Now that most teams are halfway through their season, a look at the top performers is in order.
Already we have been witness to great on-field exploits from rookies to grizzled veterans alike.
What we’ve notice, above all, though, is that younger players are being talked about more and more. Yes, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees are all still playing at a high level, but it won’t be long before they are supplanted by the Jared Goffs and Carson Wentz’s of the football world.
Kansas City rookie Kareem Hunt got off to a blazing start, ripping New England for 246 combined yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs stunned the Patriots 42-27 in week 1. He’s slowed down a bit since, but others have taken his place in the 2017 pantheon of big plays and big games.
The halfway point awards mirror 10 of the biggest year end awards that the NFL and its corporate partners dole out. Here they are, in ascending order of importance.
10. Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year – FS Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears
It wasn’t just one, but two plays that Eddie Jackson made that separate him from the highlight reel herd this season. The Chicago Bears rookie safety out of Alabama won a game for the 3-5 Bears all by himself on Oct. 22. Da Bears were entertaining the favored Carolina Panthers as Soldier Field that day and midway through the first quarter, Jackson would score all the points his team really needed. Just before the midway point of the first quarter, he scooped up a fumble and then ran it back for a 75-yard touchdown. Then just over two minutes into the second quarter, Jackson picked off a Cam Newton pass on his own on 24 and scampered 76 yards for a second score in a game the Bears would win 17-3. He is the first NFL player in history with two defensive return touchdowns of at least 75 yards in a single game.
9. Castrol EDGE Clutch Performer of the Year – QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
There have been a few players who could have copped the mid-season clutch performer award, but we have to give it too Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He’s already orchestrated two come-from-behind fourth quarter victories, the first against San Francisco in week 2 and the other this past Sunday in an electrifying 41-38 victory over Houston on Sunday. Not only did Wilson send Houston home smarting from the loss, but his heroics put Seattle into a tie in the NFC West with the Los Angeles Rams at 5-2. The two teams entered the second half on Sunday tied 21-21. Houston went ahead on a field goal early, then Seattle grabbed the lead back with consecutive field goals to end the third quarter. Things got really wild with just over nine minutes left in the fourth. Deshaun Watson and Wilson traded TD passes, leaving Seattle up 34-31 with 5:37 left. Then Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins with a 72-yard catch and run that put Houston up 38-34 with 4:49 left. However, Wilson started the Seahawks from their own 20 and in three plays, he had them in the end zone with an 18-yard winner to TE Jimmy Graham.
8. AP Comeback Player of the Year – LB Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
After a superb 2014 season when he was a First Team All-Pro, the sacks leader (22) and Deacon Jones Award recipient, Kansas City LB Justin Houston has been on a bit of a rollercoaster. Injuries limited him to just 11 games in 2015 and then ACL surgery put him on the PUP list and injured reserve in 2016, where he appeared in just five contests. He’s played all seven games this season and from early returns he’s our mid-season comeback player of the year award winner. So far, the eighth-year man out of Georgia has 35 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four pass defences. Houston kickstarted his comeback season with a great performance in the Chiefs shocking 42-27 triumph over New England in week 1, record five tackles and a season high two sacks.
7. AP Defensive Rookie of the Year – LB T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
With big brother J.J. sidelined for the rest of the 2017 season, T.J. Watt has the family spotlight all to himself. The rookie from Wisconsin has played in all but one of the 6-2 Steelers’ games and has not let the giant shadow of his famous brother give him a Vitamin D deficiency in the process. A 30th overall selection by the Steelers, Watt jetted out of the gate for his team, making seven tackles and adding two sacks, a pass defence and an interception in a 21-18 week 1 victory over Cleveland. He’s since logged 21 more tackles, two more sacks and three more passes defended in a very good rookie campaign. Watt his just five sacks removed from eclipsing Kendrell Bell’s rookie team mark of nine, set in 2001.
