Bleacher Report's Midseason NFL Awards

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystOctober 28, 2014

Bleacher Report's Midseason NFL Awards

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    It seems like only yesterday that we were preparing for the season opener of the 2014 NFL season. Hope sprang anew for all 32 NFL teams.

    Much has changed since then. With Week 8 now in the books, 18 of the league's 32 franchises are now halfway home (or, in the case of the Oakland Raiders, halfway to the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft).

    Some things have gone just as we thought. The Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning are cruising right along, with Manning now the all-time touchdown king among NFL passers.

    However, there have been more than a few surprises as well. No team in the National Football League has more wins after eight weeks than the Dallas Cowboys, thanks in no small part to a record-setting eight-game stretch from running back DeMarco Murray.

    Back before the season began, the NFL National Lead and Division Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report gathered to offer their takes on the potential "winners" in a number of individual categories, from MVP to Defensive Player of the Year.

    Now that the season is two months old, let's revisit those categories and see what's changed.

Most Valuable Player

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Winner: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (seven votes)

    On some level, it would just be flat-out annoying to see Peyton Manning win another NFL MVP award. After all, Manning already has more of the awards than any player in NFL history. He probably uses two of them as bookends and another as a doorstop.

    Still, it's hard to argue with the panelists ready to hand the 38-year-old his sixth MVP trophy.

    After all, Manning looks every bit as ruthlessly efficient in 2014 as he did during last year's record-breaking run to the Super Bowl.

    The 17th-year veteran may not be matching last year's 5,477-yard, 55-score pace, but Manning is on track to net 4,878 passing yards and 50 touchdown strikes. The consecutive years with 50 touchdowns would be yet another NFL record.

    As Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports reports, the best bet the other candidates might have at winning MVP could lie with voter fatigue:

    Remember in the 1990s when NBA voters got bored giving Michael Jordan the MVP award every year, so guys like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone were given one even though Jordan was clearly the best player in the league? That might be other NFL MVP candidates' hope this year: Manning fatigue by voters. Manning has five MVPs already and it's obvious he'll be one of the top candidates again this season.

    However, if Manning keeps embarrassing defenses like he did the San Diego Chargers Thursday night, he'll need to clear out more space in his junk drawer.

    Maybe he could sell a couple at a yard sale or something.

    Preseason Winner: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (five votes)

    Others receiving votes: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (five votes); Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (two votes); DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (one vote)

Coach of the Year

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Winner: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals (seven votes)

    According to what Bruce Arians told Dan Bickley of AZ Central, he very nearly didn't take the job as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals:

    The hard thing about coming here was that I had a lot of friends on the (former) staff: Kevin Spencer, Russ Grimm, a lot of guys I won a Super Bowl with. It was very, very hard for me to even take that interview because I knew I was going to have to let them go.

    Finally, I called Kenny, Whisenhunt, who is a dear friend. I said, "Hey man, they want me to come out there." He said, "You need to." He really talked me into taking it.

    Fans of the Cardinals are no doubt happy that Whisenhunt was persuasive.

    If last year's 10-6 mark was a great job by Arians in his first year in the desert, then 2014 has been a masterpiece.

    It isn't just that the Redbirds sit at 6-1, in first place in an NFC West that many considered the league's toughest division entering 2014.

    It's how the Cardinals have accomplished that feat. The team has used three quarterbacks this year, including rookie Logan Thomas. The defense has been ravaged by injuries and personnel losses.

    And yet, just like in 2012, when Arians guided a two-win Indianapolis Colts team to a playoff spot en route to being named Coach of the Year, the Cardinals keep right on winning.

    Preseason Winner: Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears (Four votes. Four terribly, horribly mistaken votes.)

    Others receiving votes: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys (five votes); John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens (one vote); John Fox, Denver Broncos (one vote); Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions (one vote)

Offensive Player of the Year

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Winner: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (nine votes)

    I could wax poetic about Peyton Manning until I'm blue in the face. In addition to those five MVP awards and his recent passing of Brett Favre for the career touchdown mark, Manning holds the single-season records for both passing yardage and touchdowns.

