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2016 NFL Midseason Recap

I thought I was paying attention. I really did.

But then I looked up, and the NFL season was already half over. When did that happen?

It feels like it was just yesterday when we were all sitting behind our laptops, drafting fantasy teams, and talking smack to our friends. Like it was just yesterday when we were sitting in front of our TVs, watching preseason games featuring teams’ 3rd and 4th stringers, just because it was football. And, of course, there were those of us who were churning out fresh hot takes about what was to unfold come September.

Bro. Watch out for the Browns this year. I say they go 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs.

Dude, no. It’s Cleveland, they’re the Browns.

But they’ve got Hue Jackson, and RGIII is about to undergo a career resurgence.

Browns.

Just watch, bro. It’s happening.

In any case, the halfway mark of the NFL season has come upon us, and that means we basically repeat the same process, minus the fantasy drafts, with added knowledge of what has already occurred this year. The hot takes only multiply.

The point is, the halfway mark of any sports season represents the point which statistics are at the height of their quantifiability. You can practically split one season into two and treat the halves like they’re each their own, independent entity. Also, it’s just convenient to multiply a player’s current numbers by two and debate whether or not they will reach their theoretical threshold.

For instance, Houston Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, through midseason, is on pace to accumulate just 868 receiving yards and 6 TD after averaging 1366 yards and 9 TD over the previous two seasons. Will he turn it around and produce like a star the rest of the way, or will quarterback Brock Osweiler continue to be a $72 million hindrance? That’s the kind of stuff nerds like me enjoy mulling over.

With this in mind, I’d like to, for the duration of this article, treat the first half of the NFL season as its own entity, and dish out my award picks as if it were the end of the season. These awards are actual awards given out by the NFL at the end of every season, but this time, it’s not the NFL giving them out: it’s just me, and it’s just for the first half. This is the part where I point out that this is not necessarily a reflection of how I think the players will do the rest of the way, only a reflection of their performance in the first half.

So, with all necessary disclaimers and such out of the way, let’s begin!

MVP: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

I’d like to first point out that Matt Ryan’s alma mater is BC, which is awesome, but has nothing to do with this pick.

Anyway, Ryan has, incidentally, played 9 games instead of the 8 that many other players have, but it doesn’t matter. He’s playing the best football of his entire life, and that’s perhaps the biggest reason the Falcons sit at 6-3, atop the NFC south – a division which many believed belonged to the Carolina Panthers.

Ryan is currently on pace to throw for over 5,200 yards, 41 TD, and 7 INT. His 69.6% completion percentage, 9.5 yards per attempt, and 119.0 passer rating are better than elite. He’s throwing with more confidence and purpose than ever before. Yes, he has Julio Jones, who makes life easier. But make no mistake: this has been Ryan’s year, and if he can even come close to replicating his first half production in the second half, there is absolutely a strong argument to be made for giving Ryan the first MVP award of his career.

Honorable Mentions

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals – on pace for over 2,200 scrimmage yards and 16 TD, he has carried this offense (and team) in what has been a surprisingly lackluster first half for the Cardinals.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints – for whatever reason, his season has flown a bit under the radar, but Brees is on pace for one of the best seasons of his storied career. That’s saying quite a bit.

Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos – he’s as good as he ever has been this year, if not better. 9.5 first half sacks represent an elite (and league-leading) total, and perhaps no (healthy) defensive player in the league right now strikes fear into opposing offenses the way he does.

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders – the Raiders are, believe it or not, 7-2, and Carr has spearheaded the effort with a superb 17-to-3 TD-INT ratio and 99.1 passer rating. This is an exciting young talent at QB.

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

There’s not much to be said about Johnson that hasn’t been said already. He’s already accumulated 191 touches on the year for over 1,100 scrimmage yards and 8 TD, a feat that is even more remarkable when you consider that the expectation coming into the season was for the Cardinals to lean on the passing game. Carson Palmer was coming off the best season of his long career, and still had one of the best receiving corps in the league.

