One of the most compelling and enthralling regular seasons in NFL history has drawn to a close. As I mentioned in a previous article, offenses and quarterbacks operated at historic levels of efficiency in 2018.
With the playoffs in close proximity, it now appropriate to present my version of the NFL awards. Some were more difficult to select than others, but only one player can win each award. Some award races were closely contested, and others were simple to decide.
MVP- Patrick Mahomes: Drew Brees may have had his greatest season yet, but Mahomes was still leaps and bounds better than every player in the NFL this year. The second-year gunslinger out of Texas Tech joined Peyton Manning as the only other quarterback in history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, is empirically ranked as the top passer in football, and led the third-highest scoring offense in league history. There is no debate here for MVP.
Offensive Player of the Year- Drew Brees: Brees does deserve this award, however. I am not one to give multiple awards to one player, and Brees still had a more efficient season than his Kansas City counterpart. Not only did Brees break his own record for completion percentage, but he also broke Peyton Manning’s career passing yards record, which was followed by a hysterical response from Manning. Furthermore, Brees registered the sixth-best single season passer rating ever in 2018 (and led the league this season), and had seven game-winning drives. That seems like a season resume that is gaudy enough to earn this award.
Defensive Player of the Year- Aaron Donald: The most lopsided race for any award this season, Donald put together one of the most dominant seasons by any defensive player, ever, and that was after a lengthy but lucrative holdout for the juggernaut tackle, and will win the piece of hardware coveted by defenders everywhere for the second consecutive year. Donald finished with 20.5 sacks, tied for the fourth-most ever in a season, and it earned him the endorsement of a legendary pass rusher. Analytically, he is ranked at the pinnacle of his position. Donald is now just entering his prime, and this award will likely be just the second of several more in the years to come.
Offensive Rookie of the Year- Saquon Barkley: Unequivocally the most difficult to choose from, this is a near tie between the Giants phenom and Baker Mayfield. Look, Mayfield could finally be the franchise quarterback the Browns have been seeking for over two decades, as he broke the rookie record for touchdown passes that was formerly held by the great Russell Wilson, and completely reversed the fortunes of the Browns. But Barkley joined Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only other rookie to gain 2,000+ scrimmage yards in a season, finished second in rushing behind Ezekiel Elliott, averaged five yards per carry, third in total touchdowns (15), and led the league in the aforementioned category of scrimmage yards, as well as all-purpose yards. As great of a season as Baker Mayfield had, Barkley absolutely dominated and broke multiple records, and that is too good to pass up.
Defensive Rookie of the Year- Darius Leonard: His nickname is “Maniac” for a reason. To put Leonard’s impact into a preliminary perspective, the Colts ranked 30th in scoring defense and total defense a year ago, as well as 27th in DVOA; this season, the unit ranked 10th in scoring defense, 11th in total defense, and 10th in DVOA. The Nichols, South Carolina native trailed only Bradley Chubb in sacks among rookies, led the league in tackles, tied for fourth in forced fumbles (4) (and recovered two of them); had two interceptions, and posted 12 tackles for loss. He is rated as the sixth-best player at his position this season. He also has a chance to wreak havoc against the worst offensive line in football when the Colts play against the Texans on late Saturday afternoon.
Comeback Player of the Year- Andrew Luck: Andrew Luck. The name alone would be enough to justify my pick for the recipient of this award. Luck had not played a football game since Week 17 of 2016, and had once believed his career was in jeopardy prior to this season, a season in which he led the Colts back to the playoffs and finished fifth in yards (4,593), second in touchdowns (39), seventh in touchdown percentage (6.1%), and is highly favored by advanced metrics. Any football fan who has avoided living under a rock was already cognizant of Luck’s value to the Colts, but now his presence under center cannot be overstated.
Coach of the Year- Matt Nagy: Frank Reich and Pete Carroll are close seconds, but Nagy produced far more astonishing results than any other coach in the NFL this season. The Bears had not had a playoff appearance, much less a division title, since 2010, and Nagy accelerated Mitchell Trubisky’s development into a franchise quarterback. He also played an instrumental role in the team’s acquisition of Khalil Mack. With his venerable play-calling skills and the rapid ascension of the Bears into football’s upper echelon of elite teams, Matt Nagy deserves the award, granted that the aforementioned Frank Reich and Pete Carroll, along with Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, and Andy Reid all at least deserve honorable mention.