Is it getting any easier to identify the favorites for every NFL major award in 2012, or is it instead becoming one big jumbled mess?
In Week 3 action, we saw Jamaal Charles finally explode for the Kansas City Chiefs, Ben Roethlisberger had a big day throwing four touchdown passes and A.J. Green caught nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Individually strong games are noteworthy, but we are more interested in trying to locate the players that have been playing consistently above the rest as we attempt to identify who the leading candidates are for each of the major NFL awards at the end of the year.
*Please note that this presentation is being submitted for publishing prior to the Monday Night Football matchup
RG3 is running away with Offensive ROY so far in 2012
After three weeks, Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is running away with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Out of the five rookie quarterbacks starting from the 2012 NFL draft class, Griffin is easily the best and most effective player from the group. In the updated passer ratings, Griffin is ranked No. 6, followed by a big drop-off to the next tier.
Russell Wilson (Seattle) is No. 22, Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) is No. 26, Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) is No. 30 and Ryan Tannehill (Miami) is No. 32.
In addition to sitting in the top 10 of all NFL quarterback ratings, Griffin is also ranked as the No. 15 rusher (by yards) in the NFL. Griffin has picked up 209 yards on 32 rushes and scored three rushing touchdowns. That is another reason why he is so far ahead of the rest of the field.
Of the rookie wide receivers, none of them are currently ranked in the top 60 for receiving yards, so their impact to date has been rather limited. The highest ranked rookie receiver is Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery at No. 63, but nine catches for 132 yards and one touchdown in three games is not necessarily the stuff of Rookie of the Year material.
As for running backs, that is a different story. Griffin's teammate, Alfred Morris, is ranked as the No. 8 rusher in the NFL. He has run the ball 61 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Trailing Morris on the running back leader board is Doug Martin (Tampa Bay) at No. 12, Griffin at No.15 and Lamar Miller (Miami) at No. 32.
Jerrell Freeman is off to a good start for the Colts
As for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Indianapolis Colts LB Jerrell Freeman is still performing better than any of his competitors. Freeman has tallied 27 tackles on the year, which ranks him at No. 14 in the NFL. He has added an interception (which was a pick-six) and a forced fumble to his early-season production.
Playing in front of a national audience on SNF, the trio of rookie defenders Dont'a Hightower (New England), Chandler Jones (New England) and Courtney Upshaw (Baltimore) had an opportunity to showcase their talents. The trio combined for 11 tackles, but the rest of the stat sheet was empty, as none of them did much to take advantage of their opportunity to shine.
Detroit Lions LB Tahir Whitehead and Jones are still tied for the NFL lead with two forced fumbles after three weeks.
This competition is sure to see other players jump up into the mix for consideration down the road.
Jamaal Charles now leads the NFL in rushing.
The three candidates that seemed to be leading for Comeback Player of the Year after Week 2 were Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford.
That seemed to be confirmed from the majority of comments we received last week, but I am starting to wonder how much consideration Peterson will truly receive for the award. His injury occurred toward the end of the 2011 season and he did participate in 12 games. The very nature of Peterson's comeback seems reason enough to be considered for the award.
But when you realize that he gained 970 yards running the ball last year, is he coming back from a poor season? Obviously not, so these issues will be up to the voters to decide and appropriately ponder.
A newcomer in this discussion is Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles. Charles had a huge game in Week 3, as he ran the ball 33 times for 233 yards and one touchdown. Charles had a 91-yard gallop against the New Orleans Saints defense that helped pad his big day. Charles had only gained 90 yards combined in his first two games, but he is now the NFL's leading rusher.
Manning had a so-so game game Sunday against the tough Houston Texans defense. He only completed half of his pass attempts (26-of-52) and threw for two touchdowns against no interceptions. He was able to lead the Broncos to two touchdown drives against a very good Texans defense in the fourth quarter, so that has to account for something. At least he didn't come up with multiple interceptions this week, so that is a positive as well.
After two weeks, Bradford was ranked in the top five of all NFL quarterbacks, but Week 3 was a disaster for him. Bradford threw two interceptions, no touchdowns and was sacked six times by the Chicago Bears defense. All of this resulted in a QB passer rating of 39.2, and Bradford has plummeted all the way down to No. 20 in the league as a result.
Ken Whisenhunt has led his Cardinals to a 3-0 start
Who is the NFL's best head coach right now? There are only three teams still undefeated, and they are the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons.
