Last week we came out with the first installment of this weekly presentation, which was created to gauge how the major NFL award races are taking shape on a weekly basis as we progress through the 2012 season.
Based on the feedback from Week 1, some people had trouble understanding the concept in place here. Rather than focus on the perennial or preseason favorites for every major award, and how those players are performing, we instead are turning our attention to who are the "actual best performers" around the NFL as opposed to who are the most popular players based on reputation.
We expect that the names will continue to shift and change as we go through this exercise every week. For the names that continue to surface every week, we can only hope or trust that they will be receiving votes at the end of the year from the various voters who are in charge of rewarding the players for their efforts.
It would be foolish to suggest that any player being mentioned after two weeks will win the award, and that isn't what we are suggesting. We are merely stating that after two weeks, these are the players that are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and should be earning some consideration for their play to date.
While some readers commented last week about "Over-Reaction Monday," the fact remains that we are focused on reacting to the performances on the field and giving credit where it is due. Nothing more and nothing less.
Last week, Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III went far ahead of the pack with his stellar Week 1 performance against the New Orleans Saints on the road. In Week 2, Griffin continued his excellent play by passing for 206 yards as he completed 20 of 29 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Griffin also ran the ball 11 times for another 82 yards and two touchdowns. He kept his team in the game and looks very much like he belongs as an NFL starting quarterback.
One factor to consider about Griffin is the Week 2 developments to the Redskins' defensive unit. The team lost DE Adam Carriker for the rest of the year due to a knee injury and LB Brian Orakpo to a pectoral injury. That strips the Redskins defense of two weapons, which will create even more of a need for Griffin to continue to throw the ball to keep Washington competitive.
Out of the other rookie quarterbacks from the 2012 draft class, Russell Wilson (Seattle), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) and Ryan Tannehill (Miami) all won their first game as an NFL starting QB in Week 2 action. Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) didn't win but did lead the Browns to 27 points and demonstrated strong improvement over his dismal Week 1 start.
Another Redskins rookie off to a good start is RB Alfred Morris. Morris is No. 8 in the NFL in rushing with 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns after his first two games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin gained 66 yards on 20 carries Sunday against the New York Giants. He scored his first NFL touchdown and is currently ranked as the No. 12 rusher in the NFL with 161 yards for the season.
Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson had 109 yards rushing on Sunday and picked up another 36 yards as a receiver, easily his best game on the young season. Richardson gave notice that he is now clearly going to be entering the Offensive Rookie of the Year race as well.
Another rookie RB turned in a solid game on Sunday. That belonged to St. Louis Rams RB Daryl Richardson, who has gained 103 yards over the first two games on just 17 rushes, averaging a very impressive 6.06 yards per rush.
The highest-ranked rookie receiver right now is Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener, who has caught eight passes for 98 yards. Safe to say that none of the receivers would be viewed as a favorite for the award right now. For what it is worth, Fleener is ranked as the No. 52 receiver in the NFL.
While I concede that it is an extreme long shot for an offensive lineman to be considered for Offensive Rookie of the Year, I need to give some kudos to Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn for his solid play so far. Glenn has opened up some big holes for the NFL's leading rusher, C.J. Spiller, and Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't been sacked once yet, so Glenn has done a commendable job so far.
Jerrell Freeman is off to a fast start in 2012.
For the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, we do have some players who have stepped it up over the first two weeks.
Before we address what he has done so far this year, I want to give you a little background on Indianapolis Colts LB Jerrell Freeman. Well, at least I think he still qualifies as a rookie. Freeman was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2008, but he never appeared in an NFL game with them. He then played in the CFL, where he led the league in tackles in 2011. Now he is back in the NFL and has played in his first two games as an NFL rookie with the Colts.
What has Freeman done with his new opportunity? Well, in two games, Freeman has registered 18 tackles, has one sack, forced a fumble, came up with an interception, scored a touchdown on a pick-six and deflected a pass. That is what I call filling up the stat sheet, and that is why I put him in the early lead for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
New England Patriots DE Chandler Jones has turned in a strong start to his season with 10 tackles, one sack and two forced two fumbles already. The two forced fumbles ties him for the lead in the NFL with four other players.
Another rookie that has made an impact is Detroit Lions LB Tahir Whitehead, who also is tied with Jones for the NFL lead with two forced fumbles on the year. Whitehead was drafted in the fifth round by Detroit and is only receiving snaps on a situational basis, but he is taking advantage of the snaps he receives. The funny thing is that Whitehead has only been credited with one tackle on the year, yet has two forced fumbles...hmmm.
