NFL Awards Watch: Breaking Down the Top 3 Candidates for Each Award
Five weeks into the 2013 NFL season, there is still a lot of football to be played, but we have a good idea of the front-runners for each of the NFL awards. This is an overview of the top three candidates for each award, analyzing why the favorite is in the lead and what the other contenders need to do to come away with the hardware.
The statistical performance is the main criteria for the award voting, and so it is the main criteria here. But with each award comes its own set of "rules" that the voters have a tendency to follow.
For example, the Defensive Player of the Year is most probably going to be a player on a really good defense.
Jared Allen lost out to Terrell Suggs in 2011, despite coming up half a sack short of tying the single-season record. Suggs had a great year, but he won the award over Allen because the Minnesota Vikings defense was bad.
For some of the awards, the winner seems decided already—like Peyton Manning and the Offensive Player of the Year. There are others where the trophy is still up for grabs, and its anybody's guess who will win.
Without further ado, here are my top three nominees for each award.
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Comeback Player of the Year
Stats: 36 tackles, 7.0 sacks
Suggs may lose credibility as a "comeback" player because he returned for the second half of last season. Despite this, he was still hampered by injuries and never looked like the "Sizzle" we were used to.
Now he looks fully healthy, and the results have been devastating for opposing quarterbacks.
Stats: 1,610 yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 73.8% completion, passer rating of 110.5
Rivers had fallen out of relevance over the last few years, but he has turned it around and looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league so far.
He hasn't had to come back from injury or anything like that, but the change in his performance has been dramatic, and his career has been revived. Depending on what the voters define as a "comeback," he could very well be the favorite.
Stats: 1,202 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs, 62.4% completion, passer rating of 85.5
RGIII is a true dark horse, because his comeback hasn't even started yet. His return from knee surgery was one of the most talked about topics of the offseason, and he looked sluggish in his first real action.
Nevertheless, he's looked increasingly comfortable as the weeks have gone on, and he could hit his stride very soon. Additionally, the NFC East has been terrible, and Washington still has a chance to win the division and make the playoffs.
They'll need Griffin to return to form for that to happen, but if it does, it would be a spectacular turnaround and could garner him a lot of votes.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Favorite: Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
Stats: 44 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR
If the Bills had a better defense, Alonso might be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s among the league leaders in tackles while also leading the NFL in interceptions.
Not only has he been the best defensive rookie, he’s also the second-best inside linebacker in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Second Fiddle: Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
Stats: 19 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL
The Jets are one of the best run defenses in the league, and Sheldon Richardson has been a big part of that. Like Alonso, Richardson has been one of the best players at his position, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best defensive end.
He's been solid as a pass-rusher, but he'll need to pick up his production in that department and rack up more sacks to overtake Alonso and win this award.
Dark Horse: Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
Stats: 34 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PD, 1 INT
The “Honey Badger” has made a return to football, and he’s been a playmaker just like he was at LSU. It’s tough for a defensive back to win an award because their good play rarely shows up in the box score.
For Mathieu to have a shot, he needs to make a ton of plays and force some turnovers.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Favorite: Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: 45 carries for 209 yards (4.6 YPC), 2 rushing TDs, 14 receptions for 129 yards, 1 receiving TD
Right now, this competition is extremely close and the draft class of 2013 hasn’t compared to its star-studded predecessor.
Bernard has good numbers so far, and they’ve come in limited snaps while he’s splitting time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. For the past three games, however, he’s gotten more playing time than Green-Ellis, and that will result in some impressive numbers by the year’s end.
Second Fiddle: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Stats: 22 receptions for 293 yards, 1 TD
Hopkins has been excellent, so far, and has emerged as a reliable second option for Matt Schaub. He’s also the second candidate for the OROY award, and he'll need more outings like his 13-catch, 117-yard performance in Week 2 to sway the voters.
Dark Horse: Kenbrell Thompkins, New England Patriots
Stats: 18 receptions for 273 yards, 3 TDs
Thompkins has stepped up as an undrafted rookie to become the Patriots’ second-leading receiver amid the injuries.
It remains to be seen how his role is affected by the impending returns of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, and he is unlikely to have as big a role in his offense moving forward as the other two candidates.
Coach of the Year
Favorite: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Team Record: 5-0
Head coach Andy Reid brought his West Coast offense to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the results have been great. The offense rarely turns the ball over, and the defense is the best in the NFL, giving up only 11.6 points per game.
Kansas City was the worst team in the league last year, and now they’re undefeated. Alex Smith has been a welcome addition at quarterback, but head coach Andy Reid is the one who is responsible for the complete turnaround.
