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Mike Anderson was the 189th pick in the NFL Draft, and one of the most unlikely rookie of the year winners ever. He played at Utah in ’98 and ’99, not getting there until four years in the United States Marine Corps and two years at junior college. On the other hand, Anderson’s success wasn’t entirely shocking: perhaps the biggest hurdle to his success was just becoming the team’s starting running back. From ’96 to ’00, Denver’s top running back averaged over 90 rushing yards per game in each season; the Broncos were responsible for 5 of the 21 instances when a rusher hit that mark while playing in at least 12 games.

Last year, Dak Prescott (the 135th pick) became another extremely unlikely rookie of the year winner. He helped turn around a Cowboys passing attack that was the worst in the NFL the prior year. Of course, there was quite an impressive infrastructure in place there, too: in 2014, the Cowboys passing game was great, too.

In 1974, Don Woods took the league by storm in 1974, despite being the 134th pick in the draft. A star quarterback at New Mexico, like most black quarterbacks of his time, he was converted to another position upon reaching the pros. Woods was cut by the Packers, but signed with the Chargers (who already had a pretty good quarterback on the roster). In the final 11 games of the season, Woods averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

In 1975, RB Mike Thomas was the 108th pick to the Redskins. Thomas totaled 1,402 yards in 14 games, and found himself in the company of the game’s top running backs by topping 75 yards in 12 of 14 games.

The graph below shows where the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year was selected in each season: [click to continue…]


When it comes to the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award, one thing is clear: being a high draft pick really, really helps. On average, the last 15 players were drafted with the 11th overall pick, and all but one was a top-18 pick! This award is extremely skewed in favor of early draft picks. Take a look:

[click to continue…]


2016 NFL Awards: Voting Breakdown

On Saturday night, the awards were announced for the 2016 NFL season. It’s good to have a record of the voting breakdown, so in the interest of preserving history, I have reprinted that below.

Most Valuable Player

Matt Ryan, Atlanta (25); Tom Brady, New England (10), Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas (6), Derek Carr, Oakland (6), Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (2), Dak Prescott, Dallas (1)

Ryan was a pretty obvious pick: he easily led the NFL in ANY/A and Value added over average.  I’m a bit surprised that Brady was as close as he was, but the biggest surprise was Carr somehow receiving 6 votes.  Ryan received 29 votes for the first-team All-Pro slot at QB from the same AP voters; Brady received 15, and Rodgers received 5.  Given that the quarterbacks had to compete with Elliott for MVP, it makes sense that all received more votes at the QB-specific slot than at MVP.  But then there’s Carr, who earned just 1 vote for first-team All-Pro at QB, yet received 6 here.  How five voters thought Carr wasn’t the best quarterback but was the Most Valuable Player in the NFL is a question I’m not comfortable answering.

Offensive Player of the Year

Matt Ryan, Atlanta (15½), Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (11), David Johnson, Arizona (8), Tom Brady, New England (7), Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas (5½), Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh (1), Derek Carr, Oakland (1), Drew Brees, New Orleans (1)

Ryan was a worthy choice here for the same reasons he was a worthy choice for the All-Pro team and the MVP award.  There were 9.5 voters who thought Ryan was the MVP but not the OPOY; there were also 9 voters who thought Rodgers was OPOY but not MVP.  That implies a decent amount of ballot-splitting among voters.  What do we make of Ryan/Brady/Rodgers?  For the All-Pro team, the voting was 29–15–5; for MVP, it was 25–10–2; and for OPOY, it’s 15½–7–11.  That strikes me as inconsistent.  Johnson, Elliott, and Bell all received votes here, which makes some sense.  Oh, and Carr only got 1 vote here, too. [click to continue…]


2016 AP All-Pro Teams Announced

On Friday, the AP announced the 2016 All-Pro teams. One confusing change this year: the removal of the fullback and the second running back spot (there used to be 12 first-team All-Pros on offense), and the substitution of a “Flex” spot that seems to go to… anyone? David Johnson finished second in running back voting, but first in Flex voting, whatever that means.  And while 12 1APs may not make sense, there are still 12 on defense, which makes it pretty odd.   There’s also now a defensive back category in addition to CB and S, which… again, I don’t quite get.  But there are 2 first team edge rushers, 2 interior defenders, 3 linebackers, 2 cornerbacks, 2 safeties, and one defensive back.


