The trade deadline has been and gone. Week 9 is up and running. Once again the NFL season hurtles at a ferocious pace. One team, the Los Angeles Rams, remains unbeaten. Just behind them, the Kansas City Chiefs (7-1), New Orleans Saints (6-1) and New England Patriots (6-2). Several teams already have their sights on April; New York Giants (1-7), San Francisco 49ers (1-7) and the Oakland Raiders (1-7).
At the midway point, it’s time to look at the leaders in each award category. Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year too.
The most exciting player in the league right now. Mahomes is thriving in this humming Chiefs offense. Averaging just a click over 36 points per game, defenses have yet to slow down Mahomes and co. The Chiefs elite weapons, namely Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, have greatly benefited from the rise of Mahomes.
The end of last season gave a glimpse of what to expect from Mahomes, but nobody could’ve predicted this. 2,526 yards and 26 touchdowns through 8 games, he’s on pace to eclipse the high heights of 50 passing touchdowns for the season. Only the great Tom Brady (50) and Peyton Manning (55) have ventured to that lofty status.
There are, admittedly, a plethora of quarterbacks, who each could make a case for MVP. Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson etc. All having a great year. It’s just Patrick Mahomes is playing a level way above them. At this point, he’s the clear favourite and I don’t believe that will change, come season end.
The newly crowned all-time passing yard leader in NFL history. Brees is completing 77% of his passes in 2019. That’s an incredible number. His blossoming chemistry with wideout Michael Thomas is glorious to watch. The Saints have a tough schedule upcoming (Rams, Bengals and Eagles), in a period that will seriously test Brees and this offense.
The Saints are currently averaging more points per game than the unbeaten Rams with 33.4, just 2 less than the Chiefs. Mark Ingram has returned to pair with Alvin Kamara, meaning the Saints have a well-balanced offense.
It will take a seriously special second half of the year for Brees to get anywhere close, but in a year where NFL records are tumbling for number 9, who knows.
Darkhorse: Russell Wilson
Quite honestly, a number of players could be this year’s ‘Darkhorse’. The unbeaten duo of Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, Philip Rivers or Aaron Rodgers (calling Rodgers a darkhorse is crazy in itself) to name a few. Each has a very good case. Russell Wilson is my pick though. Show me a quarterback who is doing more with less? His offensive line is (still) shaky. He has limited weapons, outside of Tyler Lockett. Elsewhere, Chris Carson has given life to the running game, which has opened up the play-action for Wilson, something he excels doing.
Wilson is heating up too. 9 touchdowns in his last three games, with a QB rating of 132.5, 125.4 and 158.3. If he keeps that level of play up then you may see this darkhorse on a late charge down the line.
Honourable mentions: Aaron Donald – Todd Gurley – Philip Rivers
Offensive Player of the Year
Okay, there’s a reason I don’t have Gurley down as an MVP candidate. It’s all down to the V. I still believe, with or without Gurley, the LA Rams remain unbeaten. Just as I believe, with or without Saquon Barkley, the Giants remain 1-7. I don’t value the running back position highly.
That being said, Gurley is having a phenomenal year, statistically. Gurley possesses raw power and speed. He stands 6ft1 220 lbs, yet has great agility. Has excellent hands in the passing game. Gurley has it all. But watch this thread and tell me any number of running backs couldn’t do what he does. His offensive line, combined with great quarterback play and outstanding scheming has resulted in success for Gurley.
He will come close to 2,000 rushing yards, currently on 800, and will most certainly be near 30 total touchdowns, currently 15. Those numbers are unheard of in the modern, pass-heavy NFL. If he hits the 2,000 rushing yard mark, he will not only win OPOY award, but will be a serious candidate for MVP.
The meteoric rise of Adam Thielen continues. There’s even talk that he’s risen right to the top. After 8 straight games of at least 100 receiving yards, it’s not a ridiculous notion. He must certainly be considered in that ‘elite’ company of; Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham (+ insert name of your choice here).
His 74 receptions, 925 yards and 6 touchdowns are even more impressive when you consider he splits targets with fellow talented wide receiver, Stefon Diggs. Oh, don’t forget tight-end Kyle Rudolph too. His skill set is incredible, great hands and arguably the silkiest route-runner in the league.
Right now it’s a footrace between him and Gurley for OPOY. Sadly for Thielen, Gurley plays on an unbeaten team, currently railroading their way to the NFC Championship game.
Honourable mentions: DeAndre Hopkins – James Conner
Defensive Player of the Year
This may be major disrespect to both Khalil Mack and JJ Watt, but they aren’t on the same level as Donald this season. No one is. According to NextGen Stats, Donald is getting double teamed on 70% of plays. In comparison, JJ Watt gets doubled teamed 46%, Jason Pierre-Paul 38% and Von Miller only 22%. Donald still leads the league in sacks, with 10.
Donald is the best player in the NFL. If all positions were created equal. He’d be the first name on any MVP list if it weren’t for the QB-bias that comes with the award. With 10 sacks already on the year, Donald is on track to hit that illustrious 20, which hasn’t been seen since Justin Houston in 2014 (22). Donald has never gone over 11 for his career, so what he is doing now is unprecedented for a defensive tackle.
I think Mack comes in closest second, but his Chicago Bears will more than likely miss the playoffs, which gives him a distinct disadvantage for the award.
Honourable mentions: Khalil Mack – J.J. Watt – D.J. Swearinger
Offensive Rookie of the Year
The New York Giants are very bad. On the other hand, Saquon Barkley is very good. The Giants offense is awfully uncreative, yet Barkley is still thriving in it. Should Pat Shurmur ever decide to get him involved with more than just a 5 yard dump off (that Barkley somehow turns into 30+ yards) then the Giants might just find some success (lets just ignore current QB woes for a second.
His highlight reel of a season has been the only watchable aspect of this team. Ball in hand he is capable of anything. A true home-run hitter. Barkley has been heavily used in the passing game; 497 yards from 58 receptions. His usage rushing the ball though is far more underwhelming. Just 519 yards from 111 attempts. This is mainly down to the Giants practically chasing the game from the opening drive.
Honourable mentions: Philip Lindsay – Kerryon Johnson – Baker Mayfield
Defensive Rookie of the Year
There have been some outstanding defensive rookie performances in 2018, but Derwin James has out-topped them all. He’s big, fast, physical and makes plays all over the field. I was lucky enough to see him at Wembley earlier this year and he seemed to be involved every defensive play. It was intriguing to look away from the ball and just focus on James. His instincts are exceptional for a player so young in his career.
James is a beast at the line of scrimmage. 3.5 sacks already in 2018 is impressive for a safety, but his pass coverage hasn’t been a weakness for him either. His versatility is one thing that sets him apart from many other rookies. James has played snaps at free safety, in the box and slot corner.
Playmaking skills, along with his ability to get after the quarterback, makes James a unique player in the NFL. Although comparisons to the great Troy Polamalu aren’t crazy. It’s still quite shocking that this guy went 17th in the draft, but the Chargers won’t be complaining. They have a star.
Honourable mentions: Denzel Ward – Darius Leonard – Bradley Chubb