The NFL is a team sport first, but the awards at the end of the season are where individual accomplishments are highlighted for the best and brightest players of the league. We’re almost halfway through the season at this point (wow), and I wanted to use some outside-the-box awards picks as a way to shine a spotlight on some of the most exciting or under-appreciated players in this bizarre NFL season.
Comeback player of the year: Alex Smith
I’m putting this first because there is essentially zero chance anyone but Smith could take this award home. I cannot do justice to his miracle comeback from a gruesome leg injury about two years ago, but I highly recommend you look up his story and appreciate just how incredible and inspiring his return to the NFL field has been.
Defensive rookie of the year: Antoine Winfield Jr.
The rookie safety is playing lights-out football right now. It’s hard to quantify the effectiveness of a safety through stats, but it’s worth noting that he’s stuffed the stat sheet with an impressive 24 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble for good measure. He’s been flying up and down the field, making the Bucs defense a unit to fear. Just look at how Aaron Rodgers performed in Week 6, throwing his third-ever (in his entire career!) pick six and putting up a measly 10 points for the Packers. In a year where the most highly touted defensive rookie Chase Young has been missing in action due to injury, few players have been able to distinguish themselves from the pack. Winfield Jr. has a prime opportunity to become a household name by playing on a much-improved defense.
Offensive rookie of the year: Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert was scrutinized ahead of the 2020 NFL draft for being inconsistent at Oregon. That didn’t stop the Los Angeles Chargers from making him the sixth overall pick, and so far the move has paid off in spades. Herbert looks like a bonafide star. Sure, he makes mistakes, but he’s ultimately made up for them with a stunning deep ball and gunslinging mentality that is simply a thing of beauty in the modern NFL game. The Chargers have been in every game this season with Herbert under center, and are ultimately a few missed kicks and miscues away from a winning record. Herbert will have to keep up the good work to leapfrog top overall pick Joe Burrow, but he looks like the real deal so far.
Defensive player of the year: TJ Watt
Arguably the best player on the best defense, Watt looks ready to step into his brother JJ’s shoes. With 4.5 sacks and an interception, Watt has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks all year. Just ask Baker Mayfield, who was smacked into his worst game of the season in Week 6. This Steelers defense is for real, and with the loss of linebacker Devin Bush, Watt is going to need to take on an even larger role to put the Steelers in the playoffs.
Offensive player of the year: Derrick Henry
King Henry is ready to be crowned. He is must-watch TV right now, giving Tennessee a one-man wrecking crew at running back. The 247-pound Titan ripping off a 94-yard touchdown run this past Sunday was a feat of herculean strength. Henry is an easy bet to lead the league in rushing yards in a year defined by injuries to multiple star running backs, and his impact on the Tennessee offense will only become greater as we head into the colder winter months.
Coach of the year: Kevin Stefanski
Whoever puts the Browns in the playoffs should get this award on the spot. Stefanski has made the most of the Browns talented personnel, converting the team into a run-first unit that gashes opposing defenses with the likes of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at running back. He’s been able to take the ball out of Baker Mayfield’s hands to minimize offensive miscues, and the defense has been opportunistic with Myles Garrett leading the charge.
MVP: Kyler Murray
Murray is having a season akin to Lamar Jackson in 2019. He’s running all over the competition and playing efficient and accurate at the quarterback position for a resurgent Arizona offense. He’s stuffing the stat sheets enough to be tied with Patrick Mahomes for the No.1 quarterback in fantasy football. Additionally, he could put the Cardinals, who boast little talent beyond a strong receiving group, in the playoffs. Murray is indispensable for making this offense tick, and he follows the pattern of the second-year breakout in Jackson and Mahomes of years past taking home the MVP hardware.