Matt Ryan, Atlanta, 29; Tom Brady, New England, 15; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 5; Derek Carr, Oakland, 1.

Running Backs

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas, 47; David Johnson, Arizona, 3.

Wide Receivers

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh, 43; Julio Jones, Atlanta, 30; Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, 16; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay, 6; Jordy Nelson, Green Bay 5.

Tight End

Travis Kelce, Kansas City, 44; Greg Olsen, Carolina, 5; Rob Gronkowski, New England, 1.


David Johnson, Arizona, 24; Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh, 18; Odell Beckham, New York Giants, 3; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh, 1; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 1; LeSean McCoy, Buffalo, 1; Jarvis Landry, Miami, 1; Travis Kelce, Kansas City, 1.

Left Tackle

Tyron Smith, Dallas, 27; David Bakhtiari, Green Bay, 8; Joe Thomas, Cleveland, 7; Trent Williams, Washington, 3; Jason Peters, Philadelphia, 2; Taylor Lewan, Tennessee, 1; Donald Penn, Oakland, 1; Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati, 1.

Right Tackle

Jack Conklin, Tennessee, 27 1-2; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City, 6; Marcus Cannon, New England, 6; Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay, 5 1-2; Zach Strief, New Orleans, 2; Ryan Schraeder, Atlanta, 2; Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh, 1;

Left Guards

Kelechi Osemele, Oakland, 47; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore, 2; James Carpenter, New York Jets, 1. Right Guard

Zack Martin, Dallas, 40; David DeCastro, Pittsburgh, 5; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore, 4; Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati, 1.


Travis Frederick, Dallas, 29; Alex Mack, Atlanta, 14; Rodney Hudson, Oakland, 5; Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh, 1, Brandon Linder, Jacksonville, 1.

Defensive Players

Edge Rushers

Khalil Mack, Oakland, 46; Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta, 30; Cameron Wake, Miami, 3; Olivier Vernon, Miami, 3; Jadeveon Clowney, Houston,m 3; Brandon Graham, Philadelphia, 3; Michael Bennett, Seattle, 2; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans, 2; Danielle Hunter, Minnesota, 2; Cliff Avril, Seattle, 2; Everon Griffen, Minnesota, 1; Joey Bosa, San Diego, 1.

Interior Linemen

Aaron Donald, St. Louis, 47; Damon Harrison, New York Giants 16; Ndamukong Suh, Miami, 12; Calais Campbell, Arizona, 7; Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay, 7; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia, 6; Geno Atkins, Cincinnati, 5.


Bobby Wagner, Seattle, 48; Von Miller, Denver, 47; Sean Lee, Dallas, 41; Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo, 4; Luke Kuechly, Carolina, 2; C.J. Mosley, Baltimore, 1; Zach Brown, Buffalo, 1; Zachary Orr, Baltimore, 1; Alec Ogletree, Los Angeles, 1; Dont’a Hightower, New England, 1; Bernardick McKinney, Houston, 1; Lavonte David, Tampa Bay, 1; Whitney Mercilus, Houston, 1.


Aqib Talib, Denver, 27; Marcus Peters, Kansas City, 23; Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants, 17; Malcolm Butler, New England, 8; Casey Hayward, San Diego, 8; Richard Sherman, Seattle, 7; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota, 5; Chris Harris, Jr., Denver, 4; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants, 1.


Landon Collins, New York Giants, 47; Eric Berry, Kansas City, 31; Devin McCourty, New England, 4; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay, 4; Earl Thomas, Seattle, 3; Harrison Smith, Minnesota, 3; Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati, 2; Kam Chancellor, Seattle, 2; Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia, 1; Eric Weddle, Baltimore, 1; Quintin Demps, Houston, 1; Darian Stewart, Denver, 1.

Defensive Back

Chris Harris, Jr., Denver, 14; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie New York Giants, 6; Malcolm Butler, New England, 5; Eric Berry, Kansas City 3; Casey Hayward, San Diego, 3; Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia, 3; Patrick Peterson, Arizona, 2; Marcus Peters, Kansas City, 2; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota, 2; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay, 2; Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants, 2; Aqib Talib, Denver, 1; Darius Slay, Detroit, 1; Devin McCourty,, New England, 1; Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay, 1; Richard Sherman, Seattle, 1; Eric Weddle, San Diego, 1.

