Week 2 NFL MVP, Award Rankings
We established last week that it's never too early to start projecting major NFL award winners. It's an exercise yours truly will undergo on a weekly basis throughout the 2017 regular season, because speculating on awards is damn fun.
It was actually easier to put this thing together before games had been played because we could review preseason futures odds and list the perceived front-runners. Now, we're drawing conclusions based on a tiny sample size.
As a result, some weird names are listed—names which almost certainly won't appear here in December or January. The Jacksonville Jaguars won't go 16-0, the Los Angeles Rams won't score an NFL-record 736 points and Alex Smith won't be the MVP.
But—spoiler alert—he is right now.
Here's where the league stands from an awards perspective with the regular season around 6 percent complete. Look away if you loathe the Kansas City Chiefs.
Coach of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: Unranked)
Not only did Reid's Chiefs slay Bill Belichick's New England Patriots in the defending Super Bowl champion's prime-time home opener, but they did so thanks in part to Reid's excellent offensive game plan.
His play calls had a vulnerable defense on its heels throughout the night. Offensive standouts Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill had to execute, but Reid put his offense in a prime position to succeed.
What's more, the entire team was ready for New England and its decorated quarterback. That's saying a lot because the Pats rarely lose at home. In fact, they'd done so just twice in the previous four seasons in games in which Tom Brady was the primary quarterback.
Brady entered the season as the favorite to win MVP, but he was able to complete only 16 of 36 passes in what was his second-lowest-rated game since the start of 2015.
Entering this season, home teams had won 13 of the last 14 Thursday night season openers. It's hard to overcome that atmosphere on the road, especially when your opponent has just raised a Super Bowl banner. But Reid's Chiefs overcame that and an ugly start before beating the league's best team by 15.
For that, he's the no-brainer Coach of the Year here...in mid-September.
No. 2 Contender: Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams (Last Week: Unranked)
"I'm tired of hearing how talented we are," Marrone told Peter King of The MMQB recently. "When they say that, you're usually not winning. I told our team, 'I'm tired of hearing about our talent. Until you guys win, that doesn't mean crap.'"
Well, they won in impressive fashion Sunday, beating the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans 29-7 on the road.
Meanwhile, McVay—the youngest head coach in modern NFL history—squeezed 30 points out of an offense that averaged a league-low 14 a game under a different regime last season.
He got more out of young quarterback Jared Goff than anyone could have expected based on last year's dumpster fire. That is more than enough to be considered a strong early-season candidate.
Comeback Player of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs OLB Justin Houston (Last Week: 2nd)
Again, it wasn't all about the offense when Kansas City shocked the Super Bowl favorite last Thursday. That D made life difficult for Brady and Co., and Houston led the way.
The four-time Pro Bowler missed all but five games last season and five more in 2015 due to persisting problems with his left knee. He got fully healthy this offseason, though, and took an early lead in the Comeback Player of the Year race thanks to a two-sack, four-tackle performance in the opener.
All of Houston's tackles came within four yards of the line of scrimmage, and both of his sacks came in crunch time. Per Pro Football Focus, he had five pressures as well as an impressive six run stops.
That has him in early contention for Defensive Player of the Year, which makes him the obvious leader of the pack here.
No. 2 Contender: Oakland Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch (Last Week: 3rd)
No. 3 Contender: Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen (Last Week: Unranked)
Neither of their numbers jump off the page, but they both sent messages that they're back. The unretired Lynch rediscovered #beastmode on several key occasions while picking up 92 scrimmage yards on 19 touches. And Allen caught five passes as well as a big fourth-quarter touchdown in what was only his 10th game in the last three years.
J.J. Watt, Adrian Peterson, Rob Gronkowski, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Decker, Desmond Trufant, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Brandon Marshall and Todd Gurley remain candidates, but Lynch and Allen are the top runners-up for now.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt (Last Week: Unranked)
There are already some stellar siblings in the NFL, including Michael and Martellus Bennett, Mychal and Eric Kendricks, Jason and Travis Kelce, Matt and Ryan Kalil and, of course, the Gronkowski boys. But it might only be a matter of time before we view T.J. and J.J. Watt the way we once saw legendary pro football siblings like Bruce and Clay Matthews, Tiki and Ronde Barber and Peyton and Eli Manning.
The younger Watt got off to one of the best starts imaginable Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, picking up two sacks, an interception and seven tackles in his first NFL game.
The Steelers don't usually rush rookies along, but they're obviously confident their first-round pick is ready to dominate right away. He was on the field for virtually the entire game, and that should continue going forward.
With more highly touted first-rounders Myles Garrett and Reuben Foster dealing with injuries, Watt is a good bet.
No. 2 Contender: Arizona Cardinals LB Haason Reddick (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: New York Jets S Jamal Adams (Last Week: 3rd)
The Cardinals had an ugly loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 1, but Reddick was a bright spot. He flashed with 10 tackles (two for a loss) in a semi-regular role, which garnered praise from tough-to-please Cards head coach Bruce Arians.
"He was outstanding," Arians said, per Kyle Odegard of the team's official website. "He's one of those young guys that played extremely well. He got the one penalty with hands to the face, but he was going full-speed. He's fast, and he's going to be a heck of a player."
Meanwhile, Adams retains his pre-Week 1 spot after pleasing his own head coach despite not putting up splashy numbers against the Buffalo Bills.