Yet here we are: Palmer’s age (36 years old) is catching up to him, and the receiving corps has been banged up for much of the season. Johnson has put this offense on his shoulders and carried it to what success it has had. He’s a solid pick for first-half offensive player of the year.

Honorable Mentions

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints – see above.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons – he’s arguably the best wideout in the game, and he’s producing like it, already having a whopping 970 receiving yards on 51 catches for 5 TD. Jones checks all of the boxes.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans – I certainly didn’t expect him to make an appearance here before the season started, and I don’t think many other people did, either. But here he is: already with over 1,000 scrimmage yards and 9 TD. This was an unexpected career rebound for the 28-year-old.

Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys – statistically, he makes a strong case: he’s currently the NFL’s leading rusher and has 7 TD. But he runs behind the best offensive line in the league, and that matters more than you may think. Nevertheless, he is the complete package at RB, and that, coupled with the supporting cast, is a scary combo.

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

With JJ Watt out of commission, the accolade of the league’s best defensive player was up for grabs, and Von Miller (predictably) ran away with it. Coming off the heels of a Super Bowl MVP award and a massive offseason contract signing, expectations were stratospheric, and you know what? He’s actually met them, if not exceeded them.

Miller holds the league lead in sacks with 9.5, and he’s making as much of an impact on the field as he ever has. His pass rushing style is so unique; that, combined with his superior athleticism, makes him nearly unstoppable. That much has shown on the field and on the stat sheet.

Honorable Mentions

Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs – he’s tied for the league lead in interceptions with five, after notching eight last year. Though he often finds himself overshadowed by the likes of Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson, this guy is among the best defensive backs in the league, and he’s still very young.

Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers – already has 80 total tackles, Kuechly has been an elite middle linebacker since day one, and is likely the best in the league at his position given his pedigree. This year he is delivering once again – also, his alma mater is cool. But that didn’t sway me, I swear.

Zach Brown, LB, Buffalo Bills – one of the most underrated players in the league, this man racks up tackles like few others do. He’s very versatile, excelling in both stopping the run and in pass coverage, and is the definition of a sideline-to-sideline defender. There’s a lot to like here.

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams – he’s only in his third season as a pro, yet he’s perhaps already the league’s premier interior D-lineman. His contributions don’t always light up the box score, but Donald is disruptive and very skilled. That hasn’t changed this year.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

usatsi_9489051_153192880_lowresFlashback to, say, a little over two months ago. Prescott is making a fool of the other NFL teams in the preseason, and people are already anointing him the quarterback of the future. I wasn’t buying the preseason hype, because that’s not what I do. I thought: This guy could be a player. But let’s see when he’s playing against first-stringers who bring varied looks.

Simply put: I did not foresee this.

The immutable fact that a lot of people are afraid to say is that Prescott is playing as good, if not better, than any rookie QB has played in the history of this game. Halfway through the season, Prescott has thrown for over 2,000 yards with a 12-2 TD-to-INT ratio, a 66.5% completion percentage, and a 104.2 passer rating, in addition to 125 rushing yards and 4 rushing TD, all numbers no one would expect from a rookie QB, let alone a 4th round draft pick.

The poise this guy is playing with is simply remarkable. His superb supporting cast certainly helps, but this award decision was easier than you think.

Honorable Mentions

Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys – many people would likely give the award to Zeke, who, as previously noted, is currently leading the league in rushing. There’s no denying he’s a spectacular player. But again, he runs behind the best offensive line in the league, and it’s much more rare for a rookie QB to dominate the way Prescott has than for a rookie RB to dominate the way Zeke has.

Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – he’s been a fine rookie QB, especially coming out of an FCS college, completing 64.4% of his passes for almost 1,900 yards, and displaying good moxie. He’s going to be a good quarterback, if not a great one, but his performance this year is a little ways off that of those listed above.