Special Teams


Justin Tucker, Baltimore, 50.


Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles, 42; Marquette King, Oakland, 4; Pat McAfee, Indianapolis, 2; Brad Wing, New York Giants, 1; Sam Martin, Detroit, 1.

Kick Returner

Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota, 41; Tyler Lockett, Seattle, 5; Tyreek Hill, Kansas City, 5.

Punt Returner

Tyreek Hill, Kansas City, 50.

Special Teamer

Matt Slater, New England, 14; Nate Ebner, New England, 12; Dwayne Harris, New York Giants, 6; Justin Bethel, Arizona, 3; James Develin, New England, 3; Michael Thomas, Miami, 3; Chase Reynolds, Los Angeles, 3; Eric Murray, Kansas City, 2; Chris Maragos, Philadelphia, 1; Eric Weems, Atlanta, 1; Josh Bellamy, Chicago, 1.


538: Mid-Season Awards (2016)

Today at 538: my mid-season awards column!

Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson, RB Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals running back leads the league with 1,112 yards from scrimmage through eight games. He’s averaging over 80 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game, which has only been accomplished by four other players in NFL history. But what’s most impressive has been his consistency: Johnson has gained at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this year, making him just the 12th player since 1960 to do that in each of his team’s first eight games. Every other player this year has at least three team games in which they failed to gain 100 total yards.4 He’s also averaging 4.5 yards per run and 11.6 yards per reception while scoring eight touchdowns, showing that Johnson’s season hasn’t been fueled only by a heavy workload.

You can read the full article here.


2016 Coach of the Year Odds

I love the Coach of the Year award, particularly in the pre-season. That’s mostly because it’s such an impossible award to predict.

  • In 2012, I selected Mike Mularkey as my pick. That turned out be very, very wrong, but in COTY predicting, it’s win or go home, so swinging for the fences makes sense.
  • In 2013, I selected Sean Payton; unfortunately for him, a playoff berth was not enough to get him Coach of the Year. That honor instead went to Ron Rivera.
  • In 2014, I chose … Jay Gruden. Washington went 4-12.
  • In 2015, I chose Dan Quinn. That looked good after a 6-1 start, but Atlanta finished just 8-8.

The reason this award is so hard to pick is because in some ways, every coach is on an even playing field in week 1. The winner of this award is the one who usually exceeds expectations the most, so there is a natural equalizer in place. Last year’s winner was Ron Rivera, again, as his Panthers went a surprising 15-1 and wildly exceeded expectations.

Below are the current odds for 2016 Coach of the Year, along with each coach’s percent chance of winning the award once you remove the vig:  [click to continue…]


Checkdowns: AFC/NFC Players of the Week

Hey look, these two again!

Hey look, these two again!

Pro-Football-Reference.com is constantly adding fun stuff to the site, and I just noticed that this page, listing all AFC/NFC Players of the Week going back to 1984. Some thoughts:

  • Brady was so honored five times in 2007. That was the most ever, although it was equaled by Cam Newton last year. Barry Sanders ’97, Terrell Davis ’98, and Tomlinson ’06 are the only non-quarterbacks with four such honors in a season.
  • Joe Montana had 8 OPOW awards in the NFC, and 5 in the AFC. No other player has more than two in both conferences (Brees has 20/2; Esiason has 10/2).

[click to continue…]


Yesterday, we looked at how often the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year lead his draft class in AV; today, we do the same but for defensive rookies.1

This season, Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters ran away with the award, taking 45 of 50 votes (Buffalo cornerback Ronald Darby (4) and Jets defensive end/tackle Leonard Williams (1) had the remaining votes). Now, how often does the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year wind up leading his draft class in AV? We saw that yesterday, 9 of the first 40 AP OROY wound up being the career leader from their class in offensive AV. On the defensive side, the results were even grimmer: just six of the first 40 AP DROY winners led their draft class in AV: Jack Lambert, Mike Haynes, Lawrence Taylor, Charles Woodson, Brian Urlacher, and Julius Peppers. [click to continue…]

  1. Since no undrafted player has ever won Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year, I have limited this analysis to only drafted players for administrative convenience. []

In 2015, Rams running back Todd Gurley was named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year. Gurley received 27 of 50 votes, edging out Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (17). Amari Cooper (Oakland) had 4 votes, while Tyler Lockett (Seattle) and David Johnson (Arizona) each received 1 vote.

