As the NFL approaches the end of the regular season in just a few weeks, there are destined to be last minute playoff pushes, intense coaching battles and more tears for Cleveland fans. Many players are emerging this year as top candidates for awards given at the end of the season. As more and more people are speaking their minds about who will win the awards, let’s take a look at some frontrunners thus far.
MVP: Drew Brees
That’s right, the 37-year-old quarterback who happens to be only 6’0″ tall and is the leader of a 5-6 team through 11 games. However, he is carrying an absolutely atrocious defense who has developed a reputation year-to-year for being a laughingstock in the league. Brees has also had to endure drastic offensive line changes and a very inconsistent ground game. Through all of this, Drew Brees has thrown the ball more than anyone this season , yet holds the highest completion percentage in the NFL at an insane 71.5%. Additionally, he has thrown for more passing yards than anyone in the league through 11 games at 3,587 yards. He also has thrown a league leading 30 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions paired with an outstanding 109.1 QBR.
Being 37 years old and only being 6’0″ tall doesn’t take away from his accomplishments, but actually adds to the difficulty for Brees along with the aforementioned struggles with his team. Another top choice would be New England’s Tom Brady but despite how amazing he has been, his initial 4-game suspension has limited his stats to the point where there is no way he can catch up to Brees. Expect Brees to continue his dominance against an extremely comfortable schedule the rest of the way, showing that he truly is the Most Valuable Player in the league.
Offensive Player of the Year & Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott
Coming out of Ohio State, people knew Elliott would be good. They knew he was a three-down back who could stay on the field as long as the Cowboys needed him to. They also knew he was a mature pass protector, a gifted runner and a capable receiver. But what people did not know was that he would be this good. He is a rookie first of all, who has run for virtually 1,200 yards (which leads the league) through 11 weeks and 11 touchdowns. He also has contributed over 300 yards through the air along with another touchdown there. He has stepped up in clutch situations and is undoubtedly the biggest reason the Cowboys are a surprising 10-1. He’s also averaging 5 yards per carry. The scary part about Elliott is that it looks like he’s only getting better. With no receivers around the league matching the production of Elliott, this is a fairly easy choice, and by default, he also wins Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller
There is no surprise here, but it’s impossible to put anyone ahead of him. Von Miller is by far the scariest defensive player in football. He is a nightmare for opposing offensive lines and even more so for quarterbacks. Defensive coordinators cannot begin to gameplan for his presence. He is the engine that drives the vicious Denver defense. He has recorded 12.5 sacks (which leads the league) so far and has also forced a fumble. Despite big years from Lorenzo Alexander in Buffalo, Vic Beasley Jr. coming off a bad rookie year and Dee Ford emerging in Kansas City, there is simply no one who compares to Miller. Especially with J.J. Watt going down with injury, Miller should run away with this award.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson
Coming off a torn ACL in practice last year at 30 years old, there were many doubts pertaining to Nelson’s ability to come back just as strong. Well, here we are again, watching Nelson emerge as Aaron Rodgers’ top weapon through the air, racking up a large touchdown count and being a big play threat week to week. While never truly known for his blazing speed or freakish athleticism, he burns defenders through his disciplined route running and his football instincts. Nelson has 9 touchdowns through 11 weeks of play with over 750 yards receiving. Despite the Packers woes on offense this season, Nelson has picked up right where he left off from previous years.
Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio
Although coming into the season the Oakland Raiders were said to be one of the most improved teams in the league, it would’ve been hard to say then that they would be 9-2 through 11 games of the 2016 season. The Raiders just keep winning. Crabtree and Cooper have formed one of the better 1-2 punches in the league at wideout paired with quarterback Derek Carr who was actually in some MVP conversations earlier on in the year. Del Rio has made his fair share of risky calls (most of which are paying dividends) and has put his trust into the hands of his players. The defense is also improving week to week. The secondary started the season very iffy but has now settled in it seems. Oakland is in first place in the AFC West and are carrying momentum into what seems to be their first playoff birth since 2002.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Keanu Neal
With no notable rookie standouts on the defensive side of the football (yet), Keanu Neal has easily been the most productive. He has 72 total tackles and 4 forced fumbles so far. He is looking more and more like a future Kam Chancellor in that Atlanta secondary. Drafting Neal came much criticism and concern about his true coverage skills and fit into an NFL scheme. He is a hard-hitting safety who was a great get for the Falcons to add to their annually depleted secondary. Jalen Ramsey is another name to watch for in the future as he has flashed signs of being a pure shutdown corner who won’t back down from anyone. Joey Bosa is another guy who got off to a late start this season due to contract disputes. He has surged San Diego’s defense back into that of a mid-tier status. Despite these names however, none have been as productive and consistent as Neal.
Alex Welz is a former senior-editor-in-chief of The Rambler as a member of the Cathedral Prep Class of 2018.