Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus NFL Midseason Awards

NFL StaffContributor INovember 1, 2018

Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus NFL Midseason Awards

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    Time flies when you're having fun.

    We've already hit the midway point (of sorts) of the 2018 NFL season. It's been a year of both excitement and surprises—of excellence we expected and struggles we didn't.

    We figured the Los Angeles Rams would be good, and sure enough L.A. is the league's last undefeated team at 8-0. We did not, however, expect the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs to be a 7-1 offensive juggernaut.

    Remember that name. It features prominently here.

    On the flip side, we didn't figure the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars would be under .500 and circling the drain.

    Such is life in the NFL. Expect the unexpected.

    In September, the NFL writers here at Bleacher Report offered predictions for a number of awards, from Most Valuable Player to the Rookies and Coach of the Year.

    Well, the gang is back together to see if the season followed the script and hand out some halfway hardware with the B/R Expert Consensus NFL Midseason Awards.

    Here's hint: In just about every case, it did not.

Our Panel

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    Before we open the envelopes, here's a rundown of the writers who took part in this piece:

Coach of the Year

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (5 votes)

    At the beginning of the season, the Chargers' Anthony Lynn was our panel's prediction for Coach of the Year.

    Lynn and the Chargers have had a fine start, winning five of their first seven games. But he didn't receive a single midseason vote from our writers.

    Because as good as the Chargers have been, the Kansas City Chiefs have been that much better.

    At 7-1, the Chiefs are up 1.5 games on Lynn's team in the AFC West—with a head-to-head win over Los Angeles. Owner Clark Hunt said this may be Reid's best coaching job, per the Sports Xchange.

    "We've gotten off to a number of great starts over the last six years," Hunt said. "Certainly I would say this is probably the best job he's done from a coaching standpoint, he and his staff. The way that we've dominated the AFC West I think just really speaks to the quality of coach that Andy is and we're very, very lucky to have him."

    NFL features lead writer Tyler Dunne agrees, citing Reid's buzz saw of an offensive scheme.

    "Once this 2018 season is over," Dunne said, "you can count on countless offensive coaches obsessing over Chiefs film through the offseason. The multiplicity of Reid's scheme is unmatched—an array of jabs, hooks and haymakers that constantly has defenses on their heels. And while Patrick Mahomes probably would've succeeded wherever he landed, he's the absolute best version of himself with Reid pushing the buttons."

    Others receiving votes: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams (1 vote); Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins (1 vote)

Offensive Player of the Year

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams (5 votes)

    You won't find any votes for a quarterback in this category. And that's how it should be—the position annually dominates MVP voting, and it's only fair that the other offensive spots get a little run.

    It's no surprise that at the season's halfway mark this is a two-man race. There have been two skill-position players in the NFC this year whose play has transcended their counterparts' by a country mile.

    In the Twin Cities, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has topped 100 receiving yards in all eight games. In all but two, the 28-year-old found the end zone.

    Thielen received a pair of votes, including one from NFL national lead writer Mike Freeman.

    "He had a rough night against the Saints," Freeman said, "but no receiver has dominated the season thus far. He's an easy choice."

    The runaway winner, however, is the NFL's best runner.

    For the second straight year, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams is squarely in the MVP conversation. He's the offensive engine for the NFL's lone remaining undefeated team. And as NFL analyst Gary Davenport pointed out, Gurley's statistical resume speaks for itself.

    "It didn't seem possible," Davenport said," but somehow Gurley's improved on last year's incredible numbers. Just as in 2017, Gurley's averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He's averaging 100 yards per game on the ground and has 11 rushing scores already. His receiving numbers are down a little relative to 2017, but he's still averaging 11.3 yards per catch with four more scores through the air. He's the best offensive player in the league's non-quarterback division—and it isn't close."

    Others receiving votes: Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings (2 votes)

Defensive Player of the Year

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Khalil Mack, OLB, Chicago Bears (3 votes)

    It's a good time to be a fan of defense in the National Football League. And a tough time to be an offensive lineman.

    It's also been a tough year for Bleacher Report's preseason pick in this category. The Chargers' Joey Bosa hasn't played a game due to an injured foot.

    Across town at the L.A. Coliseum, Aaron Donald hasn't missed any time. He's also been a force against the run and pass. Donald leads the NFL with 10 sacks—unheard of for an interior lineman.

    Donald garnered a pair of votes from the panel. Ditto for J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, whom Davenport believes looks like his award-winning self.

    "After two years lost to back surgeries and a broken leg, Watt has eight sacks and looks like the unstoppable force who's been named Defensive Player of the Year three times. If the 29-year-old can put up a second half of the season like his first, he may do something no player in NFL history ever has: win a fourth."

    However, the leading vote-getter here was a player who changed teams just before the season began. Three voters, including NFL national lead writer Matt Miller, singled out Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears.

    "Some might want to choose Watt for DPOY," Miller said, "but Mack's impact has been felt more than any other defensive player's this season. Whether it's a sack, a forced fumble or just the attention he draws from opposing offenses, no player in the league is more dominant on defense."

    Others receiving votes: Aaron Donald, DE, Los Angeles Rams (2 votes); J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (2 votes)

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (7 votes)

    We have our first unanimous call—and it's the first time the preseason pick among our writers has held the honor through midseason.

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants.

    In a season that's been lacking in bright spots for the 1-7 G-Men, Barkley's been just about the only thing worth cheering. Eight games into his NFL career, he's already topped 1,000 total yards—519 rushing, 497 receiving on 58 catches to go with a robust six yards per touch.

    Per NFL analyst Brad Gagnon, this was an easy call.

    "All of the quarterbacks have struggled, and few pass-catchers and linemen have stood out, leaving a group of running backs to fight for this award," he said. "Denver's Phillip Lindsay leads all rookies with 531 rushing yards and Nick Chubb of the Browns and Kerryon Johnson of the Lions both have yards-per-attempt averages north of 6.0. But Barkley is one of just two players in football with over 1,000 scrimmage yards, and he leads all rookies with seven touchdowns despite playing in one of the league's lowest-scoring offenses. He's got a clear lead here."

    Given how this vote turned out, no one's lining up to argue.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns (4 votes)

    Our preseason prediction for this award, Denver Broncos edge-rusher Bradley Chubb, has had a fine start to his career, with seven sacks over his first eight games. But Chubb received a single vote at midseason.

    "Admittedly, I don't expect Chubb to be named Defensive Rookie of the Year," Davenport said. "But lost in the hoopla surrounding some of the other rookies is the fact that Chubb's on pace to threaten Jevon Kearse's rookie sack record of 14.5 in 1999. First-year pass-rushers who hit double digits in that category are rare—Chubb's set to sail past that benchmark."

    A couple of other fine young defenders also received one vote. Safety Derwin James has already become a linchpin for the 5-2 Chargers. Linebacker Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts leads the NFL with 88 total tackles.

    But four writers, including Miller, singled out Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft.

    "Chubb has the pass-rush numbers," Miller said, "but Ward has been the best rookie defender. His three interceptions and one blocked kick have all come in huge moments for the suddenly competitive Browns."

    His point is valid. Ward has done something that's every bit as rare as a 10-sack rookie season—emerge as a high-end cover man right out of the gate. He's also shown a knack for making big plays, intercepting three passes, forcing a fumble and blocking a field-goal attempt.

    The 2018 draft class has been impressive—on both sides of the ball.

    Others receiving votes: Bradley Chubb, OLB, Denver Broncos (1 vote), Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote), Darius Leonard, OLB, Indianapolis Colts (1 vote)

Comeback Player of the Year

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    J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (5 votes)

    It's a two-horse race for Comeback Player of the Year—and the preseason selection (Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck) ain't one of them.

    Luck's having a fine year, but it's for a bad team, and that hurts his cause.

    Both players who received votes will probably don an ugly jacket one day at a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Two votes went to Adrian Peterson, who's turned back the clock and become the driving offensive force for the first-place Washington Redskins.

    "Like a lot of smart alecks," NFL national lead writer Mike Tanier said, "I assumed Peterson would have a bunch of 12-carry, 20-yard games, complain about not getting the ball enough and then get hurt. Instead, he's on his way to a 1,000-yard season, making an impact in the receiving game and doing it for a team that's quietly 5-2. It's a remarkable comeback for a guy who has made a second career out of remarkable comebacks."

    However, the leading vote-getter plays on the other side of the ball. Five voters, including Gagnon, singled out Watt, who appears to have returned to the dominant form that made him the NFL's most feared defender a few years back.

    "It was fair to wonder if the three-time Defensive Player of the Year would ever be the same after he missed all but eight games in 2016 and 2017 due to several serious injuries," Gagnon said. "But here he is, tied for the AFC lead with eight sacks in eight games. He's also forced four fumbles and is the primary reason the red-hot Texans are in first place."

    Others receiving votes: Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins (2 votes)

Fantasy Player of the Year

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    Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams (5 votes)

    It's no surprise Gurley is the midseason pick for Fantasy Player of the Year. For the second straight season, Gurley is fantasy's highest-scoring running back by a sizable margin. As Dunne wrote, Gurley's approaching legendary status in the fantasy community—and he's only 24 years old.

    "Gurley is reaching rarefied air in the fantasy world," he said. "We're talking 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson, 2000 Marshall Faulk, 2003 Priest Holmes. Why? The Rams back is blessed with LT-like vision, Faulk-like versatility, a Holmes-like nose for the end zone and runs with more raw power than all three. Toss in a brilliant play-caller and you have a running back who'll lift many an owner to a fantasy championship."