From 1967 to 2006, nine of the 40 Offensive Rookie of the Years wound up leading their draft class in AV.1 And all nine of those players were running backs: Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James, and Clinton Portis.

The table below shows every AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, along with the career leader in AV from that draft. Here’s how to read it, using 2000 as an example. 2005 as an example. That year, Cadillac Williams was the AP OROY, and had 8 points of AV as a rookie. He finished his career with 26 points of AV, while the career leader in offensive AV from the 2005 Draft is Aaron Rodgers, who has 112 points of career AV.

YearAP OROYRookie AVCareer AVCareer AV LeaderCareer AV
2015Todd Gurley88
2014Odell Beckham1123Same23
2013Eddie Lacy1032Same32
2012Robert Griffin1832Russell Wilson65
2011Cam Newton1976Same76
2010Sam Bradford933Antonio Brown60
2009Percy Harvin1143Matthew Stafford64
2008Matt Ryan1496Same96
2007Adrian Peterson1188Same88
2006Vince Young933Jahri Evans103
2005Cadillac Williams826Aaron Rodgers112
2004Ben Roethlisberger11108Philip Rivers121
2003Anquan Boldin1084Andre Johnson95
2002Clinton Portis1571Same71
2001Anthony Thomas1026Drew Brees147
2000Mike Anderson1336Tom Brady160
1999Edgerrin James21113Same113
1998Randy Moss17123Peyton Manning177
1997Warrick Dunn1595Orlando Pace100
1996Eddie George1276Marvin Harrison124
1995Curtis Martin10101Same101
1994Marshall Faulk16133Same133
1993Jerome Bettis1279Will Shields114
1992Carl Pickens555Jimmy Smith94
1991Leonard Russell525Brett Favre155
1990Emmitt Smith8129Same129
1989Barry Sanders13120Same120
1988John Stephens822Randall McDaniel118
1987Troy Stradford1022Rich Gannon98
1986Rueben Mayes1128Jim Everett87
1985Eddie Brown1158Jerry Rice159
1984Louis Lipps1055Boomer Esiason105
1983Eric Dickerson1590Dan Marino144
1982Marcus Allen18103Same103
1981George Rogers1145James Brooks84
1980Billy Sims1557Anthony Munoz132
1979Ottis Anderson1380Joe Montana123
1978Earl Campbell1367James Lofton100
1977Tony Dorsett16107Same107
1976Sammy White1151Steve Largent102
1975Mike Thomas1247Walter Payton127
1974Don Woods1334Mike Webster116
1973Chuck Foreman1381Dan Fouts122
1972Franco Harris13101Same101
1971John Brockington1353Ken Anderson121
1970Dennis Shaw819Terry Bradshaw105
1969Calvin Hill1172O.J. Simpson98
1968Earl McCullouch629Ron Yary96
1967Mel Farr1041Gene Upshaw109

What sticks out to you?

  1. Since no undrafted player has ever won Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year, I have limited this analysis to only drafted players for administrative convenience. []

AP MVPs Have Not Won A Super Bowl in 16 Years

Count the shared AP MVP in 2003 between Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, and none of the last 17 AP MVPs have won a Super Bowl. That’s despite the fact that all 17 played on teams that made the playoffs, and often while playing for excellent teams. During that stretch:

  • Three have played on teams that lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs;
  • Five have played on teams that lost in the Division round of the playoffs;
  • Two have played on teams that lost in the AFC or NFC Championship Games; and
  • A whopping seven AP MVPs since 2000 have lost in the Super Bowl.

This might be the part where we say that football is a team game, and one player can’t make the difference that it can in other sports. That might sound nice, except:

  • In seven of the last 16 years, the AP MVP played on teams that made the Super Bowl. That makes it seem like one player is pretty important.
  • Incredibly, six of those seven were favored in the Super Bowl! That’s the most amazing part of this streak: the 2001 Rams were favored by 14 points in the Super Bowl; the 2007 Patriots were favored by 12.5 points; the 2015 Panthers were favored by 5 points; the 2009 Colts were favored by 4.5 points; the 2002 Raiders were favored by 3.5 points; and the 2013 Broncos were favored by 2.5 points. Only the 2005 Seahawks had the AP MVP and were underdogs during this stretch.
  • From 1993 to 1999, five of the eight Super Bowl champions had the AP MVP.

