Writer: Caleb Akpan
Every team in the NFL has played eight or nine games, officially completing the halfway point of this year’s pro football season. Halfway is usually a strong indicator of which teams are true contenders, which teams are headed for top draft picks in Dallas, and usually most accurate, which players are in contention for awards at the year’s NFL Honors ceremony. Here are some players you should expect to see walk across the stage when the awards show takes place February 3rd:
MVP: Carson Wentz (QB, Philadelphia Eagles)
Honorable Mentions: Alex Smith,Tom Brady
It’s no secret that the NFL has been a bit of a mess this year, specifically in terms of team success. There’s rarely a guaranteed win in the league these days, and many teams have failed to meet pre-season expectations, while others have already exceeded them at just eight or nine games in. This makes it even more impressive that the Philadelphia Eagles are 8-1 so far, the best record in the NFL, thanks in large part to their offensive production. Philly leads the league in total points scored (283), yards gained (3393), and passing touchdowns (23). Who’s the established gun slinger leading the charge? Second year/second pick North Dakota State alumni Carson Wentz. Wentz clearly had potential coming out of NDSU and initially leading the Eagles to a 3-0 record as a rookie before going 4-9 the rest of the way, but no one expected him to get it together and reach MVP levels so quickly. Wentz has the stats to back up being called the best quarterback in the NFL at just 24, and usually that label is enough to gain MVP honors.
Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Kareem Hunt (RB, Kansas City Chiefs)
Honorable Mentions: Deshaun Watson,Leonard Fournette
Fans and analysts alike were shocked when the Kansas City Chiefs rocked the New England Patriots 42-27 to start the season. Alex Smith threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns, but he wasn’t the chief to steal the show in Foxborough. That honor went to rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who exploded for 246 total yards and three touchdowns in his NFL debut. Hunt was a third-round draft pick out of Toledo in April and wasn’t Kansas City’s starter until week three of the preseason when Spencer Ware went down with a knee injury, but he was clearly prepared to carry the load in Week 1. Hunt continued his dominant play for the following month before recently stalling, but he is still clearly the top candidate among newcomers this season. His biggest opposition is a now-injured Deshaun Watson and Leonard Fournette, who now has the never good “character issues” label on his name following a deactivation in Week 9. With 1,131 yards from scrimmage just nine games in, Hunt should literally run away with this award by season’s end.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Calais Campbell (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Honorable Mentions: Joey Bosa, DeMarcus Lawrence
On paper, there isn’t a huge individual standout for defensive player of the year. JJ Watt is out for the year and great players like Von Miller and Joey Bosa are producing on the defensive end, but their team’s aren’t producing enough wins to back that up. What many have taken note of is how much the Jacksonville Jaguars defense has improved in 2017. The Jags currently rank first in points (117) and yards (2250) allowed by a defense, following a 2016 campaign where they allowed the eighth-highest amount of points in the league. Their defense is great all-around with players like Jalen Ramsey in the secondary and Telvin Smith on the defensive line, but one key free agent has helped Jacksonville gain elite status this year: defensive end Calais Campbell. After spending his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals, Campbell has 11 sacks for Jacksonville halfway through this year, putting him on pace to possibly break Michael Strahan’s sack record of 22.5 in 2001. If Campbell keeps up this historic production rate and the Jaguars defense continues to dominate, his impact deserves to be recognized.
Defensive Rookie Of The Year: T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Honorable Mentions: Marshon Lattimore, Jamal Adams
T.J. Watt isn’t the best defensive rookie statistically but he has two things going for him: A great first game and the notoriety of his name. Watt came out of nowhere in his first game against the Browns for seven total tackles, two sacks, and an interception. Was it against possibly the worst franchise in NFL history? Yes. But for a player’s first game, it was a dominant performance nonetheless, and one voters will remember. His last name is one that’s been heard a lot through the NFL in the last couple of years, specifically in the defensive player of the year categories. Watt’s brother J.J. is a three-time defensive player of the year and already considered a Hall of Famer by many. Being a part of that family tree shouldn’t be an advantage for T.J., but with solid play throughout the season, it could be what puts him over the edge amongst the fellow defenders in his class.
Coach Of The Year: Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)
Honorable Mentions: Doug Pederson, Sean McDermott
There’s a couple of shocking records in the NFL right now. The Giants are an abysmal 1-10 after many preseason projections had them winning the 1-7 and their division rival Philadelphia Eagles are exceeding expectations with the best record in the league at 8-1. Those two records in the NFC East are eye-opening, but the most shocking win-loss ratio might actually be in the NFC West. In a division that the Seattle Seahawks have recently dominated and the Arizona Cardinals usually compete in, the Los Angeles Rams are the team currently sitting on top at 6-2. The offense and defense are some of the best in the league, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff are playing the best football of their careers, and the Rams finally have hope to recharge their franchise. What can be linked to the quick turnaround? New coach Sean McVay, who’s offensive schemes have the Rams doing a complete 180 in the statistical and record standings. McVay has given the Rams an elite offense to pair with a defense that has been solid, and while this may not be their year, they seem to be headed for Super Bowl contention sooner then later, as long as players continue to have faith in their coach, one who is deserving of being called the best in the league in his first season.