Week 4 NFL MVP, Award Rankings

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 28, 2017

Week 4 NFL MVP, Award Rankings

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    Quarterbacks who met in Week 1 are leading the MVP race.
    Quarterbacks who met in Week 1 are leading the MVP race.Steven Senne/Associated Press

    When October arrives, the NFL season can no longer be considered young. And for all intents and purposes, 30 of the NFL's 32 teams have entered the 10th month on the calendar.

    All but two of those teams played three games in the first month of the season, while the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field just twice after Hurricane Irma caused their Week 1 matchup to be postponed. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will become the only teams to play a fourth September game when they meet Thursday night at Lambeau Field. 

    So we're still dealing with a small sample, but if you're a front-runner for a major NFL award when your team kicks off October on Sunday or Monday, you're off to a special start. 

    Still, because plenty of football is left to be played, plenty of unexpected names remain listed in the latest installment of this weekly fixture. 

    For what it's worth—fun?—here's where the league stands from an awards perspective with the regular season around 19 percent complete.

Coach of the Year

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    Andy Reid's Chiefs are the only 3-0 team in the AFC.
    Andy Reid's Chiefs are the only 3-0 team in the AFC.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    No. 1 Contender: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: First)

    On the road in Week 1, Reid's Chiefs put together a masterpiece in a double-digit upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champion/heavy Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots. In Week 2, Reid's play-calling was fine art in a 27-20 win over his former team, the surging Philadelphia Eagles. And in Week 3, his team just took care of business with a 14-point road victory over its desperate division rival, the Los Angeles Chargers. 

    Three impressive wins over tough opponents, two on the road, all by seven or more points. And now Kansas City is the only unbeaten team left in the AFC.

    As per usual, Reid is getting every drop out of the talent he has on his roster. The offense he oversees is averaging 7.1 yards per play, while no other team in football is above the 6.5 mark in that category. And they haven't missed a beat without superstar safety Eric Berry on the defensive side of the ball.

    One of the league's most accomplished and most popular coaches hasn't won this award in a decade and a half, but he's got a sizable lead on his counterparts as we enter October.  

    No. 2 Contender: Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons (Last Week: Second)

    No. 3 Contender: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams (Last Week: Unranked)

    Quinn's Falcons are the only unbeaten team in the NFC, and they deserve a lot of credit for the way they've bounced back from the nightmare that was Super Bowl LI. Two new coordinators and a target on their back, and yet they're 3-0. 

    Meanwhile, McVay—who at 30 (he's now 31) became the youngest head coach in NFL history this offseason—has the young Rams in first place following a 2-1 start. It can't be a coincidence that the offensive-minded wunderkind arrived and then everything immediately turned around for recent first-round offensive centerpieces Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.

Comeback Player of the Year

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    Justin Houston remains hot.
    Justin Houston remains hot./Getty Images

    No. 1 Contender: Chiefs OLB Justin Houston (Last Week: First)

    The 28-year-old four-time Pro Bowler missed 16 games the last two years due to knee problems, but he was one of just seven players with at least one sack in each of the first three weeks of the 2017 season. 

    Houston has four sacks in total thus far. But that doesn't do justice to his September, which concluded on the field with a six-tackle performance in a road victory over the division-rival Chargers. The last of those tackles was an 11-yard sack of Philip Rivers which iced the game on third down with less than four minutes to play. 

    He's also been as good against the run as he has coming off the edge, and Houston, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks are the only front-seven defenders in the league with at least three pass deflections in as many weeks to start the season.

    Healthy again and three years removed from a 22-sack season, Houston spent the month of September positioning himself as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a clear-cut front-runner for Comeback Player of the Year. 

    No. 2 Contender: Falcons CB Desmond Trufant (Last Week: Unranked)

    No. 3 Contender: Rams RB Todd Gurley (Last Week: Third)

    Would the Falcons have won the Super Bowl had Trufant been healthy during last season's run? The 2015 Pro Bowler missed 10 of Atlanta's 19 total games last year, but he's already made a huge impact in 2017. Not only has Trufant been superb in coverage, but he also earned Player of the Week honors in Week 2 when he shut down Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers while picking up an interception and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery. 

    If there was an Offensive Comeback Player of the Year award, Gurley would be the favorite through three weeks. A Pro Bowler as a rookie and a bust as a sophomore, the 2015 No. 10 overall pick has kicked off his third season with an NFC-high 381 yards from scrimmage. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Jamal Adams is living up to expectations in the Jets secondary.
    Jamal Adams is living up to expectations in the Jets secondary.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    No. 1 Contender: New York Jets S Jamal Adams (Last Week: Unranked)

    Our top three contenders from last week—Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis and New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore—all missed Week 3 due to injuries, paving the way for Adams. 

