NFL: Handing out Awards After First Quarter of Season
The first quarter of the 2013 NFL season has come to a close, and in some ways, it’s exactly like everyone expected.
The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are all undefeated. Adrian Peterson is running wild. And the Jacksonville Jaguars can’t buy a point.
Then again, in some ways the season is like none of us thought it would be.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants are 0-4. The New Orleans Saints actually have a good defense. And neither of last year’s Super Bowl quarterbacks looks like we remember.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that things won’t look the same after 12 more games. But for now, the following players deserve awards for the best performances.
NFL MVP: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
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Like a fine wine, Peyton Manning is literally getting better with age.
His arm strength may be diminishing, but he’s as efficient as ever. In fact, Manning’s four-game stretch thus far has been unparalleled by any quarterback in the history of the league.
He has thrown 16 touchdowns to no interceptions. He’s completing 75 percent of his pass attempts. His 138.0 passer rating is nearly 16 points higher than Aaron Rodgers’ single-season record.
And Manning has the Denver Broncos at a perfect 4-0 record with an offense that may challenge the 2007 New England Patriots for sheer domination.
Offensive Non-QB Player of Year: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
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Obviously Peyton Manning has also been the Offensive Player of the Year, so I decided to go a different way and select a non-quarterback.
Jimmy Graham is in just his fifth year ever of playing football, and he’s on track to break records at the tight end position.
Compare that to most NFL players, who have literally been playing since their youth football days.
Graham has athleticism that must keep defensive coordinators up at night. He’s a 6’7” former basketball player with tremendous leaping ability. He’s caught 27 passes for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Since his 45-yard output in Week 1, his numbers the last three weeks project to a season’s total of 123 catches, 2,203 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Defensive Player of Year: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions
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Ndamukong Suh is a major reason the Detroit Lions are 3-1 and tied for first place in the NFC North. He’s been a great player his whole career, but he has elevated his game to a whole new level in 2013.
Suh is outplaying even Geno Atkins as the league’s finest interior lineman. Suh has two sacks, a forced fumble and 11 tackles through four games. He’s racked up 22 quarterback hurries. Only three other defensive tackles have even picked up half of that.
Against the Chicago Bears last week, Suh was relentless for 60 minutes. He sacked Jay Cutler twice, pressured him five more times, totaled four tackles, and helped the Lions beat one of the league’s last unbeaten teams.
Special Teams Player of Year: Trindon Holliday, KR/PR, Denver Broncos
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How the Houston Texans cut this man last year is beyond me. Since entering the league a year ago, Trindon Holliday has returned nine kicks/punts for touchdowns. Nine.
He took back three for scores in the preseason. He added two more in the postseason after returning two in the regular season. And he has both a kick and a punt return score thus far in 2013, his last one coming in a 52-20 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oh, and the coolest Holliday fact? He’s undefeated in the regular season.
His Texans went 5-0 before releasing him. The Broncos won their last 11 last year and all four thus far this year. Ironically his only loss came in the postseason, when he returned two kicks for touchdowns.
Coach of Year: Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
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Marc Trestman was largely an unknown when the Chicago Bears acquired him in the offseason. He took over a team that possessed an otherworldly defense but lacked consistency on offense, mostly due to their offensive line struggles.
Through four games, the Bears are 3-1.
Cutler has been sacked just six times. Only two NFL teams have surrendered fewer sacks. The Bears did make some upgrades in the offseason, signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod from the New Orleans Saints and adding left guard Matt Slauson from the New York Jets. But the right side is anchored entirely by rookies (Kyle Long and Jordan Mills), and they’ve been a strength in Trestman’s offense.
Meanwhile, the defense has dropped off from last year, but the Bears are still leading the league in takeaways. They’re looking like a legitimate contender in the NFC.
Assistant Coach of Year: Rob Ryan, DC, New Orleans Saints
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Rob Ryan is looking like a genius at this point for the work he’s done with the New Orleans Saints.