Did Sam Bradford just enter the Comeback Player of the Year race?
From Week 1 we determined that Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson will likely be very much in the running because of what they had to overcome to get ready for this year and how well they performed in the first week of the 2012 season. One week later and the landscape has started changing already.
We were getting comfortable with the idea of engraving Manning's name on the Comeback Player of the Year award before he threw three interceptions in the first three drives of the Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons. He threw some pretty weak passes up in the middle of the field and the Falcons kept picking them off, one after another. That is one sure way to tell the engraver to halt whatever he is doing.
So who are some other contenders for the award? Let's examine St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. He had an absolutely miserable 2011 season, as he finished the year with an offense that scored fewer points than any other team. He had six touchdowns, six interceptions, was sacked 36 times and his QB passer rating ranked No. 30 in the NFL.
In the 2012 season, Bradford has made a quantum jump. He is ranked in the top five in passer rating, has thrown four touchdowns to only one interception and is completing 71 percent of his passes. He looks like he is playing with more confidence and is enjoying playing under Jeff Fisher.
As for Peterson, he turned in a respectable 80 combined yards from scrimmage over a total of 19 touches but didn't score a touchdown.
San Francisco 49ers WR Randy Moss had only one catch in Week 2 so his candidacy is taking a nose dive based on how few snaps he is receiving currently with the 49ers. To be the comeback player you have to be relevant, and that is not how I would describe Moss's role in Week 2.
After Week 1 we cited Jim Harbaugh, Mike Shanahan, Rex Ryan, John Fox, Greg Schiano and Jason Garrett for the way that their teams played in Week 1.
After Week 2, we now have just six teams that are undefeated at 2-0 and five of those six coaches deserves some sort of consideration. I exclude Gary Kubiak for now, only because the Texans haven't been tested yet (wins over Miami and Jacksonville) so until they face a superior team, we will see how Kubiak and Houston respond to that challenge.
The other five undefeated teams are Philadelphia, San Diego, Arizona, San Francisco and Atlanta. Let's look at each of these coaches.
For Andy Reid and Norv Turner, each of them are dealing with the as much pressure as possible as they were basically told by ownership that they must produce in 2012 or else they will be fired. It's interesting that both teams have responded to the situation.
The Eagles rallied late to nip Baltimore, and have defied NFL logic by turning the ball over nine times combined in two wins. Sooner or later the law of averages will catch up to them. The Chargers have defeated two weaker AFC opponents in Tennessee and Oakland, so they are waiting for a stiffer challenge as well.
The biggest surprise team has to be the Arizona Cardinals because nobody believed that they would win on the road against Tom Brady. Ken Whisenhunt survived the starting quarterback battle from the preseason, lost his starter John Skelton to an ankle injury and has defeated two quality teams in the Seahawks and the Patriots. Beating New England is one thing, but doing it with Larry Fitzgerald catching only one pass for four yards is something else. I would have to say that Whisenhunt has the early lead.
Then we look at San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers have faced two teams that were in the 2011 playoffs in Detroit and Green Bay, and they handily won both games. The 49ers look to be a balanced team on offense, and Alex Smith looks even better at quarterback this year. Harbaugh has done a masterful job in San Francisco, and if they continue winning, he will be strongly considered for Coach of the Year.
Atlanta head coach Mike Smith does a very solid job with the Falcons, and he continues to coach well in the regular season, but everybody wants to know when he will guide his team to a playoff win.
From the rest of the pack of the remaining 26 teams, there are two other head coaches that I want to pay attention to this week. First up is Jeff Fisher, who has done a great job of turning around the St. Louis Rams. In 2011, the Rams were dead last in the NFL as the offense averaged only 12.1 points per game. This year, Fisher has the Rams averaging 27 points a game, which is good for No. 12 in the NFL. Sam Bradford is playing with much greater confidence, and that can be attributed to Fisher.
The other head coach I want to applaud is Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano. Sure, that was a questionable call to try to cause Eli Manning to fumble when the Giants were in victory formation, but that is the point with Schiano. He has the Bucs playing tough, hard-nosed football, and they have quickly turned around the image of a team that lost their final 10 games of the 2011 season.
C.J. Spiller is breaking out in his third year in NFL.