"I thought Jamal had an outstanding game," Jets coach Todd Bowles said, according to Newsday's Anthony Rieber. "His eyes were good, he was physical, he played very smart...His reads were good. Everything he did, he did it the right way. He made tackles when opportunities presented themselves, and he made the plays he was supposed to make. So he had a good ballgame."
Offensive Rookie of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt (Previous Week: Unranked)
Probably could have written this one late Thursday night, because no rookies were likely to top the performance Hunt put together in Kansas City's season-opening victory over New England.
Sure, that Patriots defense was in bad shape, but we're still talking about a Belichick-coached unit at home. Hunt still had to eat what was put in front of him. The third-round pick out of Toledo did exactly that with 246 yards from scrimmage, setting a record for an NFL debut.
Hunt ranks first in the league in rushing and seventh in receiving yards. Only two running backs had more scrimmage yards in a single game last season.
Sustainable? Of course not. But even if the 22-year-old can put up numbers half as strong as those on a regular basis over the next 16 weeks, he'll likely beat out bigger names like Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson in order to win this award.
If that happens, he'll be the first non-first-round pick in over a decade to do so.
There's always something magical happening in that Kansas City backfield.
No. 2 Contender: Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (Previous Week: 3rd)
No. 3 Contender: Chicago Bears RB Tarik Cohen (Previous Week: Unranked)
Cook didn't create headlines like Hunt, but he also shined in his debut. In fact, his 127 rushing yards set a record for a Vikings debut, and he still came away leading the NFC in that category. He's in for a monster year, as expected.
Less expected was the start the Bears got from Cohen, who compiled 113 scrimmage yards on only 13 touches and 28 snaps. Don't be surprised if the fourth-round pick eventually steals Jordan Howard's job, or if he keeps competing with Hunt, Cook, Fournette and McCaffrey here.
It looks as though it'll be a special year for entry-level running backs.
Defensive Player of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Jaguars DE Calais Campbell (Last Week: Unranked)
After taking Houston Texans quarterbacks down four times in a dominant Week 1 performance, Campbell is on pace for 64 sacks this season. Nobody's had 23 in a single year, and Campbell has never had a double-digit-sack campaign in his nine-year career, so that pace was cited facetiously. Still, you can't deny a guy coming off an opener like that.
The longtime Arizona Cardinal signed a big-money deal with the Jags in March, and that began to pay off immediately with a performance in which he had eight total pressures, per PFF.
Nobody's capable of maintaining the pace he's on to start the year, but Campbell has always been underrated. He still might be in his prime at 31, and it looks like he's a tremendous fit for a defense that used him in multiple spots Sunday.
He has a solid lead out of the gate.
No. 2 Contender: Baltimore Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Chiefs LB Justin Houston (Last Week: Unranked)
We could have gone with three members of the Jaguars defensive line. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue had a pair of strip-sacks, and end Dante Fowler Jr. had a strip-sack as well as a touchdown on a fumble return.
But the 34-year-old Suggs had a pair of sacks, and his second-half strip-sack inside the 10-yard line set the tone for a shutout performance from the Baltimore D.
Houston was all over the place for Kansas City against the supposedly mighty Patriots.
Offensive Player of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (Last Week: Unranked)
Few quarterbacks have ever started a season the way Smith did against New England, which is amazing considering it was fair to wonder about his job security in front of rookie Patrick Mahomes II entering the season.
The oft-maligned former No. 1 overall pick completed 80 percent of his 35 passes, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt on a four-touchdown, zero-interception evening. Although he's long possessed a reputation for being overly conservative, Smith also completed three of the four 20-plus-yard passes he attempted for a total of 178 yards, per PFF.
Small sample, but that's all we have to look at right now. It was a near-flawless performance against the league's best team, on the road, in their prime-time opener. Enough said.
No. 2 Contender: Vikings QB Sam Bradford (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown (Last Week: Unranked)
Bradford is right there with Smith after an equally phenomenal performance (27-of-32, 10.8 yards per attempt, three touchdowns, no turnovers, double-digit win), but he put up those numbers against one of the league's worst defenses. It'll take another big performance against the Steelers in Week 2 for him to potentially become a top contender.
Elsewhere, Brown carried an otherwise-dull Steelers offense with 11 catches on 11 targets for 182 yards in Pittsburgh's closer-than-expected Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns. As a result, his receiving numbers are already head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (Last Week: Unranked)
This article contains eight photographs, and six are of members of the Chiefs. That's what happens when you upend the kings of the castle in Week 1.
The Patriots had the NFL's best odds of going undefeated, to the point that Vegas was taking bets on the team going 19-0, but instead New England ran into a Reid-, Hunt-, Hill-, Houston- and Smith-led Chiefs team. Now it's fair to wonder if this might be Kansas City's year.
I know, I know. One week. But again, that's all we can use in this spot, and it only makes sense to have the standout quarterback for the week's standout team as the MVP when that week is all we're assessing.
You have to think this will change a lot over the course of the year, but it's clear-cut entering Week 2.
No. 2 Contender: Vikings QB Sam Bradford (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford (Last Week: Unranked)
Smith was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week, while Bradford was the NFC Player of the Week. They're the faces of the first week of the 2017 season.
The third spot is up for grabs, and for now we're giving it to Stafford because he just might be a wizard. The dude led yet another fourth-quarter comeback to help the Lions beat the Cardinals on Sunday, giving him nine in his last 17 games.
Only one other quarterback in football has more than five during that span.