We’ve made it through the hell that is Pro Bowl week. The most interesting thing in football this week was Jon Gruden analyzing a dodgeball game, which makes it a great time to look at awards. For clarification, these are regular season awards—, which means, for example, that Andy Reid’s meltdown against the Steelers in Round 2 doesn’t count against his Coach of the Year case. Let’s get right to it.
MVP: Matt Ryan
I advocated for Tom Brady back in November, but since then, Ryan has lapped the field. He led the league in touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, yards per completion, passer rating, QBR, net yards per attempt, adjusted net yards per attempt, approximate value, DYAR, and DVOA. He also completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and tossed 38 touchdowns compared to just seven picks. In other words, it’s almost impossible to make a case against Ryan becoming the first Atlanta player to win the MVP.
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick
I don’t want to hear about your Jason Garrett, Adam Gase or Dan Quinn cases. Bill Belichick is the best coach in football. He piloted the Patriots through a 4-game stretch without the best quarterback of all-time, three of them on the road, and New England came out 3-1 with a serious asset in Jimmy Garoppolo. Then, with Tom Brady back in the lineup, New England won 11 of 12. Moreover, when New England sent Jamie Collins to Cleveland for a conditional draft pick, their linebacking corps barely suffered. Belichick made useful players out of Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy! He helped New England’s offense get past Rob Gronkowski’s injury like it was nothing, turned up useful players like Malcolm Mitchell out of nowhere and helped turn New England’s offensive line around with, largely, the same personnel that melted down in Denver last season. This year is as impressive as any for Belichick, the greatest football coach of all-time.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan
Shanahan’s offense propelled Matt Ryan from an above-average QB to the league MVP. It turned Julio Jones from a mere star into a weapon of mass destruction, Taylor Gabriel into one of the most volatile weapons in football, Tevin Coleman into one of the better and more versatile running backs in the league and affirmed Devonta Freeman’s place as a star. With Shanahan at the helm, Atlanta ranked first in offensive DVOA, second in weighted offensive DVOA, first in passing offense DVOA and seventh in rushing DVOA. Left guard Andy Levitre, acquired from Tennessee in September 2015 for a 6th rounder and conditional pick, had an 84.4 PFF grade, ranking 14th among guards. Ryan Schraeder, once Just Another Guy, has turned into a borderline top-10 tackle and Jake Matthews’ career, off to a disastrous start in 2014, is on an upward trend. In two years, Shanahan was the catalyst in Atlanta’s offense reaching its full potential this season. He’ll likely be coaching the 49ers next year, but he deserves better.
Offensive Player of the Year: Julio Jones
This was a tough pick with Jones, Antonio Brown, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell all in the mix. Jones had a drop-off from 2015, but his 2015 season was one of the best ever by a wide receiver. When you put that into perspective, it’s easier to realize that an 83-catch, 1,409-yard season is still astounding. In addition to those numbers, Jones led all receivers in PFF grading and DYAR, coming second in DVOA. Put those numbers up against Brown, who had 23 more catches for over 100 less yards, finished seventh in DYAR and a relatively paltry 26th in DVOA and Jones wins every time. The stretch from Weeks 5-10 during which Bell averaged just 3.52 yards per carry was the nail in the coffin for him. As good as he was for the last month; this is a full-season award. Johnson was the closest to Jones—gaining 2,118 yards from scrimmage and scoring 20 times on a team without many other weapons is damn impressive. However, Johnson averaged just 4.2 yards per carry, barely made the top-10 running backs in DYAR and ranked 16th among running backs in DVOA. No doubt, that had as much to do with the demise of Arizona’s passing game as any flaws with Johnson, but even so, it’s the lone flaw in his case. Jones had none.
Defensive Player of the Year: Landon Collins
I wrote about this expansively at Giants Wire about two weeks ago. See that piece for reference.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott
There are a lot of easy calls for awards this year, but this is by far the easiest. Elliott led the league in rushing yards, averaging 5.1 per carry and scoring 15 times. He led all running backs in DYAR, finishing sixth in DVOA. His 1,994 yards from scrimmage didn’t just lead all rookies; it was over 300 yards more than the player in second, Jordan Howard. In all-purpose yards, he led by over 100 with Tyreek Hill in second. Dak Prescott has a case, but his season would have been much tougher if not for Elliott, who prevented defenses from focusing in on the rookie quarterback by allowing the run to be the focal point of the Cowboys’ offense.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa
Bosa only played 12 games, but the difference he made to San Diego’s defense was too big to ignore. Through four weeks, the Chargers were 15th in defensive DVOA. They finished the season eighth, ranking sixth in adjusted line yards and finishing 16th in adjusted sack rate with Bosa’s 10.5 sacks making up 30 percent of the team’s overall sack production. Despite playing just 12 games, Bosa’s 21 QB hits led all rookies, per NFL GSIS, as did his 10.5 sacks. His 89.9 PFF grade was fifth among all edge rushers and led all defensive rookies. The immediate impact he had on the Chargers’ defense was massive. As soon as he started playing, San Diego started pressuring quarterbacks and causing trouble on opposing offensive lines. I am confident he will be a star for years to come and can say the same about no other defensive rookie.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson
This should be a slam dunk for Nelson, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, then came back this year with 97 receptions, 1,257 receiving yards and a league-leading 14 receiving TDs. I don’t like the existence of this award—rewarding the best player who was injured the year before is sort of bizarre—but as long as we have it, Nelson is the runaway winner.
All stats are from pro-football-reference.com, footballoutsiders.com or profootballfocus.com unless otherwise noted