nd in TD%. His 14th ranked INT% and 23rd ranked sack% is what has me keeping him outside of the top two.
Runner Up: QB Alex Smith, Chiefs
Alex Smith has been brilliant this season and is attacking the field at all levels. Just take a look at his QB grid vs. league average.
The Chiefs are sitting at 6-2 while Smith is 2nd in DYAR, 2nd in DVOA, 7th in QBR, 3rd in completion percentage, 4th in TDs, 4th in TD%, first in ANY/A, and has not thrown a single interception through 8 games. He is tied for the lead league with 3 game winning drives (with Jay Cutler… no, seriously). To be fair to Wentz, Smith actually ranks 24th in sack%
Winner: QB Tom Brady, Patriots
You can call me biased and that’s fine, but with all due respect to everyone else on the MVP list, this award should go to Brady and it isn’t even close.
Brady ranks 1st in DYAR, 1st in DVOA, 4th in QBR, 2nd in ANY/A, 2nd in INT%, 4th in TDs, and first in yards. But most importantly, Tom Brady is dragging a team that does not deserve to be in the first round bye hunt to, potentially, another first round bye.
The Patriots are 6-2 but sit 15th in DVOA. I mentioned in my power rankings the massive divide between the Patriots offense and defense. The Patriots sport the top ranked offense by DVOA and the dead last defense by DVOA. You may ask if such a split has ever happened before. Well, here’s the answer:
Only teams to be first in offense, last in defense at some point after Week 2: 2000 Rams, 2002 Chiefs, 2011 Patriots, 2016 Patriots. (2/3)
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) October 31, 2017
*(Note: The author of the tweet corrects himself in a later tweet that “2016 Patriots” should be “2017 Patriots”)
So the last time a team had the top offense and bottom defense was the 2011 Patriots, a team Tom Brady dragged to the Super Bowl and subsequently lost due to a Wes Welker drop and the most perfect pass in the history of one human being throwing an object to another human being.
The Patriots offense leads the NFL in expected points contributed by a substantial margin. The Patriots have the most first downs on offense and the third lowest percentage of drives ending in a turnover. Brees, Wentz, and Smith all play for teams ranking in the top 5 of DVOA. The Seahawks are 11th. Everyone else is having an MVP worthy season and playing phenomenal football. But let’s stop pretending like the Patriots are anything more than Tom Brady giving a big fat middle finger to Father Time and playing at a level no quarterback has ever come close to even approaching at this age.
Coach of the Year
Bill Belichick, Patriots
Belichick and Popovich are debatably the coach of the year every single year. I see no need to elaborate on this.
Mike Zimmer, Vikings
Zimmer has gotten a game and a half out of the guy who is supposed to be his starting quarterback. He lost his rookie running back sensation to a torn ACL in the middle of the 4th game of the season and effectively has not had Stefon Diggs for three games. With Case Keenum mostly leading the charge, the Vikings sit 6th in DVOA, 7th in +/- and own a 6-2 record with their only losses coming at the hands of the Steelers and a divisional foe in the Lions.
Doug Pederson, Eagles
Eagles fans will probably never read my site again after neither Wentz nor Pederson even made it to the runner up circle for their respective awards.
Pederson has the Eagles at 7-1, the best record in the league, 1st in +/- and 3rd in DVOA. The massive jump Wentz has made in only his second year to league MVP candidate is remarkable.
Runner Up: Andy Reid, Chiefs
Reid has the Chiefs at 6-2 with the 3rd best +/- and 2nd in DVOA. They currently lay claim to a first round bye with a head to head victory over the Patriots. The Alex Smith leap is probably more a product of Smith than Reid, but the Chiefs are straight up running a college offense and it is dominating the NFL. Kansas City is 2nd in offensive DVOA and is doing this without a true #1 receiver. Reid has taken what he has and played those parts to their strengths. His system also continues to churn out stud running back performances in a plug-and-play manner that would make you think this is the early-mid 2000’s Shanahan Broncos.
Winner: Sean McVay, Rams
At this point in the season I don’t know how you can award anyone else. The Rams are sitting at 5-2 with the 2nd highest +/- and the 2nd best DVOA. After 2016 people were saying Todd Gurley was the new Trent Richardson and calling the Jared Goff trade one of the most lopsided deals in league history. In 2016 Goff finished 34/34 qualifying passers in both DYAR and DVOA. His numbers in those categories were -819 and -74.8%, respectively. The 33rd worst in both categories was Brock Osweiler, with a -558 DYAR and a -26.8% DVOA. Goff posted a 22.2 QBR. His rookie season was, in a word, disastrous. The Rams offense last season looked like a high school team trying to compete against NFL talent.
Enter McVay. The Rams have scored 212 points through seven games. Last season the Rams were dead last in the NFL in points scored with 224 all year. They nearly equaled their prior season total in seven games. Their offense stands at 13th in DVOA and Goff himself is 14th in DYAR, 11th in DVOA and 15th in QBR. Todd Gurley has a success rate of 57%, good for 3rd in the NFL.
The defense has also improved from a respectable 15th in DVOA last year to an elite 4th in DVOA this season, although this really has more to do with Wade Phillips. However, McVay should be credited with getting Phillips to Los Angeles.
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