The NFL's 2008 season is drawing to a close, and the pictures of the league's best players are becoming clearer by the snap. At the start of the season, Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, and Trent Edwards looked like they were on the road to MVP glory.
What a difference eight weeks makes.
The official winners will be announced in a few weeks, and I'm certain the arguments and the discussions won't even stop then. So—continuing my tradition—it's time to recognize the players that have performed at the top of their games this season.
MVP: QB Kurt Warner, ARI
Should it matter that the Arizona Cardinals are coming off two tough losses? Absolutely not. Kurt Warner is the reason the Cards are in the position they're in. He's done for them what no other quarterback has been able to do in...aww, man—am I going to have to Google this?
Forget it. You already know.
Regardless of the Cardinals' history, Warner has thrown for over 3,700 yards this season, with 24 touchdowns. At his pace, he's due to throw over 30 scores and break Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record.
Warner's doing it with a mediocre defense, and a lackluster running game. And he's done it enough times this year to help his team run away with the division. The Cardinals are playoff-bound, and it wouldn't have been possible without him.
For your consideration: QB Drew Brees, NO
The same exact case could be made for Drew Brees. His 2008 season is practically a mirror image of Warner's. He's lighting up opposing defenses, on pace to break Marino's record, and it's being done with no running game to speak of and a mediocre defense.
The knock on Brees has been the Saints' record. Should that be his fault? If he's throwing for over 300 yards consistently, hitting receivers, and putting points up, should he be expected to call the plays on defense and make tackles, too?
If fans want to question his value, they should ask how bad New Orleans would've been this season without Drew. He's kept them competitive, at the very least.
Comeback Player of the Year: QB Chad Pennington, MIA
No one's been able to answer my question: Has anyone ever won Comeback Player of the Year twice?
If it's not against one of the league's many rules, then there aren't many players more deserving than Chad. He had been written-off once again—not just by the NFL, but by the Jets' fans he once represented so passionately.
When he was signed by the Dolphins, most fans didn't expect it to turn out as well as it has. The Dolphins aren't just competitive in 2008—they're making a strong push for a Wild Card berth.
When everyone thought the Dolphins were getting by on trick plays and magic, Pennington stepped up and reminded everyone that he is a professional quarterback. He's keeping the Dolphins in games with his arm. No one saw that coming.
He's having his best season since 2002, playing like the Pennington that was never hindered by injuries. And he's doing it with a team that everyone believed was far away from being competitive again.
For your consideration: QB Kerry Collins, TEN
Collins has been a staple in this section since the start of the season. As the Titans kept winning, he only helped build his stock in this department.
He hasn't lost games for Tennessee. In fact, in the Titans' one loss this season, he was the lone bright spot. Collins threw for nearly 250 yards and one touchdown. If not for early drops by his receivers, the Titans' loss could've been a much more competitive contest.
Regardless of the loss, Collins has gone in and simplified the game for his team. When it was believed that all he needed to do was hand the ball off, Collins proved that he still has the arm to win games.
All he needs is the receivers to make catches on a consistent basis.
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Clinton Portis, WAS
I felt bad leaving him out of the MVP discussion. Please believe he's just as worthy of being up there, but it's tough to really be considered when the guys ahead of you are on pace to break a 24-year-old record
Offensive player of the year seems most fitting for Portis as he is the Washington Redskins' offense. Jason Campbell has played very well, but it should be a credit to Portis and how dangerous he is on the ground.
While teams sell out to try and neutralize him, he still manages to make them pay.
With over 1,200 yards on the ground, he's in a close race with Adrian Peterson for the 2008 rushing title. He's also on pace to establish new career highs while the Redskins try to push to the playoffs in a very good division.
For your consideration: RB Adrian Peterson, MIN
Sometimes I look at Adrian Peterson and cry on the inside. I watch him on the Minnesota Vikings, in the NFC North, and I can hear history whispering behind me.
I have visions of a ghostly silhouette resembling Barry Sanders, cutting through a dark and foggy field, until it illuminates Peterson's lonely face for a brief moment.
But it's true. Adrian Peterson is the Minnesota Vikings' team. While they try to look like a competitive squad and put a respectable organization on the field, I can't help but feel that they're all too reliant on Peterson and what he brings to the table.
The man needs a quarterback and a receiver. Put some real players around him, and watch what he does when he's not the only person the opposition needs to worry about.
At least he has a defense, right?
Defensive Player of the Year: NT Kris Jenkins, NYJ
Throw stats out the window for a moment. Close the NFL stats tab on your browser, and do it now. No—sorry—open it back up. Look at the New York Jets' defensive statistics from 2007, and compare them to 2008. I'll wait.
Yes! Exactly. And that difference is Kris Jenkins—all 360 pounds of him.
He's the reason the Tennessee Titans' dominant run offense was limited to 45 yards. The Jets rank towards the top against the run because of the danger he represents in the middle of the scrimmage line.
But it gets better. The Jets are second in the NFL in sacks because of him, too.
With a man collapsing the pocket from the middle, and offensive linemen sliding inside to try and stop a "two-ton semi going downhill," (C Duke Preston, BUF) the Jets' defensive ends and outside linebackers have been able to get to the quarterback quickly and often.
Sure, some awards should be about individual accolades. But in a team sport, there's no defensive player in the NFL that's meant more to his team than Kris Jenkins has for the Jets.
Not even close.
For your consideration: LB James Harrison, PIT
He is the very definition of a game-changing presence. His work on the football field is a masterful symphony of smash-mouth football.
When the Steelers need a shift in momentum, it's usually Harrison that comes up with an interception, a drive-ending sack, or a forced-fumble in the end zone resulting in a safety. There aren't many players having a better season than Harrison.
