Week 3 NFL MVP, Award Rankings
The sample size is growing.
Yes, it's still at least three months too early to predict who will win all of the major NFL awards. But now that all but two teams have played multiple games, we're at least beginning to get a feel for who the very-early-season front-runners are.
That's good news for yours truly, who is monitoring the race for MVP, Coach of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Offensive/Defensive Players/Rookies of the Year on a weekly basis. Like last week, some weird names are listed as a result of the fact it's comically early. But unlike last week, we can now cite a two-game sample for almost everyone involved.
Here's where the league stands from an awards perspective with the regular season around 12 percent complete.
Coach of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: First)
It's been a dream start for Reid, who opened the season by crushing the juggernaut New England Patriots on the road in prime time and then defeated his former team handily (despite the misleading one-score margin) in his squad's home opener.
One thing Reid's always excelled at is getting the most out of his offensive talent, and that's been exemplified a fortnight into the 2017 regular season. Quarterback Alex Smith is putting up MVP-caliber numbers (more on that later), running back Kareem Hunt is towering over the rest of the league in terms of yards from scrimmage (more on that soon as well) and wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce have been two of the most productive pass-catchers in the league.
As a result, Reid's offense is averaging 7.6 yards per play, while no other team in football has averaged more than 6.5. They've turned the ball over just once, and they rank in the top five both through the air and on the ground.
The 59-year-old last won this award 15 years ago, so he's due. And right now, he's got a clear edge over the league's 31 other head coaches.
No. 2 Contender: Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Week: Unranked)
They take over for Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams, both of whom crashed back to earth with tough Week 2 losses. Can't already have a loss and be considered a top-three candidate for Coach of the Year.
It's not a huge surprise that Quinn's Falcons are 2-0, but he deserves a lot of credit for the way his team—undaunted by the trauma that stemmed from a historic collapse in Super Bowl LI—held on despite being pushed by the Chicago Bears in Week 1 before rocking the always-tough Green Bay Packers in Week 2.
Meanwhile, Koetter's Buccaneers hammered the Bears in their season opener Sunday. Again, ordinarily that wouldn't be enough. But it was only their season opener because the franchise was temporarily displaced by Hurricane Irma. It's damn impressive that Koetter got his team to overcome logistical challenges and inevitable distractions in order to dominate an opponent that had quite a lot of life against Atlanta in Week 1.
Comeback Player of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs OLB Justin Houston (Last Week: First)
Persisting problems in his left knee cost Houston 16 games over the last two seasons, and he's now three years removed from a 22-sack campaign. But the 28-year-old is healthy again, and early this season he's been as productive as ever.
Houston followed up a two-sack, five-tackle, five-pressure, six run-stop season debut with another sack, five tackles and a pass deflection in a Week 2 victory over the Eagles. He's been a continually disruptive, every-down force for a defense that has stifled strong offenses in back-to-back weeks.
Not only is he on pace to record 24 sacks, but he's performed exceptionally well against the run. That makes him the early leader in this race and a strong September candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
No. 2 Contender: Oakland Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch (Last Week: Second)
No. 3 Contender: Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley (Last Week: Unranked)
Shoutout to Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant, who missed the entirety of the team's playoff run last year but studded out against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 2.
Still, Lynch and Gurley earn the top two runner-up spots. The former didn't play at all last year and the latter was one of the least productive backs in football. But Lynch has activated #Beastmode on several occasions already, while Gurley ranks fifth in the league with 232 yards from scrimmage.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt (Last Week: First)
Watt was so damn good in a Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns that it wouldn't have felt right to take this thing away from him despite the fact he missed a large chunk of Pittsburgh's Week 2 tilt with the Minnesota Vikings. And since I make the rules around here, I won't.
The sensational 30th overall pick suffered a left groin injury after playing 20 first-half snaps Sunday against Minnesota, costing himself a chance to put together another off-the-charts September performance. One week earlier in Cleveland, J.J.'s little brother had two sacks, an interception and seven tackles against a Browns team that sports one of the most talented offensive lines in the NFL.
Per Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Watt has a chance to play Sunday in Chicago. Unfortunately, if he either doesn't make that happen or can't put together a strong game, we may be forced to downgrade the 22-year-old entering Week 4.
No. 2 Contender: Detroit Lions LB Jarrad Davis (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: New Orleans Saints CB Marshon Lattimore (Last Week: Unranked)
After recording nine tackles in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals, Davis—a first-round pick out of Florida—was putting together a massive Week 2 performance before he had to leave a victory over the New York Giants due to a concussion.
That, however, will make it difficult for him to hold off Lattimore and fellow first-round rookie defensive backs Jamal Adams of the New York Jets, Tre'Davious White of the Buffalo Bills and Gareon Conley of the Oakland Raiders, all of whom have been fantastic early on.
Lattimore gets the edge after a surprisingly superb performance against Tom Brady and the Patriots, but as luck would have it, he's also dealing with a concussion.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt (Last Week: First)
Dictionary.com defines "no-brainer" as "anything requiring little thought or effort; something easy or simple to understand or do." That's right up my alley, which is why I'll again thank Hunt for making my job easy with this award.
Can't imagine you'd find anybody willing to dispute the idea that the third-round Toledo product is the early-season front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. After all, he leads the league in both yards from scrimmage (355, while nobody else has more than 244) and touchdowns (five, while only one other player has more than three).