    Favre's career yardage and wins records are living on borrowed time.

    As Gary Myers of the New York Daily News reports, by the time all is said and done, Manning is going to place many of those records out of reach, at least for anyone who is playing today:

    If Manning plays until 2016, he's going to make the (career touchdown) record unreachable. Not counting 2011, when he didn't play, his career would then be 18 seasons. And if he finishes with 611 TDs, that's an average of nearly 34 TDs per year. Among active players, Drew Brees (374 TD passes) and Tom Brady (372) are next, but they won't even come close. Brees is 35 and Brady is 37. Eli Manning, who is 33, is next with 243 followed by Philip Rivers (241), who is 32.

    Indy's Andrew Luck, who has 65 TD passes in his first 39 games, is the only current QB who possibly has a chance to threaten Manning's record. Luck had 23 TDs in each of his first two seasons but already has 19 in the first seven games this year. If he gets to 40 this year, that will give him 86 in three years. He would then have to average 40 TD passes over the next 13 years to get to 606.

    Good luck with that, Andrew.

    So yeah, Manning's pretty good I guess.

    Preseason Winner: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (five votes)

    Others receiving votes: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (four votes); Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (two votes)

Defensive Player of the Year

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    J Patrick Schneider/Associated Press

    Winner: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (15 votes)

    We have our first unanimous vote, and it's one that should surprise absolutely no one.

    Since signing a $100 million contract extension just before the season began, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has done everything in his power to justify that investment by the team.

    Through half the 2014 season, Watt has amassed 32 tackles, racked up seven sacks, chipped in seven passes defensed and scored three touchdowns.

    Mind you, Watt did all this as the unquestioned focus of the opposing offense, facing constant double- and even triple-teams.

    In fact, more than a few pundits, including Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports, feel that Watt isn't just the NFL's best defensive player—he's the league MVP:

    Watt is the best player in the entire league. He is playing defensive end better than Peyton Manning plays quarterback or Calvin Johnson plays receiver. He's part of a nondescript front seven (No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney has barely played because of injury) which means that every week opponents have one guy to concentrate on stopping. And none of them can do it.

    Watt has contributed in different ways, too. He caught a touchdown pass at Oakland when he lined up at tight end. He had an incredible pick-six against Buffalo in a game that Houston won by six points.

    Watt is absolutely the MVP of the NFL so far, if we lived in a world where someone outside of quarterback and running back was eligible.

    Watt may face an uphill battle to win MVQ (they might as well call it that, since quarterbacks almost always win), but if our panel is any indication, Watt best start clearing off shelf space for his second Defensive Player of the Year award.

    Preseason Winner: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (six votes)

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Winner: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (six votes)

    The Buffalo Bills placed a great deal of faith in wide receiver Sammy Watkins in 2014, trading their first-rounder in 2015 to the Cleveland Browns for the rights to move up and snare the former Clemson star.

    To this point in his rookie season, Watkins has more than justified that gamble.

    The Bills are a legitimate playoff contender at the season's midway point, and a large part of that surprising success can be traced to Watkins wasting no time establishing himself as the team's go-to receiver.

    Of course, as great as Watkins has been in hauling in 38 catches for 590 yards and five touchdowns so far in 2014, he still learned a valuable lesson in humility in Week 8.

    Watkins had three grabs for an eye-popping 157 yards in Buffalo's blowout win over the New York Jets, but Watkins missed out on a second score after being hauled down from behind while showboating his way to the end zone.

    According to Conor Orr of, that gaffe doesn't take a thing away from an "incredible" start to Watkins' NFL career. Given how rare it is for a rookie receiver to make this big an impact this early, it's hard to argue with him.

