Comeback Player of the Year: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
The writing appeared to be on the wall for Fitzgerald in 2014 after posting arguably the worst season of his then-11-year NFL career. Fast forward to now, when he just completed one of his best seasons ever. Fitzy set a career-high with 109 catches, adding 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns. It’s the first time he’s gone over 82 catches or 1,000 yards since 2011, and the 13-3 Cardinals locked up an NFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Others considered: Chris Johnson, Eric Berry, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, DeAngelo Williams
Most Improved Player: Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Freeman was basically the lone bright spot for an incredibly disappointing Falcons team. The second-year back exploded this season. After gathering just 95 total touches and two touchdowns last season, Freeman overcame a nagging hamstring injury in the preseason to tally 980 rushing yards for 11 touchdowns and 71 catches for 560 yards and two receiving TDs, finishing second in the NFL in total TDs. That all happened while essentially missing two games with a concussion in Weeks 11 and 12.
Others considered: Malcolm Butler, Gary Barnidge, Blake Bortles, Tyler Eifert
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola. Dion Lewis. Dont’a Hightower. Jamie Collins. Chandler Jones. Matthew Slater.
Should we continue? OK. Nate Solder, Bryan Stork, Sebastian Vollmer, Scott Chandler, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon LaFell, Dominique Easley, Aaron Dobson, James Devlin, Ryan Wendell.
There are more, but that probably gives you an idea of how many New England Patriots were injured this season. Every team has injuries, but not typically in the volume and total value of the players the Patriots lost for significant parts or all of this season. Yet Belichick plugged away, coaching the team to a 12-4 record and its sixth consecutive first-round bye in the playoffs. It might be the legendary coach’s best work yet.
Others considered: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings; Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
Sorry, Todd Gurley, but this is David Johnson’s award.
Gurley likely will win, but Johnson deserves serious consideration. He racked up 529 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry on one of the best teams in the NFL. He also added 28 catches for 352 yards and three receiving TDs, had 598 kick return yards for an average of 27.2 (fifth best in the league), and added a 108-yard return in Week 1. That gives him 12 total TDs and hopefully a bit of hardware for his work.
Others considered: Todd Gurley, Thomas Rawls, Karlos Williams, Amari Cooper, Jameis Winston
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Peters has been an integral part of the Chiefs incredible 10-game winning streak to close out the regular season. He’s become arguably the best cornerback on a terrific defense, tied for the league lead in interceptions (eight) and INTs returned for touchdowns (two), and led the league in interception return yards (280) and passes defensed (34). He added a forced fumble on his way to a Pro Bowl selection.
Others considered: Ronald Darby, Leonard Williams, Eric Kendricks, Stephone Anthony, Kwon Alexander
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, WRs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Falcons
Sorry, but there’s no way you can pick just one of these guys. Brown and Jones tied for the league lead with 136 receptions, seven shy of the all-time mark set by Marvin Harrison in 2002. Jones edged Brown in receiving yards, 1,871 yards to 1,834, while Brown had the edge in touchdowns, 10-8. They’re dynamic, incredible wide receivers, and they each should be rearranging their trophy cabinets to make room for the award.
Others considered: Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Odell Beckham Jr., Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Russell Wilson
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt seems too easy, but he’s simply the best defender in the league. His 17 1/2 sacks led the NFL and he failed to miss any time after breaking a hand. He at times was a one-man wrecking crew for the Texans, who rallied to win the AFC South division and make the playoffs. There’s a very strong and valid case to be made for any of Chandler Jones, Josh Norman and even Marcus Peters, but Watt takes the award.
Others considered: Chandler Jones, Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Khalil Mack, Tyrann Mathieu
Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Brady lost at least eight offensive skill players for significant periods of time and played with one of the worst offensive lines of his career. (He was sacked nearly twice as many times as in 2014.) Yet he still led the league with 36 passing touchdowns and was third in passing yards. He pushed past nine months of hell in court and in the media, escaped the distractions, and dominated nearly every opponent. Cam Newton can give a hundred balls away to kids and dance however he likes, but Brady is the MVP.
Others considered: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Russell Wilson, Antonio Brown, J.J. Watt, Josh Norman, Rob Gronkowski
Thumbnail photo via Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots