With the NFL’s regular season in the books, it’s time to dole out our takes on who we think should win each of the year’s major end-of-season awards. And, surprisingly, Tom Brady isn’t our unanimous MVP. Here are our picks for all the top hardware.
Tom Brady, Patriots
Danny Kelly: Brady finished the year first in passing yards (4,577), third in passing scores (32), third in passer rating (102.8) and total QBR (70.2), fourth in yards per attempt (7.9), and fifth in completion percentage (66.3). At 40, he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the game and he carried the Patriots to a 13-3 record and the top seed. This is a no-brainer.
Todd Gurley, Rams
Robert Mays: It’s been a while since the MVP process gave us such a strong reminder of how broken it is. The most valuable player is always going to be a quarterback, but in my mind, this award should go to the most outstanding player in the league. I think we’re going to remember Gurley racking up nearly 2,100 yards from scrimmage in 15 games and pacing the greatest offensive turnaround in league history more than a typical season from Brady.
Kevin Clark: The Patriots' defense turned out to be better than the disaster it looked to be at the start of the year, but Brady still basically carried this team on his back for 16 games. Leading the NFL in passing yards, winning 13 games, and averaging 7.9 yards per attempt is a damn good way to win MVP.
Rodger Sherman: Look, I'm sorry.
Offensive Player of the Year
Sherman: Look, I'm sorry again. This hurts me.
Kelly: Gurley produced a league-high 19 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns and an NFL-best 2,093 scrimmage yards. He was unstoppable.
Clark: Also a good candidate for comeback player of the year (coming back from Jeff Fisher), Gurley returned to his electrifying 2015 form and not only dominated statistically but also looked as athletic and exciting as ever.
Antonio Brown, Steelers
Mays: The guy missed the final two games of the season and still led the league in receiving yards. That’s enough for me. He was on pace for 1,752 yards, had already scored nine touchdowns, and looked harder to stop than ever.
Defensive Player of the Year
Aaron Donald, Rams
Mays: Donald likely won’t win it because Calais Campbell has 14.5 sacks for the league’s best defense—but he should. To get 11 sacks in 14 games as a defensive tackle is just ridiculous. Donald is the best defensive player in the league, and the margin isn’t that close.
Kelly: Donald led all interior players in sacks and racked up an NFL-high 91 pressures. He’s an unblockable game-wrecker and was unmatched in his ability to dominate opposing offensive linemen.
Sherman: Donald led the NFL in quarterback pressures. He plays defensive tackle. That shouldn't be possible! Nos. 2 through 11 are all edge defenders.
Clark: The most talented defensive player in football had a monster year on a playoff team. That's about all you need to say.
Coach of the Year
Sean McVay, Rams
Clark: I hate to give so many awards to one team, but recovering from Jeff Fisher is a minor miracle. McVay's hire in Los Angeles improved the Rams’ offense in a one-year span more than any team in the history of the NFL.
Sherman: I suppose we could also give the Anti-Coach of the Year to Jeff Fisher. Any coach who takes a team from 32nd to first in any category deserves massive credit, and in McVay's case, that category is “points scored.” Which is an important one.
Kelly: McVay helped transform the Rams from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the best. He helped turned Jared Goff from what looked like a colossal bust into what looks like a franchise QB. He helped turn Todd Gurley’s career around. He hired a cadre of great assistants, especially defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and he deployed an innovative and complex offense without batting an eye.
Mays: I’m not sure this is even a conversation.
Comeback Player of the Year
Keenan Allen, Chargers
Mays: I may be a bit biased here after writing about Allen a couple of weeks ago, but the guy came back from a torn ACL and posted seven 100-yard games. Only Brown and Julio Jones—who are from the future—had more receiving yards. Allen is one of the best receivers in the NFL, full stop.
Clark: It is hard to make cuts on a previously torn ACL—a mental challenge more than anything. The idea that Allen could so quickly return to being one of the NFL's top route runners is a feat.
Kelly: Allen tore his ACL last year after playing just under two quarters, but the oft-injured pass catcher silenced doubters this year by playing in all 16 games and catching 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six scores.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Sherman: I choose to believe that Gronkowski intentionally limited himself to 69 catches this year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Alvin Kamara, Saints
Kelly: Kamara led all rushers with 6.1 yards per carry, finished second in total offensive touchdowns (13), sixth in scrimmage yards (1,554), second in yards after contact per carry (3.8), and second in forced missed tackles (58). Oh, and he had a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown in Week 17. He was a menace.
Clark: The winner of a close race with Kareem Hunt, Kamara is as thrilling a young player to enter the league as I can remember. Kamara’s second half was breathtakingly exciting and has made the Saints instant contenders.
Mays: Kareem Hunt’s name is in this conversation, too, but Kamara was one of the stories of the season. He averaged 7.7 yards per touch. That doesn’t even make sense. The guy is a human first down who makes something happen nearly every time the ball is in his hands.
Kareem Hunt, Chiefs
Sherman: Kamara was more efficient and multifaceted, but I’m giving Hunt the nod for leading the NFL in total rushing yardage. I don't think the Chiefs would be in the playoffs without Hunt: He was a workhorse (his backup, Charcandrick West, got only 18 carries on the year) and he added some of the versatility that made Kansas City’s passing game effective.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Marshon Lattimore, Saints
Kelly: Lattimore surrendered a passer rating of just 45.3 in 451 coverage snaps this year (third best), per Pro Football Focus, picking off five passes without giving up a touchdown all year. He legitimately changed the Saints defense, and he picked off a pass with his butt.
Mays: From the time his career started, Lattimore was one of the best cover corners in football, and his arrival went a long way in the Saints’ defensive turnaround. This Saints rookie class will go down as one of the best ever if they all stay on their current trajectory.
Sherman: I never thought I'd see the day that the Saints had a decent pass defense, but Lattimore helped make it happen.
TreDavious White, Bills
Clark: I’m giving White the slight edge over Lattimore because he played 16 games and was a force on the Bills defense. Both players will be great for years.