So maybe there is an AP MVP curse, in a similar way to the Madden curse. The table below shows how each AP MVP’s team has fared in the playoffs in each year: [click to continue…]


Pre-Week 17 WP: Awards Banquet

This week at the Washington Post, I hand out my 2015 awards, including my thoughts on the Carson Palmer/Cam Newton debate.

Most Valuable Player: Tie (Cam NewtonCarson Palmer)

Choosing between Newton and Palmer is an exercise in pickin’ nits. The two have drastically different styles and playing in very different offenses, making it difficult to compare the two players. Arizona would be worse with Cam Newton, and Carolina would be worse with Carson Palmer, so both teams should be happy that they have the co-most valuable players of the 2015 season.

You can read the full article here.

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. One point to open up the discussion. Is declaring the MVP vote a tie akin to fence-sitting and worthy of criticism? Or does it make sense to acknowledge that football is a far too complicated game to try to derive meaningful bits of information out of minute differences?


WP: Pre-Week 9 – Midseason Awards

This week at the Washington Post, a look at some unusual midseason awards.

Unsung Rookie of the Year: Offense – Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

With the types of seasons being had by a pair of SEC stars in Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s Amari Cooper, there is little hope for Diggs — a fifth round pick out of Maryland — to bring home any hardware at the end of the season. But after being inactive during the first three games of the season, the Vikings wide receiver has been the model of consistency since then, catching six or seven passes each week for at least 87 yards. Over the last five weeks, Diggs ranks fifth among all players in receiving yards despite the Vikings bye week taking place during that stretch.

You can read the full article here.


On Monday, I looked at the Defensive Player of the Year voting in every year from 2000 to 2006. Today, the last eight years.

2007: Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts

AP voting: Sanders (31), Patrick Kerney (4) (Seattle), Albert Haynesworth (4) (Titans), Antonio Cromartie (3) (Chargers), DeMarcus Ware (3) (Cowboys), Mike Vrabel (2) (Patriots), James Harrison (1) (Steelers), Ronde Barber (1) (Buccaneers), Patrick Willis (1) (49ers), Mario Williams (1) (Texans)

Sanders picked up 62% of the vote, yet nine other names split the remaining ballots.  It is weird to think of a player like Kerney as being the runner up for DPOY. But in his first year in Seattle, Kerney had 14.5 sacks, forced five fumbles, and recorded an interception, good enough to get him the KC101 NFC Defensive Player of the Year award.

But Sanders was the clear choice for DPOY. Only a couple of random places (like the Kansas City Star, which went for Ware, the New York Daily News (Cromartie), or the Miami Herald, which went for Vrabel because LBWINZ) didn’t select Sanders as the top defender that season.

Verdict: A worthy DPOY season for Sanders. And the first of back-to-back DPOY-caliber seasons that would land Haynesworth a $100M contract.

2008: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

AP voting: Harrison (22), DeMarcus Ware (13) (Cowboys), Ed Reed (8) (Ravens), Albert Haynesworth (5) (Titans), Troy Polamalu (2) (Steelers)

This was another close vote: Harrison didn’t quite get half of the AP voting, but did win by a healthy margin. This was far from a unanimous seletion: Peter King at Sports Illustrated, John Clayton at ESPN, and Mark Gaughan at the Buffalo News all chose Ware, Rick Gosselin at the Dallas Morning News and Leonard Shapiro at the Miami Herald selected Reed, while the Sporting News poll of players, coaches, and general managers landed on Haynesworth. The KC101 awards went to Harrison and Ware as the top defenders in each conference.

The Steelers defense was outstanding in 2008.  It finishes two standard deviations above average in points allowed, and ranked as the 10th best pass defense ever.  And Pittsburgh ranked 1st or 2nd in yards per carry allowed, rushing yards allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed. Harrison, of course, cemented his play in ’08 with one of the greatest plays in NFL history, a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.

