- Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers? Jason Garrett or Bill Belichick? The NFL writers of SI and FOX Sports select 2016's NFL award winners.
We won’t know who won the NFL’s season-ending individual awards until February 4, but with the regular season in the books, we can certainly talk about who we think should win them. FOX Sports and Sports Illustrated NFL writers teamed up for a roundtable discussion of their picks. But before we argue the merits of Prescott, Ryan and Rodgers, meet the contributors: Greg Bedard (senior writer, SI), Chris Burke (staff writer, SI), Chris Chase (senior writer, FOX Sports), Cameron DaSilva (staff writer, FOX Sports), Melissa Jacobs (NFL editor, SI), Jonathan Jones (staff writer, SI), Dieter Kurtenbach (senior writer, FOX Sports) and Peter Schrager (NFL insider, FOX Sports).
Greg Bedard SI: Dak Prescott, Cowboys. Tom Brady's team was 3-1 without him. Derek Carr's stats weren't good enough. Matthew Stafford was the entire Lions teams but didn't win his division. The Packers lost four of five with Aaron Rodgers a little off before running the table against weak opponents. Matt Ryan had big late-game interceptions in losses to Seattle, San Diego and Philadelphia (and threw a pick-six in a loss to Kansas City). Ezekiel Elliott has a great offensive line. So with no strong candidate, I'm going a little off the board. The Cowboys had basically the same team last year, with a decent running game, yet were 4-12. They would have been there again had it not been for Prescott's efficient quarterback play.
Chris Burke (SI): Matt Ryan, Falcons. Having just witnessed in person Aaron Rodgers’ dismantling of the Lions’ secondary, it’s tough to venture off in another direction here. And yet, there is something to be said for what Ryan did all season long. Emphasis on "all season long." Rodgers had a little downturn earlier, and Tom Brady missed Weeks 1-4, while Ryan was en route to career numbers. He finished as the league leader in a ton of categories, including net yards per attempt, yards per completion and TD percentage. Atlanta had the most explosive offense in the game this season, and it’s because of how Ryan spread the ball around.
Chris Chase (FOX Sports): Aaron Rodgers, Packers. The toughest call in years. Do you reward Rodgers for the six-game winning streak that got Green Bay to the 10-6 record it should have reached in the first place? Do Matt Ryan's superior numbers cinch the award for him, despite having the potent rushing attack Rodgers' didn't? One thing that's easy, though: It's not Tom Brady. As sublime as he was, no one has ever missed 25 percent of his team's season and won the MVP.
Cameron DaSilva (FOX Sports): Matt Ryan, Falcons. This year is unlike any other when it comes to MVP. Matt Ryan, Ezekiel Elliott, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are all deserving for one reason or another, but Ryan should win it. Consider this: Every quarterback in NFL history to average 300 passing yards and have a passer rating above 110 has won MVP or finished second to a QB who also did that. Ryan is the only player with those numbers this year.
Melissa Jacobs (SI): Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Yeah yeah, where was the glorious Rodgers when the Packers started 4-6? Who cares? What the future Hall o -Famer has done during the Packers’ six-game winning streak to storm into the playoffs is simply phenomenal. Sixteen touchdowns, no interceptions and a whole lot of swagger. Of the MVP candidates, Rodgers has the least amount of insurance, be it one of the most dangerous receivers in the game, a top-notch offensive line or arguably the greatest head coach of all time. Simply put, he’s been the best player in football when it’s counted the most.
Jonathan Jones (SI): Matt Ryan, Falcons. Atlanta’s quarterback came up just shy of 5,000 passing yards throwing to Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and six or seven other guys you’ve never heard of. Indeed, Ryan benefited from Kyle Shanahan and Alex Mack, but every MVP candidate has a significant crutch. Ryan was consistently great for 16 games—not Weeks 4-17 (cough, Brady), not the past six weeks (cough, Rodgers).
Dieter Kurtenbach (FOX Sports): Tom Brady, Patriots. Aaron Rodgers might have ended the season with an incredible six-game run, but Brady went on a tremendous 12-game run this season. You can't fight 28 TDs and two interceptions, even if the Patriots were 3-1 without him.
Peter Schrager (FOX Sports) Matt Ryan, Falcons. He was my MVP after four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks, and he had his best performances in Weeks 13-17. So, quit looking to find the MVP. He's made the case. All season long. Matt Ryan was the best player—and the most important to his team's success—in the NFL this season.