He is a phenomenal one-man wrecking crew that's helped make the men around him better. It's not possible to focus on him anymore, or LaMarr Woodley is going to get to the quarterback.
I may have made a case for Kris Jenkins, but please believe that Harrison is just as deserving of this award.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: QB Matt Ryan, ATL
Did anyone expect the Falcons to be as good as they are this year?
After a miserable and embarrassing 2007, Matt Ryan has managed to exorcise the demons of seasons past. The Falcons are in the thick of the playoff race while their rookie QB plays like a seasoned vet.
He's brought consistency to the Falcons' offense, turning them into a multifaceted squad. No opposing defense can focus in on one aspect of their game.
Even if the Falcons somehow fall out of the playoff race, the future looks bright with Ryan. He's a strong-armed quarterback with poise and resiliency. As he gains more experience, the Falcons will become more of a force.
For your consideration: RB Chris Johnson, TEN and RB Matt Forte, CHI
Is it a cop-out to have two potential runners-up? I don't care.
Both of these young men have been at the top of their game, and are having practically identical seasons. The question is: who means more to their team?
Chris Johnson has been the breakaway runner Tennessee desperately needed. When the passing game doesn't work and they don't want to grind it out with LenDale White, Johnson steps in and rips off yards by the chunks.
He's nearly impossible to catch, and one of the biggest reasons Tennessee has been as good as they are this year.
And the same exact argument goes for Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears, sans the 10-0 part. He's been doing what no running back has done since Thomas Jones was there, and helping that Bears' offense maintain some kind of balance and consistency.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: LB Jerod Mayo, NE
Jerod Mayo is the clear favorite for this award, but I'll be honest with you—I don't like it. He's here because there haven't been many rookies on defense that have stepped away from the pack.
Mayo will become a very good player. He's learning in the right system, and is surrounded by some of the best veteran linebackers to ever play the game. But as for his rookie campaign, he's simply the best in a mediocre crowd.
He is a tackling machine, his best game coming against the New York Jets with 20 tackles, 16 solo. But Mayo has a tendency to disappear and get lost at the point of attack along the line of scrimmage.
More games like the one against the Jets, and he'd be a hands-down favorite. But I believe he's going to get it simply because of lack of competition.
Maybe if Keith Rivers wasn't injured this season it'd be a completely different story.
For your consideration: S Kenny Phillips, NYG
I wonder what it feels like to be a rookie in the NFL and be drafted by the defending Super Bowl champions. It has to do something to a young player's confidence, right?
Or maybe he was born with it.
Phillips has rotated in and out of games—starting two of them—and is developing into a legitimate threat at safety. He can hit, and he can hit hard. He's becoming an integral piece of that Giants' defense, and that's saying a lot.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Fisher, TEN
I'm still mad at him, but I can't deny how deserving he is of the award. I hated his fourth-quarter challenge on an inconsequential play in a game where his team throttled the lowly Lions. But that doesn't negate what he's done in Tennessee.
He's been my favorite for Coach of the Year since the start of the season, and that's not going to change.
His team holds the best record in the NFL, and they've done it the old school football way—strong running and stifling defense. Football fans have to love that!
He has his team focused, he resurrected Kerry Collins' career, and has returned Super Bowl dreams to Nashville.
What more can you ask for?
For your consideration: Bill Belichick, NE
Writing that one hurt—a lot. But my journalistic integrity may be at stake, and I refuse to be irresponsible.
While most teams fall to pathetic-lows when their franchise quarterback is sidelined in the first week, New England took that adversity and turned it into a challenge. And as more players fell, new players responded.
Belichick has the New England Patriots in the thick of the playoff race, and only one-game away from the division, and it's with a decimated squad. He has inexperience across the board, and the team hardly looks like they've missed a step.
It's a representation of true, team football, and it's proof-positive of the system he's developed in New England. It took some time, but Matt Cassel is finally coming into his own, and he's doing it when it counts.
The playoffs are in sight, and the entire Patriots' team is still playing like they belong in the Super Bowl.
He's succeeded through highs and lows in New England. Fans watched as his team brutally dominated the NFL in 2007—until the Super Bowl. And now they watch as he proves that New England refused to dial the season in at Week Two.
Executive of the Year: GM Mike Tannenbaum, NYJ
Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, Tony Richardson, and Brett Favre.
Do you really need convincing?
From 4-12 in 2007 to 8-3, top of the AFC East, and closing in on a first-round bye in the playoffs in 2008, Mike Tannenbaum has to be the front-runner for this award.
The glorious aspect of it all is that NFL fans believed the Jets' offseason surge was a last-ditch effort that would result in Salary Cap Hell. Absolutely wrong. Tannenbaum was the Jets' cap specialist before becoming GM. Jets' fans are well-aware of his careful contracts, and how he can maneuver around dollars.
Tannenbaum took heat for signing some players to such large contracts. But the Jets' success is a testament to how strong and precise their scouting was.
Was Calvin Pace on many offseason wish lists? Did anyone think to keep Damien Woody at right tackle when his contract expired? Tannenbaum got the right people in, at the right price, and it's paid dividends on the field.
For your consideration: GM Thomas Dimitroff, ATL
He did the impossible in Atlanta. He took a dismal team, a suffering city, and turned them into competitors.
He hired the right man for the coaching job in Mike Smith, and brought him to a town that had just been burned by a college coach that couldn't cut it. He drafted Matt Ryan and Sam Baker, signed Michael Turner away from the San Diego Chargers, and the Atlanta Falcons are competitive.
What most fans would've believed to have been a project was turned right around and became an accomplishment.
Angel Navedo is the Head Writer at NYJetsFan.com, with frequently updated Jets' and NFL news and opinions, and a premier fan community. He is also the Community Leader for the New York Jets on Bleacher Report.