Verdict: Harrison’s 16 sacks finished 4th in the NFL, and he was second on the team in tackles.  A very deserving choice for the award. As for Ware, this was the closest he ever got to winning the DPOY award.  In fact, he received just 3 other votes over the remainder of his career from AP writers, all in 2007 (although he did have a DPOY-caliber year in ’11, too).

2009: Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers

AP voting: Woodson (28), Darrelle Revis (14) (Jets), Darren Sharper (3) (Saints), Elvis Dumervil (3) (Broncos), Jared Allen (2) (Vikings)

One of the more interesting DPOY races, as the top two players played the same position — but in very different ways. Revis was a dominant shutdown corner, having one of the greatest individual coverage seasons in recent history. Woodson was a great coverage corner who also played in the slot, or at safety, and was a pretty effective blitzer, too. The AP voters preferred Woodson’s all-around game at a 2:1 ratio, but there were dissenters.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King selected Revis, as did the New York Daily News. USA Today had Revis winning by the narrowest of margins over Woodson and Dumervil. But Woodson did take home the majority of the hardware, including from Pro Football Weekly / Pro Football Writers of America and the Sporting News and the majority of sources out there. There were a couple of straggler votes — Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer chose Dumervil, Leonard Shapiro of the Miami Herald selected Sharper — but this was largely a two-man race.

Verdict: The ’09 Jets led the league in net yards per attempt allowed, points allowed, yards allowed, first downs allowed, passing yards allowed, and passing touchdowns allowed. Revis was the main reason for the defense’s success, and I’m not sure he had a finer year. Both he and Woodson appear to be future Hall of Famers. Of note: Woodson was named the Defensive Back of the Year by the NFL Alumni voting, and each player took home the Defensive Player of the Conference award from he KC101 organization.

2010: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

AP voting: Polamalu (17), Clay Matthews (15) (Packers), James Harrison (8) (Steelers), Julius Peppers (6) (Bears), Brian Urlacher (2) (Bears), Haloti Ngata (1) (Ravens), Ed Reed (1) (Ravens)

The Steelers safety received just 34% of the vote, narrowly edging Matthews for the AP honor.  Was Polamalu the best defender in 2010? Well, in the Sporting News poll, Matthews took home the award with the voting going 188-148; the Packers outside linebacker was also the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers choice. As you would suspect, Peter King was again an outlier, going with Peppers as his top choice. Polamalu received the AP nod by a tiny margin, but

Verdict: Matthews deserves at least as much credit as Polamalu for what he did in 2010. The fact that the AP Trophy is considered “official” is kind of silly, but that goes double when the voting was this close. The Packers outside linebacker may be building a Hall of Fame career, and it would be ridiculous to think that two out of 50 votes from certain AP writers in one season would make a difference in that outcome. Then again, while Polamalu seems like a HOF lock, if he came in second place in ’10, would his case be any different?

2011: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

AP voting: Suggs (21), Jared Allen (14) (Vikings), Justin Smith (6) (49ers), Jason Pierre-Paul (5) (Giants), Patrick Willis (2) (49ers), NaVorro Bowman (1) (49ers), Charles Woodson (1) (Packers)

Suggs was also the Pro Football Weekly / Pro Football Writers of America DPOY and the choice of a panel of 8 writers at Sports Illustrated.  The Sporting News chose Allen as its top player, with DeMarcus Ware as the runner up there.  The KC 101 chose Suggs and Allen as the top player of each conference. This wasn’t unanimous, and it wasn’t a runaway win, either, but Suggs was a legitimate winner. The Ravens defense ranked in the top 3 in points, yards, net yards per pass attempt, yards per carry, and rushing yards, while Suggs had 14 sacks.

Verdict: Allen had 22 sacks, making it the second most impressive sack season since ’82. Suggs was a worthy choice, but Allen — who is a borderline HOF candidate — deserves a ton of credit for his monster season while playing for a 3-13 team.

2012: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

AP voting: Watt (49), Von Miller (1) (Broncos)

This was one of the most dominant defensive seasons in NFL history, and that is reflected in the voting. Consider this: over the course of their careers, Reed (29) and Polamalu (22) combined for 51 DPOY votes from the AP. Meanwhile, Watt had 49 just this year.  Aldon Smith was named the KC 101 NFC DPOY and the runner up according to The Sporting News, but Watt was basically a unanimous choice here.

Verdict: J.J. Watt is the man.