6. AP Offensive Rookie of the Year – RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
While we do have two different offensive players in the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Rookie of the Year, we don’t see it as being outside the realm of possibility. What we based Kareem Hunt’s midway point nomination over Deshaun Watson was the fact Hunt’s exploits have helped K.C. stay in the playoff hunt, even though we think his output wasn’t quite good enough for rookie of the year. Hunt, like we said in the preamble, got things going early against New England and hasn’t taken his foot off the gas measurably since. In all, the Chiefs freshman and 86th overall pick out of Toledo has 763 yards rushing (best in the NFL) and four TDs, as well as 307 yards receiving and two more scores.
5. Pepsi NEXT Rookie of the Year – QB Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Guys like Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt and Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette made this pick a tough one. For sheer impact, though, Houston QB Deshaun Watson gets the nod. If not for three interceptions (of his eight all year) in a thrilling 41-38 loss to Seattle on Sunday, the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft had himself one heck of a day in a pretty compelling year. Watson, picked behind Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes II, proved himself to be a big-game player, throwing for a season high 402 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, the freshman pivot has been quite good all season, completing 126 of 204 passes for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns, tying him with Carson Wentz for the league lead in that category. Watson has also been an adept runner, calling his own number 36 times for 269 yards and two TDs.
4. AP Defensive Player of the Year – S Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills
The NFL’s second best defence (Buffalo has allowed just 16.4 points per game) has to have some elite level players. The best among them is fifth-year safety Micah Hyde, who joined the team from Green Bay this off-season. In seven games, the Iowa product leads the league with five interceptions, which is also his personal best. He has also recorded 30 tackles, and has eight pass defences, which are one off his career high from 2016 with the Packers. In his best game this year, he had seven tackles, two interceptions and two pass defences in Buffalo’s surprising 23-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 1.
3. AP Offensive Player of the Year – QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles would not be top of the NFL heap at 7-1 if not for the play of sophomore QB Carson Wentz. The second overall pick from the 2016 draft has upped his stock considerably this season, completing 161 of 264 passes for 2,063 yards and 19 TD passes (tying him with Deshaun Watson for first in the league). He has thrown just five interceptions too, for an overall rating of 101.6. In addition, he has improved his ability to scramble and run, carrying the ball 42 times for 203 yards. Pretty good, when considered that he ran the pigskin just 46 times during th 2016 season, for 150 yards. His signature game this season was a tidy 17-for-25 effort in a 34-24 triumph over division rival Washington on Oct. 23. Wentz finished with 268 yards passing, four touchdowns (just one interception) and also ran the ball for a season high 63 yards.
2. AP Coach of the Year – Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
As a player and now a coach, second-year Eagles bench boss Doug Pederson has pretty much seen and done it all. A quarterback, Pederson plied his trade with five different NFL teams — including Philly — as well as having a stint in the World League of American Football (New Jersey Knights) and the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe. Post-playing career, he coach at Calvary Baptist Academy (prep), and then held offensive assistant coach and quarterbacks coaching jobs with Philadelphia and Kansas City before being named to the top job with the Eagles in 2016. His squad went 7-9 last year and with lessons learned has this team firing on all cylinders this season with a 7-1 mark. The offence is fourth in points per game at 29 and the defence is 10th in points against with 19.5.
1. AP MVP – QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
The offensive player of the year and the MVP do not have to be conjoined, in our estimation. While we think Carson Wentz is the more complete offensive player half way into the 2017 season, Brady is our midway MVP , based on the intangibles and leadership he provides the perennial powerhouse Patriots. Tom Terrific is the engine on one of the NFL’s best offences and currently leads all passers with 2,541 yards, along with 16 TDs, against only two interceptions. One of the all-time greats — and he’s still hugely effective — Brady thrives under pressure and at the age of 40 can still come up with virtuoso performances. For instance, in week 3, he obliterated the Houston Texans defence to the tune of 378 yards passing and five touchdown strikes, with no interceptions. He is still the man in Foxboro.