    Preseason Winner: Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (seven votes)

    Others receiving votes: Branden Oliver, RB, San Diego Chargers (five votes); Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys (two votes); Joel Bitonio, OG, Cleveland Browns (two votes)

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Winner: C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens (eight votes)

    The Baltimore Ravens appear to have found their heir apparent to Ray Lewis.

    After unsuccessfully trying to replace the future Hall of Famer with second-round pick Arthur Brown last year, the Ravens once again went the inside linebacker route early in the 2014 draft, selecting Alabama's C.J. Mosley in the first round.

    Mosley hasn't done anything to make the Ravens regret that decision. The youngster leads the team with 76 tackles through eight games. He ranks fourth in the NFL in that category.

    For his part, Mosley credited his quick acclimation to the NFL to his collegiate coach while speaking with Mark Inabinett of

    It just helped me grow, not only as a football player but as a young man, too. Just the way coach [Nick] Saban made us handle our business on and off the field, like getting to class, make sure our grades are right, make sure we're being places on time, especially being on the practice field. Everybody knows that coach Saban doesn't play about that. He just made me come in as a young 18-year-old and act like I've been there for four years all ready. So that's kind of how, when I got here, even though I'm a rookie, that's no excuse for me not to play to my potential and do great things for the defense.

    Whatever the reason, Mosley has emerged as a key defensive contributor for the 5-3 Ravens, and that's enough for our voters to name him the midseason Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Preseason Winner: Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans (nine votes)

    Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders (five votes); Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams (two votes)

Rookie of the Year

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Winner: C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens (10 votes)

    Well, well, there just might be hope for humanity after all.

    Simply put, there's a reason why the NFL's Rookie of the Year awards are split into both offensive and defensive categories.

    If it wasn't, defensive players would never, ever win.

    Mind you, this isn't to say that Sammy Watkins isn't every bit as deserving of the overall Rookie of the Year award as Mosley. Both youngsters have been huge factors in strong starts to the season for their respective teams.

    Still, in an NFL that's already skewed toward offense, it's nice to see a defensive player win out once in a while.

    Power to the people!

    Preseason Winner: Tie: Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans (six votes); Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (six votes)

    Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders (five votes)

Comeback Player of the Year

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Winner: Rolando McClain, LB, Dallas Cowboys (nine votes)

    Without question, there isn't a bigger surprise in this article than our panel's choice for Comeback Player of the Year.

    After all, Rolando McClain wasn't even in the NFL a year ago. The former first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders flamed out in the Bay Area and then retired from football before ever playing a game for the Baltimore Ravens.

    When the Dallas Cowboys traded for the 25-year-old before the season, it was a punch line, an example of just how desperate the Cowboys were to "upgrade" their putrid defense.

    Well, no one's laughing now.

    The Cowboys sit all by their lonesome in first place in the NFC East, and while running back DeMarco Murray has hogged the headlines, the Dallas defense has been light-years better in 2014 than anyone had dared hope.

    So has McClain, who ranks an astonishing second among inside linebackers this season according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Preseason Winner: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (five votes)

    Others receiving votes: Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos (five votes); DeMarcus Ware, DE, Denver Broncos (one vote)

Fantasy Football Player of the Year

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Winner: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (12 votes)

    It's about time Murray won something.

    To say that Murray got off to a hot start in 2014 is akin to saying politicians are disingenuous. Sure it's true, but it really doesn't begin to properly describe things.

    The fourth-year pro has been the engine that has driven the Cowboys' astonishing 6-2 start. Murray's eight straight 100-yard games (and counting) to start the season is an NFL record. Murray leads the NFL in rushing by a staggering 288 yards over Arian Foster of the Houston Texans.

    Granted, fantasy owners who took Murray late in the first round or early in the second were hoping for a top-10 season, but no one expected him to lay waste to the competition like this.

    Given Murray's 1,054 yards on the ground through eight games, it should come as no surprise that there have been whispers about Murray running for 2,000 yards in 2014.

