Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
Sure, Dak Prescott has been great, Dallas has the best offensive line in the league and Dez is starting to look like a superstar again, but the engine that ignites this offense is Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is already shattering the lofty expectations set for him coming out of Ohio State. Zeke has rushed for over 100 yards in five of the Cowboys' last nine games. In the other four games, Zeke’s totals were 96, 92, 97, and 97, meaning Elliott was merely one carry away in each of those games from reaching the century mark. With just five games left on the slate, Elliott stands at just a tad over 1,500 yards from scrimmage, and is in striking distance of breaking the all-time mark for a rookie season set by Eric Dickerson (2,212). Zeke has his work cut out for him if he wants to challenge the record, but with his Cowboys sitting atop the standings at 10-1, he has even bigger goals on his mind.
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Defensive Rookie of the Year: Deion Jones – Atlanta Falcons
One of the hardest awards to give out each year, the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year is shifting with each passing week. Joey Bosa has already made his impact felt, but it’ll take a few more big games from him to seize the award. Jalen Ramsey has been solid in coverage all year, but having zero recorded interceptions makes it difficult for voters to get on board (especially considering last year's winner had eight). We’re going to go with a bit of a dark horse here and make the case for Deion Jones. Jones is leading all rookies in tackles and plays the most important position on a defense that is vastly improved from last year. His two interceptions and seven defended passes will look good once the voting comes around as well. There’s no clear-cut pick at the moment, meaning a few standout games in the home-stretch should allow a rookie to separate from the rest of the pack.
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Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett – Dallas Cowboys
There’s absolutely no shame in giving this award to Jack Del Rio of the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio has been a driving force in changing the culture of his squad, with his aggressive style playing a key role in his team's 9-2 record. Of course, you still have to play the game and you can’t win on talent alone, but there were numerous experts around the league that had the Raiders pegged as their breakout team. The talent was there, and Reggie McKenzie has done a fine job in the draft and in free agency.But with Oakland still ranked in the bottom of the league in most defensive categories (29th in yards allowed and 23rd in points per game), I'm going a different route.
The Cowboys were 1-11 without Tony Romo last year. The Cowboys are 10-1 without Tony Romo this year. Interesting, right? Sure, Sean Lee is back to lead the defense and the 2015 Dallas Cowboys didn’t have a 6-foot, 225-pound crop top-wearing Hulk on their team, but there is something to be said about what Garrett has done. There’s no coach constantly under more fire than whoever it is coaching the Dallas Cowboys, and after years of fans clamoring to have Jason Garrett relieved of his duties, he has finally shown what he is capable of when given a team of this level of talent. Garrett might not win the award come January, but he shouldn’t be paying for any meals in Dallas for the rest of his life.
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Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
Offensive Player of the Year is one of my absolute favorite awards in sports. Gone are the “rules” accustomed to most major league MVP trophies in which the MVP absolutely MUST to go to a player on one of the best teams in the league. The Offensive Player of the Year gets to go the player that is truly the most unstoppable player on the offensive side of the ball. Thus far, it’s hard to argue any single player has been more unstoppable than Arizona’s David Johnson. Johnson is everything the Cardinals' coaching staff made him out to be. He has terrific burst through the line, has great moves in space, catches the ball as well as anybody out of the backfield and hardly ever gets brought down on first contact. Even with Ezekiel’s monster rookie campaign, Johnson is still leading all players with 1,534 yards from scrimmage. He even showed us in 2015 that he can return kicks if need be. There’s nothing on the field that Johnson can’t do, and the Cardinals have used him perfectly. Now if only the rest of the team could follow suit.
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Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller – Denver Broncos
After four straight games with an interception, New York Giants safety Landon Collins was creeping up on Miller to snag this award. However, after his herculean performance on Sunday Night Football, Von Miller reasserted himself as the clear front-runner for his first Defensive Player of the Year award. Miller looks as sharp as ever after a three-sack game in a losing effort against the Chiefs, and sits atop the sack leaderboard comfortably with a total of 12.5 on the season. The Broncos have been up and down since starting the season 4-0, but Miller’s consistency has kept Denver among the very best defensive units. With only a month left of regular season football and the Broncos on the fringe of missing out on the playoffs, expect Von Miller to step his game up to an even higher level and potentially run away with this award.
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MVP: Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders
Where would the Oakland Raiders be without their budding star? Every week it seems like Carr is bailing out his suspect defense with multiple sensational fourth quarter drives. In Week 12, it was a dislocated pinky finger and a blown 17-point lead that the Raiders had to dig themselves out of. No problem for Oakland’s gunslinger. Carr, glove on his throwing hand and all, orchestrated two memorable drives to bring home a crucial win to keep the division lead. The first was for a touchdown and an impossible two point conversion, and the second set up the game-winning Sebastian Janikowski field goal. The best play of the day came on a 3rd & 2 on the Raiders' last offensive possession. Most quarterbacks would be looking for the short conversion to keep the drive alive, but Carr had other ideas as he hooked up with Michael Crabtree for a deep bomb across the middle of the field for 49 yards. That’s the kind of risks that Carr has consistently taken and succeeded on for the first three-quarters of the season, and it has his Raiders sitting at a comfortable 9-2 after clinching their first winning season since 2002. All is good in Oakland, and much of the credit needs to be given to Derek Carr.
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