Offensive Player of the Year
Bedard: Matt Ryan, Falcons. His stats (69.9% completions, 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns against 7 interceptions) give him the edge here over Aaron Rodgers and David Johnson.
Burke: David Johnson, Cardinals. I’m not a big proponent of giving the OPOY to a different player at the same position of the MVP winner. There’s also not really a way to hand Johnson the MVP, since he was on a sub-.500 team, but he deserves recognition for his 2016 performance. He was the only player in the NFL to top 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and he scored 20 times. Hopefully, the knee injury he suffered in Week 17 is not a long-term problem because Johnson has entered the Le’Veon Bell class of all-around backs.
Chase: Matt Ryan, Falcons. The inclusion of this award is what makes NFL MVP voting so fascinating. In other sports, you're forced to wrap OPOY into the MVP voting, which leads to an oft-pompous, semantic debate on what the word "valuable" means. In this case, though, you can separate the two, which is why Rodgers gets my MVP vote and Ryan, who led Atlanta to one of the best offensive seasons in history, is the clear winner here.
DaSilva: David Johnson, Cardinals. Johnson quietly put together one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history. He’s one of 11 players to have 2,100 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in a season, showing remarkable versatility. Furthermore, only one other player has ever had 1,200 rushing yards and 800 receiving yards with 20 touchdowns: Marshall Faulk.
Jacobs: Matt Ryan, Falcons.To call Ryan’s season a career year would be an understatement. He’s been flawless, as evidenced a regular-season passer rating of 117.1 that ranks fourth all-time. The Falcons are the No. 2 seed in large part because of Ryan’s arm.
Jones: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. This award has basically become the MVP award for non-quarterbacks. Once you take away Ryan, Rodgers, Brady and Dak Prescott, you’re left with the best rookie running back in the NFL in the past 30 years. Elliott didn’t get the rookie rushing record (though he could have with a Week 17 performance), so this will have to do.
Kurtenbach: Matt Ryan, Falcons. Ryan became the only quarterback in NFL history to start all 16 games and average 9.25 yards per pass attempt. He had much stronger offensive weapons than Brady, but he deserves recognition for his season.
Schrager: Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Led the league in touchdown passes for the first time in his career and did so without a bona fide running back. He also tossed his team on his back for the umpteenth time of his career and got it to the playoffs with his arm and legs. He's been an MVP twice, and you can argue that 2016 was Rodgers' most impressive campaign yet.
Bedard: Von Miller, Broncos. He had a quiet last month of the season, but the body of work was good enough to carry him in a weak field.
Burke: Von Miller, Broncos. J.J. Watt has won this award three of the past four years (and Luke Kuechly the other). So, with Watt on the shelf for much of 2016, it’s time to get Miller his due. He was dominant off the edge again this season, even while receiving less help from the Broncos’ defensive interior. If Miller plays another five-plus seasons, he’ll go down as one of the most productive sack producers in NFL history. He has to be accounted for with multiple blockers on every play, or he destroys offenses.
Chase: Von Miller, Broncos. Miller and the Broncos ended the year on a sour note, but his first three months more than made up for it. No one in the NFL is as disruptive, no one gets to the quarterback with more ease, and no one forces offenses to completely rearrange game plans like the reigning Super Bowl MVP. There are other fine candidates (Khalil Mack will be winning this award soon), but you can't argue any deserves it more than Miller.
DaSilva: Landon Collins, Giants. A safety? Winning Defensive Player of the Year? You bet, and another safety is also up for consideration. Landon Collins is the only player in NFL history with 100 solo tackles, at least two sacks, five interceptions and 12 passes defensed in a season. He was arguably the biggest playmaker in the league this year, recording four sacks and five interceptions. Eric Berry, Von Miller and Khalil ;Mack are deserving, but not more than Collins.
Jacobs: Vic Beasley, Falcons.Beasley has been a consistent sack machine all season, leading the league with 15.5. His disruptiveness seems to be strategically opportune. Matt Ryan’s brilliance aside, it was Beasley’s 3.5 sacks against Denver that helped legitimize the Falcons as a contender.
Jones: Von Miller, Broncos. Miller won the Broncos at least two games (Carolina and Indianapolis). Dwight Freeney believes the award should go to the player with the most sacks, and that’d be Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley. Beasley had a helluva season, but Miller was the best defender in football this year.
Kurtenbach: Von Miller, