B/R Expert Consensus NFL Midseason Awards

NFL StaffContributor INovember 6, 2019

B/R Expert Consensus NFL Midseason Awards

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    NFL campaigns are unpredictable.

    The New England Patriots are the only constant in a vast sea of uncertainty. Otherwise, pleasant surprises and crushing disappointments emerge every year.

    The league's 100th season has already experienced its share of ups and downs by the halfway mark.

    The San Francisco 49ers are the only undefeated squad through nine weeks of play. Be prepared: The Niners are going to receive plenty of love. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears woefully underperformed. Surprisingly, the tanking Miami Dolphins aren't even the league's worst team; the winless Cincinnati Bengals are.

    Multiple organizations had or continue to deal with significant quarterback issues. The Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers have overcome their quarterback issues and are very much in the playoff chase. The Saints are still counted among the league's best despite Drew Brees' five-week absence.

    Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers joined forces to forget the bad and delineate between the good and the very best by handing out the B/R Expert Consensus NFL Midseason Awards.

    This is the story of the 2019 campaign so far.

Panel

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    The midseason award winners will be announced momentarily. Before doing so, the following writers comprised Bleacher Report's motley crew of a voting panel:

Coach of the Year

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    Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts (3 votes)

    The idea of an organization losing its franchise quarterback to an unexpected preseason retirement seems to have weighed quite heavily with this choice.

    Despite the loss of Andrew Luck, the Colts still own a 5-3 record with Jacoby Brissett behind center, and they're only a half game behind the Houston Texans for the AFC South lead.

    Reich never wavered in his belief in Luck's replacement.

    "On one hand, we can respect and honor the player and the teammate was," the head coach said after Luck's announcement, per ESPN's Mike Wells. "At the same time, we can share an excitement and an enthusiasm about the team we have going forward and the journey ahead of us. Ultimately, it's not how good any one player is; it's not. It's about how good we are as a team."

    At the time, Reich said the Colts were in "good hands with Jacoby Brissett as our quarterback."

    The coach was right on both fronts. The Colts are a good team and Brissett is a legitimate starting-caliber quarterback. In fact, Brissett is a perfect facilitator for their offense, which features a top offensive line and multiple weapons. His 14-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio ranks among the league's best. 

    The adversity hasn't stopped, though. The degree of difficulty could ramp up this weekend since Brissett is now dealing with a sprained MCL.

    Don't expect a downturn in Indianapolis' play even if Brissett misses time, as Reich will continue to get the most out of the team.

    Others receiving votes: Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers (2 votes); Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns (yikes)

Offensive Player of the Year

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    RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (4 votes)

    Sometimes, stats lie. Other times, they tell the whole story.

    Case in point: Christian McCaffrey continues to dominate the opponents and box score. As a result, he's worked his way into MVP consideration even though it has become a QB-dominated award.

    Carolina's workhorse leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (110.1), rushing yards per attempt among ball-carriers with 100 or more carries (5.3), yards from scrimmage (1,244), rushing touchdowns (10) and total touchdowns (13).

    McCaffrey is on pace to accumulate 2,488 yards from scrimmage—which would rank second all-time behind Chris Johnson's 2009 performance. McCaffrey and Jim Brown are the only two players in NFL history with 150-plus scrimmage yards and at least one touchdown in six of their team's first eight contests, per NFL Research.

    What McCaffrey has done this season is truly rare, and no one should expect his workload to decrease or his production to decline in the coming weeks.

    "He's the heart and soul of our offense and the heart and soul of our team," quarterback Kyle Allen said after the running back's three-touchdown performance Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, per the Associated Press' Steve Reed. "Three touchdowns today. ... Those plays change the game—and he does that week in and week out."

    Others receiving votes: QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (1 vote); WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Defensive Player of the Year

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    DE Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers (3 votes)

    Lawrence Taylor is the only rookie to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa could be the next.

    Like Taylor, Bosa is playing like a crazed dog. He immediately claimed the NFL as his yard, and good luck to any blocker who gets in his way.

    The similarities between the two run a little deeper than possibly accomplishing the same feat. Taylor came into the league and turned around a woeful Giants defense. Bosa won't revolutionize the game in the same way, but the impact on his team is quite similar, as NBCS Authentic's Alex Didion noted. Both defenses went from subpar units to elite with the addition of the havoc-wreaking edge-rushers.

    Niners cornerback (and a future Hall of Famer) Richard Sherman didn't mince words when asked about the rookie's performance late last month.

    "[Bosa] is an immense talent and I think the world's finally getting to see it, man," Sherman told The MMQB's Albert Breer. "I've never seen a rookie with this kind of poise, this kind of dominance—and just such a humble kid."

    Going into Thursday's contest with the Arizona Cardinals, Bosa led all defensive ends with a 23.2 percent disruption rate—which includes quarterback pressures, hurries and sacks a player has divided by pass-rush snaps—according NFL Next Gen Stats (h/t ESPN's Nick Wagoner).

    Bosa also joined Julius Peppers as the last two players with seven sacks and an interception through the first seven games of their careers.

    But stats can't fully encapsulate Bosa's performance. He's wrecked entire games with his constant disruption. Opposing offenses must account for his presence at all times.

    Others receiving votes: CB Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots (2 votes); Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: DE Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    RB Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders (unanimous)

    The Oakland Raiders' Josh Jacobs isn't just the front-runner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the year; he's already counted among the league's elite running backs.

    Jacobs ranks in the top eight overall in attempts per game (19), rushing yards (740), yards per carry among backs with 100 or more carries (4.9), rushing touchdowns (six) and 20-plus-yard runs (five). He is the only back in the last seven years with two games of 25 or more carries and no negative runs, according to the Associated Press' Josh Dubow.

    Pro Football Focus graded Jacobs as the league's best offensive rookie by a wide margin, and that was before he ran for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. His grade through October actually led all running backs, not just rookies.

    This year's 24th overall draft pick already set the Raiders' rookie rushing record. For those curious, Marcus Allen previously held the record with 697 rushing yards.

    "That dude is incredible," tight end Darren Waller said, per NBC Bay Area's Scott Bair. "He runs the ball with such energy that you feel like you have to match that. We don't want to just see him make great plays. We want to make great plays with him and help him do what he does. We all take on that attitude and let him be featured because that dude is the real deal."

    In the offseason, Oakland was projected to be a high-flying offense with Antonio Brown as the focal point. Instead, the team found its identity with Jacobs and the ground game setting the tone.

    Preseason pick: RB David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    DE Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers (unanimous)

    A first-year performer certainly can't win NFL Defensive Player of the Year without claiming Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, so Bosa is the obvious choice.

    A comparison to his classmates almost isn't fair.

    Yes, Bosa and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Allen are tied for the rookie lead with seven sacks. But that's where the similarities stop because the amount of pressure Bosa generates doesn't have an equal.

    Last month, the 49ers defensive end nearly doubled the next first-year edge-rusher with a 24 percent pass-rush win rate, according to Pro Football Focus. This year's second overall draft pick also led rookies in total pressures (35) and pass-rushing grade (85.7) by a significant margin.

    Bosa is both the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month.

    "He plays like a 10-year vet," Sherman said, per Keiana Martin of the 49ers official site. "He plays with such a savviness and such a poise and such an aggression. You can tell he was coached up great at a young age. He's an incredible talent. And he's so humble. A humble nice guy."

    The 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year award appears to be locked down, with Bosa on the hunt for more hardware.

    Preseason pick: LB Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers

Comeback Player of the Year

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    WR Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams (3 votes)

    The Los Angeles Rams' Cooper Kupp is the NFL's most consistent downfield threat.

    Don't believe it?

    Kupp leads all receivers with 15 receptions of 20 or more yards. He's not just a slot receiver working his way open to keep the chains moving; he's a legit No. 1 target who happens to work primarily out of the slot.

    The 26-year-old target is producing at a high level despite being less than a year removed from a season-ending ACL tear.

    "It sounds crazy but he looks more explosive than he was before, actually," head coach Sean McVay told reporters during training camp.

    Kupp ranks second overall in receptions (58), third in receiving yardage (792), second in yards after catch (410) and tied for 10th in receiving touchdowns (five).

    He also established the NFL's season high in receiving yards with 220 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He's not a one-game aberration, though. Kupp provided 100 or more receiving yards in five of eight games this season.

    "He's played a such a high level," McVay said, per ESPN's Lindsey Thiry. "He's really been so consistent since the first day he got with us."

    Others receiving votes: QB Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans Saints (2 votes); RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: Fournette

Fantasy Player of the Year

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    RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (4 votes)

    McCaffrey's outstanding traditional production was outlined earlier on the NFL Offensive Player of the Year slide.

    Let's dig a little deeper into those numbers with a fantasy slant.

    McCaffrey has the third-most fantasy points (246.4) in a traditional PPR league through eight games of any season, according to ESPN's Tristan H. Cockcroft. He's on pace to shatter LaDainian Tomlinson's record-setting 2006 fantasy campaign.

    McCaffrey has been even better than his half-season total indicates.

    "Over his last 16 full games, McCaffrey has scored at least 26.0 fantasy points in 13 of 16 games (81 precent)," Pro Football Focus' Scott Barrett wrote. "He's finished top-four among running backs in 11 of those 16 weeks (69 precent), or top-eight in 14 of 16 weeks (88 percent)."

    The 23-year-old backs presents a unique combination of vision, patience, reliability, elusiveness and versatility.

    Even if a defense shuts down the Panthers run game, McCaffrey is the Panthers' second-leading receiver with 42 receptions. Only two other backs—the Los Angeles Chargers' Austin Ekeler and New England Patriots' James White—have more catches this season, and neither contributes nearly as much in their respective team's run games.

    McCaffrey is a fantasy football stud, a legit MVP candidate and the game's best running back.

    Others receiving votes: RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (1 vote); RB Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Breakout Player of the Year

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    WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 votes)

    With DeSean Jackson's offseason departure, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passing offense would revolve entirely around Mike Evans, right? Wrong.

    Chris Godwin emerged as more than a secondary option. He's now one half of the league's best wide receiver duo.

    Evans and Godwin are only the second pair of teammates to both post 750 or more receiving yards through their team's first eight games, according to NFL Stats—Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas also achieved the feat during the 2014 campaign.

    The fact Godwin is producing in an expanded role shouldn't be surprising. After all, he had 842 receiving yards last season. But he's now producing more than Evans in certain categories. Godwin has more catches (54) in fewer targets (72). He's also created more yards after catch (298) and converted more first downs (42).

    Evans is considered a top-four wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones, Houston Texans' DeAndre Hopkins and New Orleans Saints' Michael Thomas. Godwin is right next to his teammate with similar or better numbers while playing with a widely inconsistent quarterback in Jameis Winston.

    Godwin and Evans are ideal complements. Evans excels against man, while Godwin regularly exploits zone coverage as the NFL's highest-rated wider receiver when facing those schemes, per Pro Football Focus.

    "Just going out there, not trying to do too much and trying to play my game is what I've been focused on," Godwin told reporters.

    He's done more than enough and exceeded expectations.

    Others receiving votes: LB Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2 votes); TE Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: QB Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Most Improved Player

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    Will Newton/Getty Images

    QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens (3 votes)

    The Baltimore Ravens teased fans and NFL onlookers alike with a promise of building a revolutionary offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson. The prediction has come true, as the Ravens sport the NFL's second-ranked offense.

    Jackson isn't the league's only dual-threat quarterback, but no other signal-caller has the same creativity in space and blazing-fast speed. He's a weapon as a runner and passer—which is a nightmare for opposing defenses and their coordinators.

    "All starts with Lamar. Lamar runs the show," safety Earl Thomas said, per NBC Sports' Peter King. "You better be in great shape when you play us, because Lamar's gonna wear you down, mentally and physically."