2013: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

AP voting: Kuechly (13), Robert Mathis (11.5) (Colts), Earl Thomas (7.5) (Seahawks), Robert Quinn (6) (Rams), Richard Sherman (4) (Seahawks), J.J. Watt (2) (Texans)

Sandwiched in between Watt’s two scorched-earth campaigns was one of the closest DPOY races in NFL history.  Mathis actually received more All-Pro votes than Kuechly, although the Colts star wasn’t the only one with a good case for the award.

The Pro Football Writers of America and Sports Illustrated chose Quinn, although the Sporting News also went with Kuechly. Pro Football Focus chose Watt, while the KC101 went with Kuechly in the NFC and Mathis in the AFC.  Oh, and the Seahawks had a historically dominant pass defense and two very deserving candidates, too.

Verdict: There were a number of great candidates during the ’13 season. Kuechly may be building a HOF career: he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, the DPOY in 2013, and has been a first-team All-Pro by the AP in 2014.   Last year may have been his best season, and he was Pro Football Focus’ top inside linebacker. But I’ll still always remember him as this guy.

2014: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

A unanimous winner, the first of its kind since the AP began giving out this award.  Watt also received 13 votes in the MVP voting, so it was that sort of season.  Everyone chose Watt as the league’s best player, although it’s worth noting that Richard Sherman did get chosen by the KC101 as the top defender in the NFC.

Verdict: J.J. Watt is the man.


Defensive Player of the Year Award: 2000-2006

Every year, the Associated Press names a Defensive Player of the Year.  But not all winners are chosen by the same margin (the ’14 winner received 100% of the vote, while the ’13 winner had just 26%), and the AP is hardly the only authority.  I thought it would be fun and informative to take a closer look at the selections in some prior years.  Let’s begin with the 7-year period from 2000 to 2006.

2000: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

The AP voting: Lewis (30), La’Roi Glover (11) (Saints), Warren Sapp (4) (Buccaneers), Keith Hamilton (2) (Giants), Derrick Brooks (2) (Buccaneers), Jason Taylor (1) (Dolphins) [click to continue…]


It is not a reach to predict Beckham taking home OROY despite missing three games.

It is not a reach to predict Beckham taking home OROY despite missing three games.

Odell Beckham was the best rookie in the NFL this year despite missing a quarter of the season. Over the last eleven weeks of 2014, he led the NFL in receiving yards, and finished second in receptions and receiving touchdowns. He will very soon be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, which made me wonder: how often has a player won a major award despite missing at least three games in a season?

If we exclude the Walter Payton Man of the Year, the Super Bowl MVP, and Comeback Player of the Year awards,1 my database identifies six players who have won an award despite missing at least three games.2 Four of them won the defensive rookie of the year award, while the other two were quarterbacks.  In reverse chronological order… [click to continue…]

  1. For those curious, Tedy Bruschi, Greg Ellis, Doug Flutie, Tommy Kramer, Jim McMahon, Joe Montana, Jim Plunkett, and Michael Vick have all won that award despite missing games — or, perhaps in some cases, because of missing those games. []
  2. This excludes the 1987, when just about every player missed three games due to the players’ strike. []

Sid Luckman did it twice. Two Packers quarterbacks, Arnie Herber and Irv Comp, did it with help from Don Hutson. Sammy Baugh did it as a rookie in 1937.

In five out of eleven seasons from 1936 to 1946, the league leader in passing yards also won the NFL championship. Otto Graham led the AAFC in passing yards in ’47, ’48, and ’49, and the Browns won the championship each of their four seasons in the AAFC. But since then, only two quarterbacks have led the league in passing yards in the same season as winning a title. Can you name them?

Click Show for Answer Show

Want to take a look at the list of all 95 players to lead their league in passing and their team’s final results? Click the “Show” button below:

All Passing Leaders Show

Of course, you already knew that passing yards wasn’t strongly correlated with winning. But what about being the league’s most valuable player? This year, the Miami Heat won the NBA title and LeBron James was the MVP (for the second straight year). But in the NFL, it’s much rarer for a player to pull off that feat: Adrian Peterson won MVP, but the Minnesota Vikings weren’t very close to winning the Super Bowl. Can you name the last player to win the MVP and the Super Bowl in the same year?