    Wide receiver Dez Bryant wasn't whispering when he told Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News he believes Murray can accomplish that feat:

    He never talks about [milestones]. Never talks about it at all. But the other guys around him, we all notice it and think about it. That's why we practice hard, so we can give him that opportunity to reach that. That's a big deal. ... I think he can do it. I honestly think he can do it.

    So long as the 26-year-old can stay healthy (a real question given his enormous workload to date this year), Murray has given no reason for anyone to doubt that he can.

    Preseason Winner: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (eight votes)

    Others receiving votes: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (two votes); Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (one vote)

Breakout Player of the Year

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Winner: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (10 votes)

    A few eyebrows went up when the Pittsburgh Steelers made Le'Veon Bell the second running back selected in the 2013 NFL draft. When Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers, drafted 13 picks later, won Offensive Rookie of the Year at the end of the season, those same people shook their heads in the general direction of the Steel City.

    Not anymore.

    Bell showed up for his sophomore season slimmed down and seemingly in possession of an entire new gear in the open field. Not only does Bell rank third in the NFL with 691 yards on the ground, but his 42 receptions rank second among all ball-carriers.

    As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Bell entered Week 8 catching the ball at a rate that would net the second-year pro a number of franchise records in 2014:

    Bell is on pace to set three franchise records this season. He is on pace for 2,144 yards from scrimmage, which would break the season record Barry Foster set in 1992 when he totaled 2,034 yards (a team-record 1,690 yards rushing as well as 344 yards receiving).

    Bell also is on pace to set the franchise records for most receptions for a back in a season and most receiving yards for a back in a season. Bell has 36 receptions and is on pace for 82, which would shatter the record John L. Williams (51) set in 1994. He has 339 receiving yards for a pace of 775 by season's end. Ray Mathews set [the] record for most receiving yards in a season by a running back with 762 in 1955.

    After adding six more catches for 56 yards in Sunday's big win over the Indianapolis Colts, Bell is also on pace to be named the Bleacher Report 2014 Breakout Player of the Year.

    Preseason Winner: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (five votes)

    Others receiving votes: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos (two votes); Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions (one vote); Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (one vote); Harrison Smith, FS, Minnesota Vikings (one vote)

Most Improved Player of the Year

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winner: Rolando McClain, LB, Dallas Cowboys (seven votes)

    OK, so the preseason version of this article was obviously hacked by Romanian thugs. That's the only conceivable explanation for New York Jets quarterback (sort of) Geno Smith's selection as the Most Improved Player of 2014.

    Either that, or our voters were completely, totally, horribly wrong. As wrong as it's possible to be. So wrong that it was nearly right.

    Man oh man was Smith terrible in Week 8, throwing three first-half interceptions before soon-to-be ex-head coach Rex Ryan put fans out of their misery and yanked Smith in favor of Michael Vick.

    In a way I almost feel bad mentioning McClain here. If inclusion in this space has the same effect on him as it did on Smith, McClain will miss 38 tackles when the Dallas Cowboys face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.

    Still, to this point at least, McClain has looked like—well, he's looked like the player the Raiders thought they were getting when they drafted McClain back in 2010.

    McClain has been a revelation for a Dallas team that was left reeling when starting middle linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL in training camp, but he was quick to deflect praise when speaking with Kimberly Jones of

    "I'm just happy to be with the Dallas Cowboys, and I'm happy with our success so far," McClain said. "I'm having fun with my teammates and having a good time."

    So long as the Cowboys keep winning, McClain will have plenty more deflecting to do.

    Because everybody loves a comeback, and you can't come back much further than from sitting at home watching games to becoming a huge part of a division-leading NFL team winning them.

    Preseason Winner: Geno (giggle) Smith, QB, New York Jets (way too many votes)

    Others receiving votes: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (three votes); Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos (one vote); Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins (one vote); Brian Hoyer, QB, Cleveland Browns (one vote); Willie Young, DE, Chicago Bears (one vote); Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions (one vote)