Jake Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans – he’s been a key piece in Tennessee’s improvement and assisting quarterback Marcus Mariota’s growth. Offensive linemen don’t get the consideration for this award that they should. Here’s to retribution!

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta Falcons

Jones, a second round draft pick out of LSU, has managed consistent production in his rookie season at LB. He plays with great speed and is a capable player in pass coverage, as evidenced by his 2 INT, including one which he returned 90 yards for a touchdown against New Orleans in week 3.

Atlanta is much improved from last season, and having a consistently good rookie at linebacker is certainly a good resource for them in the long run. In fact, you could make the case that Jones is already the best linebacker on this team.

Honorable Mentions

Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers – he’s only been playing since week 5, but Bosa has been very good since then, and he’s not a bad bet to claim this award by the end of the year. He already has 4 sacks and finds himself in the backfield often.

Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars – a third rounder out of Maryland, Ngakoue has surpassed expectations early, at one point delivering a sack in four consecutive games. That kind of production is fantastic for a rookie mid-rounder.

Anthony Brown, CB, Dallas Cowboys – drafted in the sixth round out of Purdue, not many people expected Brown to become the competent defender he has been so early on. He hasn’t been very consistent, but he’s already delivered more than he was supposed to.

Comeback Player of the Year – Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

113014-nfl-packers-jordy-nelson-pi-ch-vadapt-664-high-16Nelson hasn’t quite been the player he was prior to his preseason ACL tear in 2015 – he averaged over 1,400 receiving yards and 11 TD per year the previous two seasons – but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been great. He’s already got 7 TD on the year to go with 509 receiving yards.

Not many people acknowledge this, but Nelson’s calling card has always been his game-breaking speed. In his peak condition, he was able to blaze past defenders and make deep throws easier for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. When you have a guy like that suffer such a terrible injury and come back from it and still produce, it says something. Nelson deserves this award.

Honorable Mentions

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers – some people had their doubts about Benjamin, who also tore his ACL last preseason, even going so far as to say that he had lost his job to Devin Funchess. 534 yards and 4 first-half touchdowns later, Benjamin is right on par with his fantastic rookie season.

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts – this isn’t as much of a comeback, as Luck played a fairly significant amount in 2015, but he played poorly and was knocked out of the season early, so it’s still something. Anyway, Luck looks as good as he ever has this year, throwing for 2,500 yards and 17 TD to 7 INT already.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers – played in only 5 full games in 2015 before blowing his knee out, he hasn’t scored a TD yet in 2016, but he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry and already has over 600 scrimmage yards in just five games. He looks good; he just needs to find the end zone.

Coach of the Year – Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Sure, some of the wins in his past could have been aided by the use of modern technology, but make no mistake: this is one of the best coaches in sports history. He could probably make a winning football squad out of a bunch of third graders.

Belichick’s prowess has been on full display in 2016. Time and time again, he’s proven capable of fielding a winner regardless of which QB is under center (Matt Cassell, anyone?), and here, he’s done it again. Using a combination of Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie third rounder Jacoby Brissett, the Patriots got off to a 3-1 start in the first four weeks.

Belichick and co. have won at least 12 games in 6 straight seasons, and are eyeing a seventh right now. Simply put, this team and coach are good bets to make things happen come January.

Honorable Mentions

Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders – there’s something to be said about having a positive culture change. The Raiders were irrelevant for years, and now they’ve already matched their 2015 win total (7)…halfway through the season. Del Rio has done a beautiful job helming this young team.

Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings – yes, they’ve stumbled a bit lately, but the Vikes are for real. It was only a matter of time before Sam Bradford became – well, Sam Bradford again – and it’s remarkable that this staff was able to get out of him what they did. And Zimmer has worked wonders with this defense.

Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos – Kubiak has done an admirable job with a seventh round draft pick playing his first pro season at quarterback. The Broncos haven’t been very flashy this season, but they’re sitting well at 6-3.

 

That just about wraps up what has been an exciting, unpredictable first half of pro football. Here’s to the second half being just as awesome.

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