    When fantasy draft season rolls around next summer, Gurley will be the top choice as the No. 1 overall pick—again.

    However, that's exactly why Davenport (the 2017 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year) went another direction.

    "Gurley's been phenomenal," Davenport said. But he was expected to be the No. 1 running back this year by more people than not. Mahomes wasn't even drafted as a weekly starter in many fantasy leagues. Now, not only is Mahomes fantasy's top quarterback, but his margin over the No. 2 QB is also wider than the gap between Gurley and Barkley. It's that kind of player—middle-round picks who go on to have elite seasons—who win fantasy championships. And the Kansas City signal-caller is poised to do that for a lot of people in 2018."

    Others receiving votes: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints (1 vote); Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (1 vote)

Breakout Player of the Year

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    Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (7 votes)

    OK, so about the panel's preseason pick of Minnesota Vikings tailback Dalvin Cook.


    Frankly, there was no way to know Cook would pull his hamstring and miss most of this season. There was also no way to know that Mahomes would come out of the gate with guns blazing—and then some.

    Since passing for 256 yards (and four scores) in Chiefs' season opener against the Chargers, Mahomes has reeled off seven straight 300-yard efforts. His 2,526 passing yards lead the NFL. So do his 26 touchdown passes. As a matter of fact, those 26 scores over the first nine starts of his career are the most by a quarterback in that span in the history of the National Football League.

    Not bad for a kid who barely played as a rookie.

    "So many awards could and should go Mahomes' way as long as he continues to perform at unprecedented levels," NFL analyst Brent Sobleski said. "The Chiefs groomed the quarterback last year before finally unleashing him upon the NFL this season. To place Mahomes' performance into context, his 26 touchdowns through eight games tied Alex Smith's best performance for an entire campaign."

    Smith is having quite a year of his own in Washington.

    But the number of people in Kansas City who miss him number roughly zero.

Most Improved Player of the Year

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    Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings (2 votes)

    So far in this piece, there's been a fair amount of agreement. That's rather unusual.

    Dissent had to happen sooner or later.

    Half a dozen players received a vote for Most Improved Player of the Year. There were a pair of quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, Mitchell Trubisky). A tailback who wasn't even supposed to be a starter (Matt Breida). A tight end who's trying to shake the first-round bust label (Eric Ebron). And a defensive back in Byron Jones of the Dallas Cowboys who isn't exactly a household name.

    "The Dallas Cowboys' 2015 first-round pick went from the prospect everyone knew for breaking a world record in the long jump at the NFL combine to one of the league's best cornerbacks," Sobleski said. "His emergence as a true standout performer relied upon placing him in the right position. No longer bouncing between corner and safety, Jones has excelled under defensive backs coach Kris Richard's tutelage."

    However, just one player received multiple votes: Thielen.

    In fairness, he was already pretty danged good—the fifth-year veteran caught 91 passes for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns last year.

    But Thielen has taken it to a new level. He's already sailed past last year's totals in both touchdowns and 100-yard games, and he's on pace to have one of the best seasons by a wide receiver ever: 148 receptions, 1,850 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    Those will be hard marks to hit, but given how Thielen's played, we wouldn't bet against him.

    Others receiving votes: Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers (1 vote); Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts (1 vote); Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote); Byron Jones, CB, Dallas Cowboys (1 vote); Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears (1 vote)

Most Valuable Player

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    Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (4 votes)

    That all four players who received an MVP vote are quarterbacks isn't a surprise. Over the past decade, just one non-quarterback brought home the hardware in this category: running back Adrian Peterson in 2012.

    That not one of those vote-getting QBs was named Aaron Rodgers (the preseason pick) is a bit surprising, because as goes No. 12, so go the Cheeseheads.

    However, the Pack have scuffled, while all our vote-getters are well-positioned for a postseason run.

    Tanier cast his ballot for the man who won the award in 2017: Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

    "Brady's stats look ordinary," Tanier said. "The Patriots' record still has those September blemishes. There's no Mahomes-Gurley sizzle or it's-about-time Drew Brees angle. There's just an almost inevitable excellence, a degree of efficiency that even the stats don't seem to measure. When teams go into Foxborough and play like they were already down 14-0 during warm-ups, that's the Brady factor."

    The aforementioned Brees (who shockingly has never won the award) and Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers also nabbed one vote each.

    But a young gun ran away with the vote.

    "We now see why Andy Reid had no issues trading Alex Smith," Freeman said. "Mahomes is smart, adaptable, accurate and athletic. He's one of the most dominant young throwers the NFL has ever seen."

    If Mahomes stays on his 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown pace and the Chiefs keep piling up wins, it's easy to envision this.

    Others receiving votes: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (1 vote); Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (1 vote); Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote)