2012 NFL Preseason Awards: The Best and Worst Performances
With the NFL preseason now at a close, we're almost ready for some real, full-octane, high-impact regular-season football. But before we get to that, we've got to cast our minds back just a touch to the games that have already been played.
For many full-time starters, these preseason games will have been little more than an extended part of their buildup to the regular season—a chance to tune up their bodies and their game play in time to hit the ground running in Week 1.
For many other players, these games were everything—the reason they made or missed the 53-man rosters that every team had to get down to by the end of the week.
With that in mind, let's hand out a few awards as recognition for the hard work and impressive play of some of these players. We'll also hand out a few awards for the turkeys that we saw this preseason, so it's not all good!
MVP: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
No player has done more for themselves this preseason than Russell Wilson has since being drafted. Taken in the third round, Wilson was nothing more than a nice value-selection at draft time, but he figured to be the long-term development prospect while incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and newly signed free agent Matt Flynn battled it out for the starting spot in the Pacific Northwest.
The Seahawks were quickly so enamored with Wilson's play that they declared the QB job an open, three-man competition—something that virtually never happens in the NFL. Wilson was showing every day in practice that he was more than just a long-term prospect and was capable of taking the job now.
When live games rolled around, he didn't slow up and showed exactly the same thing, eventually winning the starting job on the back of his play, causing Tarvaris Jackson to be released and leaving Matt Flynn to warm the bench for a second franchise.
G GS Comp Att Pct Yds Avg TD Int Sck SckY Rate TOTAL 4 2 40 63 63.5 536 8.5 5 1 3
Wilson ended the preseason having thrown for more than 500 yards, with a 63.5 completion percentage and a QB rating of 110.3 on over 60 attempts. He also accounted for six touchdowns to just a single interception, and will head into Week 1 as the unquestioned starter for the Seattle Seahawks.
That is how you do preseason.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona
Since that point he has been completely unable to nail down a starting spot—if anything, he has been getting worse as time goes on.
This preseason was the lowest point for Kolb, with his poor play reaching practically comic proportions. It's left him sitting on the bench, as John Skelton has been named the starter for Week 1 by Ken Whisenhunt.
Watching Kolb against Tennessee makes you realize exactly why that decision was made, as he had the kind of happy feet that destroys plays in an instant—not to mention some decision making that would make even the most inept of quarterbacks feel a little better about themselves.
In the end, Kolb came into this preseason with a chance to cement himself as the starter and begin to pay back a franchise that really went out on a limb with some significant money and trade consideration to get him from the Eagles. He ends the preseason looking like a complete disaster, and losing his job to a guy who looks far from capable.
How can a franchise get an evaluation so wrong?
Offensive Player of Preseason: Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia
When there is a logjam at a position and several of those players are excelling, the battle becomes a fight for a roster spot, and the best performances on the field tend to win out in the end.
Mike Kafka broke his hand in the preseason and Trent Edwards began to catch fire in his stead, throwing for 489 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. With the wealth of NFL experience Edwards had, Nick Foles needed to play well to show that he could be the primary backup as a rookie—and play well, he certainly did.
Foles surpassed Edwards' numbers across the board, throwing for 553 yards, six touchdowns and was a major part of the Eagles' undefeated run through the preseason. He found himself at or very near the top of the quarterback leaderboard statistically for the preseason and did as much as anyone could be reasonably expected to achieve for his first outing in the NFL.
The Eagles subsequently released Mike Kafka, but held onto both Trent Edwards and Foles, showing that a strong preseason can not only win you a roster spot, but solidify your position on the depth chart.
Defensive Player of Preseason: Quinton Coples, DE, New York Jets
Quinton Coples came out of college with a reputation as a big-time talent that needed to work on his motivation. Well, Rex Ryan is exactly the kind of coach who prides himself on being able to ride players like that to get the best out of them.
While it didn't work with Vernon Gholston, Ryan's tactics seem to be working for Aaron Maybin, another former top pick considered a bust before Ryan got his hands on him. It looks like it might for Coples, too.
Rex Ryan sees Coples having a major role in the Jets defense this season, and he wants him to be ready for it and prepared to play his heart out in that role. Ryan kept on his star defender in the preseason, running him with the first team, but also sending him on with the backups later in the game from the bench so that he would stay focused.
Coples responded with arguably the best preseason from any pass-rusher, accounting for 4.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles, including the one you see above on Cam Newton against the Panthers. In case you missed last season, Cam Newton is not an easy takedown.
It looks like, at least for the moment, the Jets will be proved right by gambling on a guy like Coples, and Rex Ryan may have a steal on his hands, because few doubted his massive ability at draft time.
Biggest Bust: Mike Adams, OT, Pittsburgh
Preseason can be about winning jobs, but it can also be about losing them. Mike Adams has played himself right out of any chance of starting right away for the Steelers with some truly ugly play.
He debuted against the Eagles—which is usually a recipe for a tough night for an offensive tackle—and allowed a pair of strip-sacks on QB Ben Roethlisberger in a nine-play stretch before leaving injured.
That injury proved to be a mild MCL sprain; not the kind of injury that would keep a player out of the starting lineup. Nevertheless, Adams has been relegated to the second string as Pittsburgh desperately scrambles for a viable left tackle to protect its star quarterback.
It's obviously way too early to declare anybody a long-term NFL bust, but in terms of preseason alone, Mike Adams has earned that moniker.
Comeback Player of Preseason: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver
He has looked rusty at times, but in the big, third preseason game, Peyton Manning threw for 122 yards, completing 10-of-12 attempts and scoring a pair of touchdowns when all of the starters were in the game.
That was the first look at the old Peyton Manning, albeit in his new orange Broncos uniform.
There aren't many quarterbacks who have been as good as Manning has been over his career—arguably none. After taking a year off from injury, it is no easy task to come back and compete at a high level, especially at Manning's age. That being said, he looks like he will return to form, and his final preseason performance was enough to earn him the comeback player award.
It may take some getting used to—Peyton Manning in an orange uniform rather than the Colts' white and blue—but it doesn't look like it's going to be long before the Manning we are all familiar with is playing like we all remember.
Worst Performance: Wayne Hunter, OT, New York Jets
It's not often a guy puts together a game that was so bad it essentially gets him traded, but that's exactly what Wayne Hunter (formerly of the New York Jets, now with the Rams) did against the Giants in the second preseason game.
Now, nobody went into this preseason with illusions of Hunter as some kind of All-Pro tackle. In fact, it was pretty clear that he was single-handedly responsible for a lot of Mark Sanchez's struggles last season. However, it was still impressive to see how comprehensively he was abused by the Giants in this game.
Every player the Giants put up against him was able to beat the big man while using a variety of different moves and techniques. It was like an extended practice session for the G-men, except instead of blocking sleds and inflatable dummies, they were rushing around, through and right over Wayne Hunter.
The worst performance of the preseason!