A year ago, this unit was arguably the worst defense in the history of the National Football League. The Saints set an all-time record by giving up over 7,000 yards, and they rated 31st in scoring defense.
This year? The Saints are 4-0, and while Drew Brees has been phenomenal as usual, it’s been the defense that has shined. New Orleans is—unbelievably—fifth in scoring defense, having surrendered just 55 points. Ryan’s defense is sixth in yards allowed and fifth in passing yards allowed.
And Ryan has been doing this without his best playmakers.
The team lost pass-rushing linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler to ACL tears. But Ryan has been able to coax Junior Galette into being a dynamic force, and Cameron Jordan is playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Comeback Player of Year: Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Darrelle Revis hasn’t missed a beat since his devastating injury a year ago.
Coming back to start Week 1 was remarkable enough. But he’s playing fine football too.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Revis rates as the third-best cornerback in the NFL. He’s been targeted 22 times. Those pass attempts have led to just 102 yards, an average of fewer than five yards per throw. Revis was beaten for a touchdown, but he has an interception, and he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.
Offensive Rookie of Year: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
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The Houston Texans finally added a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver to complement playmaker Andre Johnson.
In fact, DeAndre Hopkins has been playing well enough that he could probably be a No. 1 on most teams.
Hopkins ranks third among all wide receivers in snaps played (289). He’s caught 20 of the 29 passes (69.0 percent) thrown his way for 270 yards and a touchdown. He hasn’t dropped a single pass. And he and Johnson give Houston one of the finest wide receiver duos in the game.
Defensive Rookie of Year: Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills
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The Buffalo Bills’ 2013 draft is looking like a huge hit for the franchise.
Quarterback EJ Manuel is playing like the Bills made the right pick when they chose him in the first round. Second-round receiver Robert Woods is playing regularly and performing well.
But linebacker Kiko Alonso is stealing the show.
He’s recorded four interceptions in four games. He leads all linebackers in interceptions. In fact, all of the other AFC linebackers have four interceptions combined. Alonso was a big factor in the Bills beating the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens a week ago, picking off Joe Flacco twice.
Breakout Offensive Player of Year: Cordy Glenn, OT, Buffalo Bills
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The Buffalo Bills have a strong core of young players, and left tackle Cordy Glenn is one of the best. Glenn is a second-year starter, and he’s en route to a Pro Bowl season.
Glenn has played every snap for the Bills thus far in 2013. He hasn’t given up a sack, and in fact, he's surrendered just one quarterback hurry. That’s vital for the development of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.
Glenn has been penalized four times already, but he’s Pro Football Focus’s fifth-rated offensive tackle (subscription required).
Breakout Defensive Player of Year: Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans
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He’s been largely under the radar, but Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner has been a shutdown cornerback for four games. The passing numbers against him are almost too good to be true.
Verner has been targeted 23 times. Just eight of those have been completed passes, which comes out to a 34.8 completion percentage. He’s intercepted four passes and recorded four additional pass breakups, which means opposing quarterbacks have posted a 12.9 passer rating.
In Week 4, Verner was the defender on four passes. None were completed. Verner intercepted two of them, and that was when he was tasked with covering No. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes.
Best Play: Richard Sherman’s Pick-Six
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Against the Houston Texans in Week 4, Richard Sherman made the play of the NFL week. He intercepted quarterback Matt Schaub with just over three minutes remaining and took it 58 yards to the house, tying the game (video).
Sherman said he made the exact same play in practice on Friday, and he sensed that Schaub was going to throw it there on that play. The Seattle Seahawks eventually won the game in overtime, preserving their undefeated season (4-0).
Sherman is establishing himself as arguably the best cornerback in the league. Whether you want Darrelle Revis or Sherman, Sherman certainly has the numbers to support his case. He hasn’t allowed a touchdown pass this season, he’s recorded two interceptions, and he’s the anchor of a 4-0 team.