Out of the four names mentioned above, C.J. Spiller has continued his pace to show that he is headed toward a breakout season. Spiller leads the NFL in rushing with 292 yards on 29 carries, which comes out to an average of 10.1 yards per rush. He is tied with Arian Foster for the lead with three rushing touchdowns. Spiller also has four rushes of 20-plus yards, while nobody else has more than two. He also leads the NFL in combined yards from scrimmage with 364 yards after two games.
A tip of the hat to Chris Brown at Buffalo Bills.com for the following information on Spiller's start to the 2012 season:
Jim Brown is still widely regarded as the greatest running back to ever play the game, but for first two games of a season C.J. Spiller is right there with him in yards per carry average for the first two games of a season.
With his 123-yard rushing day Sunday in the win over the Chiefs, Spiller is the first NFL player to average 10-yards per carry or more in the first two games of a season since Jim Brown in 1963 (minimum 25 total attempts).
Brown in 1963 averaged 394 yards on 35 carries for an average of 11.26 yards per carry. Spiller is 292 yards on 29 carries for an average of 10.06 per carry.
As for other Offensive Player of the Year candidates, we have RB Reggie Bush coming on strong with the Miami Dolphins. Bush gained 172 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns. He seems like a much more confident running back in Miami than he ever was in New Orleans. Perhaps getting the majority of the carries is what he needed for his career to take off, as he was asked to split too much of the load with the other Saints backs.
From a quarterback standpoint, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Eli Manning of the New York Giants have turned in good starts to their 2012 season. Yes, Eli did have the three interceptions in Week 2, but he more than made up for that by throwing for a career-high 510 yards.
Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz both turned in outstanding efforts in Week 2 and find themselves atop the receiving leaderboards.
Clay Matthews racks up another sack.
In front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football, LB Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers made a very impressive statement that he is playing like he wants to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Matthews already has six sacks on the year after two games, which is an incredible pace. Nobody else in the league has more than three sacks so far.
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is turning in one monster game after another so far this year. After two weeks, check this out; Watt has eight tackles, three sacks, five deflected passes and five quarterback hits. He is just one of the reasons why the Texans have such a strong defense.
San Francisco LB NaVorro Bowman has turned in a solid start to his year with 19 tackles, three deflected passes and one interception. He is clearly a leader on the 49ers defense, which has been superb so far in 2012.
CB Tim Jennings of the Chicago Bears leads the NFL in interceptions with three and deflected passes with six.
LB Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys leads the league with 26 tackles.
S Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens has two interceptions and is playing like he's 25 as the Ravens last line of defense.
Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning were ranked No 1 and No. 2 coming into MNF.
During the last five years, both the AP and the Pro Football Writer's Association have decided to award the NFL MVP trophy to strictly quarterbacks, as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have each won it twice and Aaron Rodgers won it last year.
With five straight quarterback winners, will that trend be broken in 2012 or continue to be extended? Too soon to tell, but there sure are a lot of passes being thrown all over the league.
After two weeks of action, who is performing like they deserve to be ahead in the MVP award consideration?
Coming into the Monday Night Football contest between Atlanta and Denver, the top five rated quarterbacks in the NFL from a QB passer rating perspective are: Matt Ryan (136.4), Peyton Manning (129.2), Alex Smith (115.9), Sam Bradford (112.4) and Robert Griffin III (111.6). I don't believe that many people are overly surprised to see either Ryan or Manning there, but the inclusion of Smith, Bradford and RG3 in the top five has to be considered surprising.
Based on the results of the first two weeks, I would have to say the leaders for MVP are Matt Ryan, Alex Smith and C.J. Spiller. Those three players have been playing at a high level for each of the first two weeks and are leading their teams' offensive attacks. Peyton Manning's ranking took a serious hit with his first-quarter mistakes against the Atlanta Falcons.
I also need to mention Eli Manning for his 510 yards of passing on Sunday, as that was a great show he put on. I could have done without the three interceptions, but nonetheless, his comeback effort is the kind of performance that will secure him some MVP votes or consideration.
What about the other players, the non-quarterbacks (besides Spiller)? The players that have stood out so far after the first two weeks are Miami RB Reggie Bush, New York Giants WRs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, St. Louis WR Danny Amendola and Green Bay LB Clay Matthews.
I don't want to shortchange any other noteworthy performances, but from the games and highlights that I have seen so far (and I am watching as much football as possible while still getting a little bit of sleep), those are the players who have stood out to me so far after two weeks.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. I'm looking forward to Week 3 action to see how these races continue to shape up.