We have officially hit the halfway point of the NFL season with week nine in the rearview mirror. Although some teams have played nine games and others have played eight, we have hit the 50 percent mark of this new 18-week NFL season. With that milestone, we have reached the point where the end-of-season award rumblings are starting to get louder and louder every week. We have been hearing whispers about guys having MVP seasons or asserting themselves as Rookie of the Year favorites all season, but now we have enough evidence to fully have these conversations and not get embarrassed two weeks later when everything changes. A lot is going to change between now and the end of the season. At this point last year the Steelers were still undefeated and we all know how that one ended. Odds are most of these guys I talk about will not actually win these awards in February, but if the season ended today (which it definitely could, thanks COVID) these are the guys I think have the best chance to take home the six major NFL end of season awards.
MVP- Tom Brady
How many times has Brady been firmly entrenched in the MVP debate? Probably about a million by now. When you have been around as long as he has, you have to be really special to win MVP and Brady is set up to have the most impressive season of his career. He has 2650 yards and 25 touchdowns through eight games this season. That puts him on a 16-game pace for 5,300 yards and 50 touchdowns. That would give him the third-most passing yards in a season and tied for the second-most touchdowns in a season. Oh yeah, and there is a 17th game that he could possibly play in and add even more to his totals. Those numbers would be a guarantee for MVP in almost any year and when you add the fact that Brady is doing this all at 44 years old. There will be a lot of MVP hopefuls that will come and go throughout the season, and some that already have, but as long as Brady keeps up this incredible league-leading pace, he will add one more award to his trophy closet, which is probably overflowing by now.
Honorable mention: Kyler Murray
Defensive Player of the Year- Myles Garrett
We have grown accustomed to giving out these awards to players that make the unexpected leap to stardom, but Garrett has been on the precipice of becoming a superstar for a few seasons and is finally realizing it. His 12 sacks this year have already matched his 2020 total that was good enough to earn an All-Pro nod, and he is just 1.5 sacks short of his best season. His 12 sacks in nine games are on putting him on pace to challenge Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5. Garrett is not just getting sacks, he is constantly putting pressure on the opposing quarterback even if he doesn’t eventually take him to the ground. He has the most quarterback hits and is tied for the league lead in pressures. Add in his 12 tackles for loss as well, which is also tied for first in the league, and you have a well-rounded case for Defensive Player of the Year from the leader of a revamped and improved defense,
Honorable mention: Trevon Diggs
Offensive Player of the Year- Lamar Jackson
Jackson is very close to earning another MVP award, but if he isn’t able to secure that hardware he could have a good shot at winning Offensive Player of the Year. He is in the top ten in passing yards, slotting in ninth with just over 2200 yards. The most impressive part of his game is that he ranks higher in rushing yards, sitting at sixth in the league with 600 yards. I know what you’re thinking, running quarterbacks are the new rage now and there are a bunch of guys doing that now. False. Jackson is 35th in scrimmage yards this year, the next closest quarterback is Jalen Hurts at 61st. The one knock on Jackson’s season so far is his lack of touchdowns. He has only recorded 15 combined scores but he has a few deep balls to Marquise Brown that should have been touchdowns if they weren’t dropped. As long as he finds the end zone a little more frequently down the stretch, Jackson is a stealthy MVP candidate with the potential to put together an all-time offensive season.
Honorable mention: Cooper Kupp
Offensive Rookie of the Year- Ja’Marr Chase
Chase is third in yards, touchdowns, and yards per catch out of all rookie receivers this year. Oh wait, those aren’t his ranks among rookie receivers, those are his ranks among ALL receivers. There was a lot of doubt surrounding the rookie out of LSY heading into the season. He opted out of the 2020 college season and then struggled in the preseason, creating concerns about whether he was able to catch the ball at the NFL level. He answered that question resoundingly by turning it on once the regular season started, going for 101 yards in his debut game. He has added two more games over 100 yards, 159 in week five and 201 in week seven. Chase makes the most of his opportunities with the ball, racking up 835 yards on just 44 catches, and has found the endzone seven times as well. Chase is not only playing like the best rookie receiver, but he is playing like one of the best receivers in the league period. That makes for a fairly easy decision of who will end the season as the best offensive rookie.
Honorable mention: Mac Jones
Defensive Rookie of the Year- Micah Parsons
Despite not leading rookies in tackles, sacks, or interceptions, Parsons has no doubt been the most impactful defensive rookie this year. For as many talents as he has on the football field, it is his versatility that has been most valuable. He is an inside linebacker but has played as an edge rusher for the Cowboys when they were thin at the position. His prowess at that spot has gotten him five sacks this year, tied for 25th in the league. He has also racked up 10 tackles for loss, which puts him near some of the top edge rushers in the league in that category since only five other defenders have more or as many TFLs as Parsons. The traditional duties of an off-ball linebacker have not been lost on the rookie either. He is within the top 50 in total tackles with 52 and 38 of those have been solo tackles, 35th-best in the league. It also helps that Parsons is playing very meaningful football with the Cowboys, who are one of the best teams in the league. While other top rookies are playing for teams that are trying to avoid losing more games than they win, Parsons is a legitimate contributor to one of the better teams in the NFL.
Honorable mention: Patrick Surtain II
Comeback Player of the Year- Dak Prescott
This award was nearly decided already once Prescott took his first snap of the season. This is very heavily a narrative award, although every award has been turning into a narrative award lately, and Prescott absolutely owns the comeback narrative this year. His 2020 season ended with a devastating ankle injury, with the lasting image of him was with tears in his eyes riding out on the cart. But Prescott has also earned this award through his play on the field. He has inserted himself into the MVP conversation at times with his 2021 stat line. He has thrown for just over 2000 yards in seven games, placing him fifth in the league in yards per game. He is also tied for fifth with 18 passing touchdowns. Prescott is playing at an award-worthy level, making him a lock for comeback player of the year this season.
Honorable mention: Joe Burrow
Coach of the Year- Kliff Kingsbury
Out of all the awards on this list, Coach of the Year is the one that is most influenced by end-of-season results. A coach could be sitting atop his conference at the halfway mark of the season but if they finish up as a wild card team, he probably won’t be named Coach of the Year. That is sort of where Kingsbury finds himself at the moment. Not only were the Cardinals the surprise team of the first half of the season but they were the best team of the first half, standing at 8-1 through nine games. The most recent of those wins might be the one that boosts Kingsbury’s resume the most since he was able to win that game without star quarterback Kyler Murray and number one receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Just making the playoffs will be a huge accomplishment for Kingsbury and the Cardinals but if they are able to win an incredibly competitive NFC West then he will have a very good shot at taking home this award.
Honorable mention: Brandon Staley