Second Fiddle: Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Team Record: 5-0
Sean Payton’s claim to this award is mostly dependent on how bad the New Orleans Saints were last year. The Saints were lost without their coach and masterful play-caller, and now that he’s back, they’ve gone undefeated, and the offense is locked in.
He falls behind Reid because his new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, deserves a ton of credit for significantly improving a defense that was historically bad last year.
Dark Horse: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Team Record: 4-1
Nothing has gone the way of the New England Patriots, but they are still undefeated. They face another huge test, as they lost their best defensive player, Vince Wilfork, to a season-ending torn Achilles.
Given all the turnover and injuries, Belichick deserves some serious consideration for this award, but he will probably fall victim to his own success and how good the Patriots usually are. Consequently, it's unlikely that he wins, unless the Pats finish with the best record in the league.
Offensive Player of the Year
Stats: 1,884 yards, 20 TDs, 1 INTs, 9.52 YPA, 75.8% completion, 136.4 passer rating
Manning is a four-time MVP, but he has only won the OPOY award once. The voters like to try and diversify the award-winners if possible, but Manning has been in a league of his own in 2013.
He leads the NFL in every single category listed above. Like in the MVP discussion, Manning is head and shoulders above the rest, and he’s the overwhelming favorite.
Stats: 1,722 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs, 8.57 YPA, 69.7% completion, 107.4 passer rating
Realistically, Brees is the only player who will challenge Manning for the award.
It would take another huge yardage total, and, given how dominant Manning has been, it might take a record-breaking year. If anybody can do it, it’s Drew Brees. Only four quarterbacks have broken the 5,000-yard barrier, and Brees is the only one to do it multiple times.
Dark Horse: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Stats: 1,610 yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 8.43 YPA, 73.8% completion, 110.5 passer rating
Flying under the radar is a resurgent Philip Rivers who is coming off back-to-back AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in Weeks 3 and 4.
He’s performing like the Rivers of old and has looked rejuvenated under new head coach Mike McCoy. Regardless, it looks highly unlikely that he can come away with the award at this point. He's been extremely efficient, but he needs more yards and more TDs.
Defensive Player of the Year
Favorite: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Stats: 20 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9 TFL, 3 PD
Watt has had a slow start to the season, statistically, and he’ll need some big games if he’s actually going to create the 20-20-20 club.
Despite this, he has still been an absolute beast who has lived in the backfield, and he’s received Pro Football Focus’ highest overall grade for any position.
The Texans are also giving up the fewest yards per game in the NFL and have been a great defense handicapped by the turnover-prone Matt Schaub. The defense, as a whole, needs to pick things up for Watt to lock down this award, but he's still been the most dominant defender in the league.
Second Fiddle: Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
Stats: 23 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 1 FF, 2 FR
If the award had to be given out right now, Justin Houston would be the recipient. In four games, he’s racked up some impressive stats, and he’s playing on the league’s best defense.
In the long run, however, those numbers probably won’t be sustainable—especially considering that 4.5 of those sacks came in one game against one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the league.
If he can continue to put up those statistics, Houston will come away with the trophy.
Dark Horse: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
Stats: 36 tackles, 7.0 sacks
Suggs has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012 season, and he’s been a force against the run and the pass. His impressive sack total means he definitely has a chance to win the award, but he'll need to separate himself as one of the best pass-rushers of the year to take the trophy.
He would also help his case by making a dent in some other areas of the stat sheet, like fumbles or passes defended.
Most Valuable Player
Favorite: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Team Record: 5-0
Stats: 1,884 yards, 20 TDs, 1 INTs, 136.4 passer rating
Manning has been historically good to start this season. He has been, by far, the best player in the NFL, and his Denver Broncos are undefeated.
Not only are they 4-0, but their lowest margin of victory has been 16 points, and they’re averaging 44.8 points per game. Say what you want about the strength of their schedule, so far, but the Broncos are blowing teams out of the water, and Manning is the reason for that.
It’s still early, but Manning has been so outstanding that this is his award to lose.
Second Fiddle: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Team Record: 5-0
Stats: 1,722 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs, 107.4 passer rating
Brees is also leading an undefeated team, and he has been excellent with the return of Sean Payton. The New Orleans Saints have reasserted themselves as a Super Bowl contender after their down year in 2012.
Dark Horse: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Team Record: 4-1
Stats: 1,211 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 80.5 passer rating
It’s strange to consider Brady a dark horse, but his numbers have not been pretty. Regardless, he has been the definition of valuable for the New England Patriots.
He doesn’t stand a chance of winning the award with his numbers as they are, but those statistics should receive a bump with the returns of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.
If his numbers do pick up (which should be expected), the early-season difficulties will serve him well in the MVP race. He will still need the Patriots to finish as the best team in the league to beat out the other nominees.