He's one of just six players in NFL history to top 300 yards from scrimmage in their first two NFL games and one of just two to score five touchdowns that quickly. He's averaging a league-high 7.6 yards per carry and caught all eight of the passes he's been targeted on for more yards (126) than any other back in football.
Hunt is already a superstar, and a heavy favorite to become the second consecutive middle-round pick to win this award.*
No. 2 Contender: Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (Last Week: Second)
No. 3 Contender: Chicago Bears RB Tarik Cohen (Last Week: Third)
And neither of these guys were first-round picks, either! Cook—a highly touted second-rounder out of Florida State—leads the NFC with 191 rushing yards and ranks fourth among qualified backs with 5.6 yards per attempt. And Cohen—a relatively anonymous fourth-rounder out of something called North Carolina A&T—is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt and tied for second in the league with 16 receptions.
Throw in Seattle Seahawks back Chris Carson (a seventh-rounder who ranks seventh in football with 132 rushing yards), Jacksonville Jaguars first-rounder Leonard Fournette (ranks fifth with 140) and Carolina Panthers big name Christian McCaffrey (it's only a matter of time), and it's officially becoming the year of the rookie running back.
*Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott did it as a rookie fourth-rounder last season.
Defensive Player of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Baltimore Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs (Last Week: Second)
Weeks shy of his 35th birthday, Suggs is the third-oldest starting defensive player in the NFL (younger than just 36-year-old Panthers safety Mike Adams and 35-year-old Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby). But the old man is the leader of the league's most dominant pack, which is a big reason why he holds a slight lead over several other high-end edge-defenders in the Defensive Player of the Year race.
Two weeks into the season, the Ravens have surrendered just 10 total points in back-to-back matchups with division rivals. They're just the fifth team since the turn of the century to record 10-plus takeaways in the first two weeks of a season, and Football Outsiders ranks that unit first in the league in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).
Suggs recorded two sacks, six tackles, a pass deflection and a forced fumble as the Ravens shut out the Cincinnati Bengals in their opener, and he followed that up with a tone-setting, first-quarter strip sack on Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer on Sunday.
It may not be sustainable, but right now the face of the league's scariest defense is on a tear.
No. 2 Contender: Denver Broncos OLB Von Miller (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Chiefs OLB Justin Houston (Last Week: Third)
Per Pro Football Focus, Miller had 12—twelve!—quarterback pressures in Denver's statement Week 2 victory over the Cowboys. Meanwhile, Houston and defensive tackle Chris Jones—who had three sacks and an interception Sunday against Philly—have established themselves as strong early-season DPOY candidates in Kansas City.
Oh and don't forget about Jags defensive end Calais Campbell, who exploded for a career-high four sacks in Week 1 but had a much quieter encore in an ugly loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Looks as though this'll be a horse race.
Offensive Player of the Year
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (Last Week: First)
We can't go more than one award without honoring a Chief, so it's time to once again pay tribute to Smith. For over a decade, he's been the league's favorite "game manager," which has always been code for "Guy who can't help you, rarely hurts you." But early on this year, he's done nothing but help.
Smith is 33 and in his 13th NFL season. He's never been selected to the Pro Bowl (he's been an injury replacement twice) and before this season it felt as though he'd never thrown a football more than 10 yards.
But according to PFF's Nathan Jahnke, Smith is one of just three quarterbacks who have compiled 200-plus passing yards on deep throws this season. He's completed four 30-plus-yard passes (two against the Pats, two versus the Eagles) and his 9.8 yards per attempt is tops among qualified AFC quarterbacks.
There's a very good chance Smith fades, but let's not forget the guy was a No. 1 overall pick. And he wouldn't be the first quarterback to become a star at or beyond that age.
At the very least, though, he's shaken a stereotype this month.
No. 2 Contender: Raiders QB Derek Carr (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt (Last Week: Unranked)
Tough break for Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, who was our top runner-up last week before coming down with a serious case of being Sam Bradford and missing Week 2 due to a phantom knee injury. But that makes room for Hunt, who is on pace to shatter records for yards from scrimmage and touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Carr is telling us that 2016 wasn't an aberration. The reigning MVP second runner-up has again been putting up jaw-dropping numbers for a Raiders team that leads the league in scoring.
No. 1 Contender: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (Last Week: First)
The Chiefs have quite simply been the best team in football, and the numbers and the eyeball test indicate Smith has been the game's best quarterback this season. Some might try to argue that Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Justin Houston and the rest of that talented roster actually hurts Smith's case, but they wouldn't likely be 2-0 without the Utah product and his 134.1 passer rating.
He's completed 77.8 percent of his passes while averaging 9.8 yards per attempt, and he's yet to commit a turnover. Do you know how hard it was to write that sentence without an exclamation mark?
Smith is on a special kind of fire, and I wouldn't expect him to flame out Sunday when he and the Chiefs face the struggling Los Angeles Chargers at their weird little bipartisan stadium.
No. 2 Contender: Raiders QB Derek Carr (Last Week: Unranked)
No. 3 Contender: Falcons QB Matt Ryan (Last Week: Unranked)
Carr has completed 75 percent of his passes while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt and has also yet to commit a turnover for the 2-0 Raiders. So yeah, he's right there, but Smith's victories have been a little more impressive (the slaying of the Pats has to get you bonus points).
Sam Bradford and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford also have to be considered top-tier candidates, but the Falcons might be 0-2 rather than 2-0 if not for Ryan.