I can guarantee you nobody would have predicted the Arizona Cardinals as an undefeated squad through three weeks of football, especially considering their starting quarterback situation. But here we are looking at a team that has defeated three pretty good teams in Seattle, New England and Philadelphia. The Cardinals have now won 10 of their last 12 regular season games, which includes going 4-0 in overtime during the stretch.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt has established himself as the leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year so far.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak have to be applauded for their great starts to 2012, but to be honest, both of their teams were expected to be good this season. The Arizona Cardinals are a much bigger surprise than either of the Falcons or Texans.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had an ugly incident after New England's most recent tilt with Baltimore, as he tried to grab the arm of a running replacement official after the game for an explanation. It will taint his season no matter how and where the Patriots finish.
Chan Gailey of the Buffalo Bills has lost his No. 1 and No. 2 running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but the Bills are still tied with Washington for the NFL lead with an average gain of 5.6 yards per rush. They also lead the NFL with allowing only one sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick so far.
The Bills have a big test against Belichick and Tom Brady this coming Sunday. A win against the Patriots and starting 3-1 would be a big feather in Gailey's cap for Coach of the Year consideration.
Matt Ryan has played at a superior level in 2012
Prior to Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller suffering a shoulder injury in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns, I saw Spiller as the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year. But the shoulder injury knocked Spiller out of the rushing lead, and he will sit out Week 4 against the New England Patriots at least.
The Spiller injury results in elevating Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan to my No. 1 Offensive Player of the Year slot. Ryan has played at a high level and has been very consistent as well. I would be hard-pressed to think of any other player that is playing as well as Ryan right now.
There are some other players that have a chance to overtake Ryan in the coming weeks, however.
Quarterbacks to consider are Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota). Robert Griffin III is running away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but I doubt he can grab both offensive player of the year awards.
From a running back perspective, Jamaal Charles entered the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award picture with his huge Week 3. Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville) has quietly worked his way up to the No. 2 running back rank in the league without the benefit of a full training camp. So much for the comparisons to last year's Chris Johnson holdout scenario.
Wide receivers Calvin Johnson, (Detroit) and A.J. Green (Cincinnati) are the only receivers that are averaging over 100 yards per game so far this year.
There is still plenty of time for other players to step up and enter this race, but these are the players that have impressed me most so far to date.
J.J. Watt has been a monster so far in 2012
In this space last week, we featured Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews. Matthews is playing in the Monday Night Football game, so we won't know how well he did until tomorrow, since this will already be published prior to the game. We feel strongly that Matthews will be in the running for this award all year.
Instead, this week we are highlighting the great start of Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt. Watt has been a monster so far this year. Watt is second in the NFL with 5.5 sacks, trailing Matthews by 0.5 sacks.
In addition, Watt has registered 15 tackles, but the factor that has me most intrigued is that he has deflected five passes already, as a defensive lineman. Those deflections can easily result in a turnover. Watt is tied for No. 9 in that category and is the only defensive lineman in the top 20. Watt also has a recovered fumble to his credit.
The third player we need to talk about is Chicago Bears CB Tim Jennings. Jennings leads the NFL with four interceptions and his nine pass deflections also leads the league. What is curious about this development is that teams appear to be throwing in Jennings' direction an awful lot for him to make a play on the ball so often.
So, is Jennings that good, or is he that bad, if you know what I mean? I am thinking that teams will start looking to throw at somebody else in the Bears secondary.
As for the NFL Most Valuable Player award, after three weeks, I see the race boiling down to these five candidates:
1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons QB. Ryan has the Falcons offense humming this year. Ryan leads the NFL in passer rating because he has a multi-dimensional offense that allows him to distribute the ball all around the field. As long as the Falcons offense continues to do well on the ground and in the air, Ryan will be getting the accolades.
2. Eli Manning, New York Giants QB. Manning leads the NFL in passing yards and has picked up right where he left off last year. It doesn't seem to matter if starters are missing, Manning just finds a way to keep the team rolling.
3. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens QB. Flacco proved again how his game is improving by leading the Ravens to a dramatic win against the New England Patriots. It would be two straight wins against the Patriots if he had a better field-goal kicker last season. As it is, Flacco still needs to prove himself week in and week out, as he has his share of detractors.
4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions WR. Where would the Lions be without Calvin Johnson? Despite double- or triple-team schemes, Johnson finds a way to get open and come down with the ball. He is the best wideout in football and continues to prove it each passing week.
5. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers LB. Matthews has been the most dynamic force so far in the NFL this year. The Packers offense has been struggling—at least compared to how they performed in 2011—and Matthews has been keeping the Packers in games. Although it is highly unlikely that a defensive player would win the MVP award, I have to acknowledge what a great start Matthews has had to his season.