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One more bit of trivia. To really be like LeBron, an NFL player would need to win the MVP, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl MVP. That’s happened six times in NFL history, but only once by a non-quarterback. Can you name him?

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Here are the selections:

Some quick thoughts: [click to continue…]


NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 17

At the New York Times Fifth Down Blog this week, I explain my choices for the major awards this season.

Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Generally, the Most Valuable Player award is given to the best quarterback, while the Offensive Player of the Year is usually the player with the most impressive statistics. In the last five years, Tom Brady — first in 2007, and then again in 2010 — is the only player to take home both awards in the same season. Last year, Drew Brees won the award while Aaron Rodgers took home the M.V.P., but running backs Priest Holmes (2002), Jamal Lewis (2003), Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), and Chris Johnson (2009) have all won the award in the last decade. While Calvin Johnson will probably get some support for breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards, Adrian Peterson has had this award locked up for a month, and finishing the season with 2,097 yards was the icing on the cake.

I don’t think you’ll find too many people arguing about this one. Peterson’s story is outstanding, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t provide the single most impressive performance by an offensive player this year. Quarterbacks may be more valuable, but it’s hard not to just sit back and admire what Peterson’s done. Johnson’s also had a magnificent season, but he was greatly aided by the Lions also breaking the record for pass attempts in a season.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

The shine is off the Texans, but there’s no denying that their star lineman has been outstanding this year. If the stars were aligned slightly differently — say, the Texans were streaking towards the end of the year, and Watt had a monster primetime game late — he’d have a legitimate chance at the M.V.P. award. Last month, I talked about how this award was a three-man race with the stars all coming from the 2011 Draft. In that article I also mentioned Geno Atkins as a possible darkhorse, and he’s been ever better since. But Watt has 20.5 sacks and the national reputation as the Sultan of Swatt, so this award is pretty easy to predict.

And well justified. Watt’s production as a 3-4 defensive end is remarkable. He now owns the single-season record for sacks by a player at that position, but he’s far from one dimensional. We know that he is fantastic at tipping passes at the line of scrimmage and is excellent in run support. He’s a complete player in every respect, a dominant force at a position that rarely receives media attention.

I’d select Von Miller as my runner-up and give Atkins the bronze. While Aldon Smith gets more attention because of his lofty sack totals, he’s a one-dimensional player. While he’s outstanding at that one dimension, just being a dominant pass rusher only makes him the fourth best defensive player this year. He also disappeared down the stretch, which not coincidentally began when star defensive end Justin Smith went down with a triceps injury.

Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season, but as soon as he took the field in 2012 he became the favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year. A quarterback has won this award each of the last four years — Chad Pennington (2008), Tom Brady (2009), Michael Vick (2010), and Matthew Stafford (2011) — and the trend should continue in 2012. Comeback Player of the Year is a two-man race, and there’s no wrong answer when choosing between Manning and Peterson. If the voters could, surely the majority would pick that Manning and Peterson split the award. If ever an award called for a split, this was it.

Peyton Manning’s neck injury was considered career-threatening this time last year. Many questioned his arm strength in the pre-season and in September, but by the end of the year he was once again the best quarterback in the league. It’s simply splitting hairs picking between Manning and Peterson, who tore two ligaments in his knee just over a year ago and rebounded to rush for 2,000 yards. And let’s at least recognize Jamaal Charles, who in any other year would likely take home the award. The Kansas City running back tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, and rebounded to rush for over 1,500 yards in 2012. My guess is that those voters looking for a tiebreaker focus on the fact that Manning missed the entire 2011 season while Peterson ran for 970 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, making Manning more of a “comeback” story.

You can view the full post here.


Trivia of the Day – Sunday, December 16th

Manning finds the last empty spot on his trophy case.

What do you give to the man who already has everything? How about a Comeback Player of the Year Award?

Right now, the choice for AP Comeback Player of the Year is a two-horse race between Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson. If Manning wins the award, it will put him in pretty rare territory: he’d be just the fourth player to, over the course of a career, be named by the Associated Press as the Most Valuable Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, and Super Bowl MVP. Can you name the first three?

Below is one hint for each of the three players who have won all three awards.

Trivia hint for Player 1 Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer for Player 1 Show

Trivia hint for Player 2 Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer for Player 2 Show

Trivia hint for Player 3 Show

Click 'Show' for the Answer for Player 3 Show