    A season ago, many still questioned Jackson's long-term potential, because he struggled with inconsistencies as a passer, and the general belief is a team can't win with a run-first quarterback. Some still believe the Ravens' current setup isn't sustainable. Looking at you, Eric Mangini.

    Yes, Jackson is a dynamic runner, but saying so doesn't overlook the fact he's greatly improved as a passer.

    A year ago, the then-21-year-old rookie completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,201 yards with a six-to-three touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 84.5 quarterback rating. He's surpassed all of those numbers this season with a bonus increase in rushing yards per game. Jackson is on track to amass 3,626 passing yards, 1,274 rushing yards and 34 total touchdowns. 

    The reason behind the growth is simple: The Ravens took the logical approach by building an offense around their quarterback and his style of play. General manager Erick DeCosta added speed on the outside to stretch opposing defenses and open up the box. He also signed Mark Ingram II to serve as a hammer in the run game. Both of these things create even more space for Jackson to operate.

    Jackson is now counted among the NFL's best quarterbacks, even though he doesn't do everything in a traditional manner.

    Others receiving votes: RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (1 vote); WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 vote); LB Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers (1 vote)

    Preseason pick: QB Jameis Winston, Buccaneers

Most Valuable Player

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    QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (unanimous)

    Nobody in the NFL does more with less than Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. His wizardry in the pocket and as a passer would make Albus Dumbledore jealous.

    Wilson must deliver time after time, because he's never had an elite offensive supporting cast. The Seahawks built their reputation on stingy defenses and a strong ground game. But they no longer have the former. Seattle now ranks 25th in total defense, while the run offense ranks 21st in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) without Wilson's scrambles, according to The Athletic's Ben Baldwin.

    Wilson is the game's most efficient quarterback. He became the first quarterback in NFL history with a 22-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his team's first nine games. He also ranks No. 1 overall in quarterback rating (118.2) and QBR (78.5). By the way, those 22 touchdown tosses lead the league.

    Seattle owns a 7-2 record despite a subpar offensive line, mix-and-match weapons at wide receiver and tight end and the aforementioned underperforming defense because Wilson's play erases so many sins.

    "With Russell back there, it don't matter, you've got a chance," head coach Pete Carroll told reporters after Sunday's 40-34 over victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "You've got a chance no matter what's going on." 

    Good quarterbacks operate within the structure of the offense and complete what's available to them. Great quarterbacks—true franchise signal-callers—elevate the play of those around them, and Wilson does this better than any other person in the league.

    "I think he's the best quarterback in the game, so whenever you have him out there on the field, anything can happen," running back Chris Carson said, per the Associated Press' Tim Booth.

    Preseason pick: QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Best Team

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    Tie: New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers

    While Bleacher Report preferred a singular option, one team from each conference split the vote between the participating writers.

    The Patriots remain the team to beat, despite Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, because they've established themselves as such. An 8-0 start with their track record and dominant performances through most of the first half provides some leeway. 

    Meanwhile, the 8-0 49ers are playing at a Super Bowl standard with the necessary tools at every level to challenge an established squad like the Patriots.

    It all starts on one side of the ball. In a pass-heavy, offensive-driven league, dominant defenses are the common thread between the two franchises.

    The 49ers and Patriots rank first and second overall in total defense, respectively. Neither unit surrenders more than 250 yards per game. Keep in mind that hasn't been done over the course of a year since the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The units are built differently, though.

    San Francisco dominates up front with a loaded defensive line. The 49ers are tied for third overall with 30 sacks. The Patriots, meanwhile, are built from back-to-front with the game's best secondary. The group shuts down receivers and creates turnovers.

    Offensively, neither team is a slouch. The 49ers benefit from Kyle Shanahan's fantastic play-calling and beautifully designed run schemes. The Patriots still have some guy named Tom Brady, who has seen everything, to pick apart opposing Ds.

    What does all of this mean? The NFL has two teams clearly better than the rest, and they're on a collision course toward Miami for Super Bowl LIV.