    And while the No. 6 overall pick has yet to make a splash play on paper (unless you count a third-down sack of Jay Cutler during a second-quarter Miami Dolphins drive that didn't appear to be going anywhere anyway), Adams quietly shined in each game he played in September. 

    The guy has been all over the field, preventing touchdowns, chasing down quarterbacks, breaking up passes and providing shutdown coverage regardless of the matchup.

    “He’s an exciting player. He did a lot of things the right way,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said of Adams after that Week 3 victory over the Dolphins, per Alex Squadron of the New York Post. “He brings a lot of emotion with him. He got the team behind him and got them into it.”

    The LSU product can do it all, and he's been doing it all. Almost. Only a matter of time before he starts picking off passes and creating points on D. And if that happens soon enough, he could begin to run away with this thing. 

    No. 2 Contender: Buffalo Bills CB Tre'Davious White (Last Week: Unranked)

    No. 3 Contender: Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt (Last Week: First)

    White, who was Adams' teammate the last three years at LSU, leads the NFL with seven passes defended. He also has 17 tackles and had a huge fourth-quarter interception in a Week 3 victory over the Denver Broncos.

    Watt has missed too many snaps the last two weeks to remain the top candidate or runner-up, but the No. 30 overall pick was lights-out with six tackles, two sacks and an interception in a Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns. A return from a groin injury and a strong performance Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens could move him back into the top spot.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Kareem Hunt is off to an unforgettable start in Kansas City.
    Kareem Hunt is off to an unforgettable start in Kansas City.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    No. 1 Contender: Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt (Last Week: First)

    Hard to believe I'm saying this in late September, but it'd take a significant turn of events for someone other than Hunt to win the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. That's how phenomenal the third-round Toledo product has been. 

    Hunt leads the NFL with 401 rushing yards (nobody else has 300) and 538 yards from scrimmage (nobody else has 400), and he's tied for the league lead with six touchdowns. He's on pace to set new NFL records in all three of those areas, and on Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to score a touchdown of 50 yards or more in each of his first three career games, according to Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN Stats & Info).

    Sustainable? Probably not, but Hunt can afford to have some less-than-glorious games without losing his grip on this thing. The question now is whether he might have a shot at becoming the first rookie in 39 years to win the league's Offensive Player of the Year award.

    No. 2 Contender: Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (Last Week: Second)

    No. 3 Contender: Chicago Bears RB Tarik Cohen (Last Week: Third)

    Any other year, Cook and Cohen would be making much bigger headlines for their early-career performances. Only three NFL running backs (Hunt, Cook and Gurley) have eclipsed the 350-scrimmage-yard mark, while only two qualified backs (Hunt and Cohen) are averaging more than 6.0 yards per carry.

    Cook, who put up 169 yards from scrimmage on a ridiculous 32 touches in a Week 3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has already become the centerpiece of a Vikings offense that was in desperate need of exactly that following the departure of Adrian Peterson

    Only four wide receivers have more catches than Cohen, who has caught 20 of the 25 passes thrown his way. And his numbers would look even better if a controversial replay review didn't overturn his magnificent 73-yard touchdown run in overtime against the Steelers in Week 3. It was determined he stepped out of bounds midway through that run, but it was still a game-changing play from the fourth-round pick out of North Carolina A&T. 

    That's right, we're talking about a guy named Tarik Cohen from a place called North Carolina A&T along with two other non-first-round running backs here. And we're not talking about top-10 big names Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.

    It's been a wild few weeks. 

Defensive Player of the Year

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    Demarcus Lawrence is on pace to record 37 sacks.
    Demarcus Lawrence is on pace to record 37 sacks.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    No. 1 Contender: Dallas Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence (Last Week: Unranked)

    Few expected the first four editions of this feature to be dominated by members of the Kansas City Chiefs, but even fewer would have guessed that the best defensive player in football at the three-week mark would be a Dallas Cowboy. 

    Even more surprising? That Cowboys defender isn't Sean Lee. 

    A second-round pick in 2014, Lawrence has nearly as many sacks in three games this year (seven) as he had in his first three seasons in the league (nine). That could be an anomaly, and it's fair to predict he won't maintain his 37-sack pace, but it's still possible we're witnessing a major breakout from a 25-year-old in a walk year. 

    There were some clues the Boise State product had it in him. Lawrence barely saw the field as a rookie and his 2016 season was derailed by back problems, but he recorded seven sacks in a seven-game stretch during the second half of the 2015 campaign. 

    Still, nobody saw this coming. 

    Dating back to when sacks became an official stat in 1982, Lawrence is just the third player to post multiple sacks in each of the first three games of a season. The others were Kevin Greene and Mark Gastineau, who had eight sacks in his first three games in 1984 and went on to record 22 over the course of a record-breaking season. 

    Sack totals can sometimes be fluky, but seven in three games is a special feat. And Lawrence's pressure numbers support the idea that he's simply been on fire thus far. Pro Football Focus has assigned him the highest pass-rushing productivity rating in the league, and that site's director of analytics, Nathan Jahnke, notes that he has a league-high 25 pressures entering Week 4. 

    We might be watching the emergence of a star, and the making of a very rich man.

    No. 2 Contender: Denver Broncos OLB Von Miller (Last Week: Second)

    No. 3 Contender: Baltimore Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs (Last Week: First)

    Suggs led the way last week but didn't do much of anything as the Ravens were blown out by the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. He's still off to a strong start overall, but Miller moves ahead of him after a strong performance (one sack and a lot of pressure) against the Buffalo Bills. 

    Both are trying to chase Lawrence while holding off fast starters Justin Houston, Everson Griffen of the Vikings, Calais Campbell of the Jags and Melvin Ingram of the Chargers. 

Offensive Player of the Year

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    Alex Smith is the NFL's highest-rated passer.
    Alex Smith is the NFL's highest-rated passer.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    No. 1 Contender: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (Last Week: First)

    After lighting up the Patriots and Eagles in Weeks 1 and 2, Smith didn't have to do as much in a Week 3 victory over the Chargers. But he still completed all but five of 21 passes while posting two touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 128.1 passer rating in an easy win. 

    The 13-year veteran remains the league's highest-rated passer (132.7) with a completion percentage of 77.4. He gets extra credit for beating and outplaying top challenger Tom Brady straight-up in their Week 1 matchup at Gillette Stadium, and for posting those numbers in the face of a lot of pressure. He's been sacked an AFC-high 12 times, but PFF points out that he's been practically perfect when throwing under duress.   

    Smith might not be capable of holding on to this, but we're not projecting here. He's been the best offensive player in football during the first three weeks of the season. 

    No. 2 Contender: Patriots QB Tom Brady (Last Week: Unranked)

    No. 3 Contender: Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt (Last Week: Unranked)

    Brady has been on a tear since struggling in a season-opening loss to Smith's Chiefs. In his last two games, he's completed 74.3 percent of his passes for 825 yards, eight touchdowns, zero interceptions, 11.2 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 146.5. The Pats have the league's top-rated offense, and as the NFL's second-highest-rated passer, Brady is the conductor. 

    And if indeed Hunt maintains his pace and sets new single-season records for rushing yards, yards from scrimmage and touchdowns (or any of the above), he'll probably win this award. But anything short of that could cost him in this quarterback-centric league.

MVP

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    Tom Brady has put up unreal numbers the last two weeks.
    Tom Brady has put up unreal numbers the last two weeks.Billie Weiss/Getty Images

    No. 1 Contender: Patriots QB Tom Brady (Last Week: Unranked)

    Oftentimes, the Offensive Player of the Year and the MVP are one and the same, but they are two separate awards and there's sometimes room to consider additional factors with the latter. In this case, Brady has a slight edge over Alex Smith because he's done nearly as much with less support. 

    His numbers (eight touchdowns, no picks and a 121.5 passer rating) are just as strong in most areas, and without him it's entirely possible the Patriots would be 0-3 instead of 2-1. Brady was spectacular even by his own standards the last two weeks against the Saints and Houston Texans. And he had to be because he hasn't benefited from his supporting cast like Smith has. 

    The Chiefs are surrendering just 19.0 points per game, while New England has given up a league-worst 31.7. And Kansas City is averaging a league-best 6.8 yards per carry, while the Pats running game ranks 21st at 3.5. 

    Brady is carrying a team with more flaws and injuries right now, while Smith's case might actually suffer from the fact Kareem Hunt, Justin Houston, Tyreek Hill and the rest of that team have been putting on a show. 

    No. 2 Contender: Chiefs QB Alex Smith (Last Week: First)

    No. 3 Contender: Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr (Last Week: Second)

    It's a two-horse race, and I wouldn't fault anybody for going with Smith over Brady. Hunt and Demarcus Lawrence also deserve consideration at this stage simply because they're on record-breaking paces, but it's still too early for them and Hunt loses points for being teammates with Smith. 

    For now, Carr remains the "other" top contender despite a rough Week 3 performance. He still has a triple-digit passer rating and a completion percentage above 70.0 for a team that looks like a Super Bowl contender. But his lead over other candidates like Hunt, Lawrence, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff is razor-thin.