I’ve already said my piece regarding what the Broncos should do at quarterback for the playoffs and won’t repeat it. For this week’s Midweek Musings, I want to talk about postseason awards.
The first ones I’ll talk about are ones I’m handing out specifically to Denver Broncos players. Then I’ll get into the NFL postseason awards and who I believe they should go to.
I don’t see any Broncos getting the usual postseason awards that are handed out, so I figured it was a good idea to recognize those Broncos who made significant contributions. Plus, you have a couple that could have been contenders for the league awards, were it not for some others standing in the way.
So let’s get to the Broncos awards first.
Coaching staff member of the year: Wade Phillips
I talked about the Broncos defense yesterday, so I think it’s pretty clear who gets this award. Phillips may never have worked out as a head coach, but few have been as good at running a defense as he has been. The Broncos ranked first in several defensive categories and weathered the storm when several key contributors missed time with injuries.
Rookie of the year: Shane Ray
His first year in the NFL showed a lot of promise. He had 20 tackles and four sacks in a rotational role. Early in the season, he showed that he was a rookie who had a few things to learn, but he got better as the season continued. (Max Garcia is also a worthy choice — like Ray, he struggled early but gave stability on the offensive line as the season progressed.)
Comeback player of the year: Danny Trevathan
This one isn’t up for debate. Trevathan missed most of the 2014 season with knee and leg injuries, and returned this season to lead the Broncos with 110 tackles. He also broke up six passes and had two interceptions.
Breakout player of the year: Shaquil Barrett
After DeMarcus Ware missed several games with back spasms, Barrett nicely filled in for him, getting 5.5 sacks, 42 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four passes broken up. Pretty impressive for a guy who was a practice squad player for most of 2014. (I can see an argument for Matt Paradis, who started the season slowly but settled in nicely as the starting center by season’s end.)
Offensive player of the year: Demaryius Thomas
True, Thomas’ dropped passes were frustrating and he wasn’t good at all in the New England game. But he was frequently targeted (177 times) and still managed 105 receptions with 1,304 yards and six touchdowns. It marked the second straight year Thomas has caught at least 100 passes. (The other player to argue for would be Emmanuel Sanders, who had another 1,000-yard receiving season for the Broncos.)
Defensive player of the year: Von Miller
I think fewer people will argue about this one. Miller led the Broncos with 11 sacks, forced four fumbles, recovered three, and had 35 tackles. Sure, one might have wanted to see more, but Miller was terrific at pressuring quarterbacks and forcing them to throw sooner than they wanted. (Note: Feel free to argue for Trevathan or Chris Harris if you wish.)
Now I’ll get to the NFL postseason awards, in which there aren’t as many clear-cut cases and arguments could certainly be made for other candidates. But these are the people I think have the best arguments.
Executive of the year: John Dorsey, Kansas City
I’m not sure why more people aren’t talking about what Dorsey has done this season. He didn’t really make a lot of headlines this offseason, aside from his decision to sign Jeremy Maclin and the contract he gave to Justin Houston. But both proved to be wise decisions, as Houston remained one of the best defensive players in the NFL and Maclin proved to be a major upgrade over Dwayne Bowe (Maclin finished with 1,088 yards on 87 receptions with eight touchdowns). The rest of his free agent moves were about retaining low-cost players. As for the draft, some questioned whether or not he should have taken Marcus Peters in the first round, but that worked out pretty well. So did his second-round selection of Mitch Morse. I know Andy Reid will get a lot of credit for the Chiefs winning 10 straight after starting 1-5, but honestly, Dorsey did a good job building the roster when cap space was tight, while ensuring himself a good cap situation in the coming years.
Coach of the year: Ron Rivera, Carolina
Andy Reid is certainly a strong candidate and we’ll hear from the Patriots fanboys about how Bill Belichick deserves this honor for getting the Patriots to playoffs despite injuries. The problem with the Belichick argument is the Patriots didn’t play particularly well down the stretch and other teams had injuries woes but overcame them. I had backed Bruce Arians earlier this year, and I think the argument is still there, and I can also see the argument for Reid. But with Rivera, you had a team that entered the season with questions about the offensive line, the receivers and whether the defense was good enough to keep the Panthers in contention. And when the Falcons started 5-0 alongside Carolina, people figured the Panthers were no shoo-in for the division. Instead, the Falcons faded while the Panthers kept on rolling. They had a few hiccups late in the seasons but were never truly out of a game. I think Rivera holds the edge, but if it went to Reid or Arians, I’d be fine. Belichick, as good of a coach as he is, isn’t as strong of a candidate this season.
Comeback player of the year: Eric Berry, Kansas City
I’ll get one obvious candidate out of the way. Carson Palmer had a career-best season after coming off an ACL injury, so I wouldn’t be upset if he got the award. There may be people who flock to quarterbacks for various awards, but that’s nothing new. With that said, Berry missed much of last season as he dealt with lymphoma and there were questions as to how good he would be this season. He answered those questions with a strong 2015 campaign with 61 tackles, 10 passes broken up and two interceptions. I think Berry holds the edge, given that the health issues he had to face were a little more significant than Palmer’s.
Defensive rookie of the year: Marcus Peters, Kansas City
I’m not crazy about giving Peters the award, but it’s hard to argue when he tied with Reggie Nelson to lead the NFL in interceptions. I don’t think Peters will ever become a shutdown corner, but he has a nose for the ball and is dangerous in the open field after he gets an interception. Pro Football Focus has favored Ronald Darby, but needless to say, voters don’t look at passes broken up as much as they look at passes intercepted. The one who could make things interesting is Leonard Williams, who was a key reason the Jets’ defense improved. In the end, though, I think Peters has more going for him and will likely take the award.
Offensive rookie of the year: Todd Gurley, St. Louis
There will be those who want to gravitate toward the quarterback, which means Jameis Winston will get a lot of talk. Before people get tuned up, let’s be fair to Winston: He did improve as the season progressed, cutting down his interceptions and doing better at reading defenses. However, if you look at the big picture, Gurley did more for his team than Winston did for his for one simple reason: Gurley was the biggest reason the Rams could get things done offensively. The Rams had no quarterback and their top receiver, Tavon Austin, was better utilized when running the football. And there were no other receivers who ever provided an impact. Gurley, on the other hand, gave the Rams a jolt on offense midway through the season and was key to their victories later in the season. I think you have to go with the player who did more when surrounded by less, and Winston didn’t do as much of the heavy lifting as Gurley did.
Defensive player of the year: JJ Watt, Houston
Yes, I know, we’ve been down this road before. But Watt peaked down the stretch as the Texans got things together on defense. He again led the NFL in sacks with 17.5 and he broke up three passes. Watt isn’t the slam-dunk candidate he was last year, but he leads the pack. Khalil Mack deserves consideration and there may be a few votes that go to Ziggy Ansah. I suspect a few will try to argue for Navarro Bowman, the one-man crew for the Niners defense, and Peters will probably get some votes, although then you have to consider Nelson in the argument. In the end, though, Watt makes the most sense.
Offensive player of the year: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
In this case, I don’t believe the award should go to a quarterback just to give it to a quarterback. There are years in which a QB has been most deserving, but what I’m examining is which offensive player did the most from a statistical standpoint. Brown tied for the league lead in receptions with 136, second in receiving yards with 1,834, had 10 receiving touchdowns, and was second in yards from scrimmage with 1,862, and those numbers came in a season in which he Ben Roethlisberger missed several starts. The guy who he tied for receptions is Julio Jones, who finished slightly ahead in receiving yards and yards from scrimmage, so yes, Jones has an argument for the award. But had Roethlisberger not missed time, it’s worth asking if Brown would have topped 2,000 yards receiving. That makes him the better candidate in my eyes.
Most valuable player: Cam Newton, Carolina
OK, let’s get some players out of the way first. I know Pro Football Focus will argue for Carson Palmer many times over, and Palmer had a terrific season. But I find myself asking the question: Would the Cardinals do as well if Drew Stanton was the quarterback? I am well aware that if the QB had been one of those third stringers who nobody can remember, the Cardinals would have fallen apart like they did at the end of 2014, but we must remember the Cardinals kept winning with Stanton under center. I think the difference would have been, say, two wins if Stanton took the snaps. He showed last season he can run the offense well, so I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk case that the Cardinals fall off the face of the earth if Stanton starts instead of Palmer. There is an argument that the Patriots would drop considerably if Tom Brady were out and Jimmy Garappolo had to start, largely because the Pats’ offensive line has been terrible this season, and Brady still led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 36. So, yes, I think he has a good argument, one I would say is better than Palmer’s. But then we come to Cam Newton, who lost his best receiver for the season, while Brady’s best receiver (no, it’s not Julian Edelman) missed just one quarter and one full game. Meanwhile, Newton’s other receivers had issues with dropped passes throughout the season, with Greg Olsen the exception (OK, Jerricho Cotchery didn’t drop too many passes, but he’s never been anything but a No. 3 wideout). Furthermore, the dropoff from Newton to Derek Anderson strikes me as far greater than the dropoff from Brady to Garappolo. You could run the same offense if Brady was out and Garappolo was in, but you couldn’t do that if Newton is out and Anderson is in. What, you think Anderson can go running around the field for all those yards and touchdowns? That’s why I think Newton had the edge. His passer rating of 99.2 is fine and, more importantly, he had 35 passing touchdowns, just one behind Brady. Throw in his 10 rushing touchdowns and that he was smart when it came to picking when to run the football, and I think his case is better. And while I don’t want to dismiss Brady entirely, people advocating him need to ask themselves this: Are you backing him because you honestly believe he’s the best overall player in the NFL this season, or are you backing him because you want the “redemption for Deflategate” narrative to come to fruition?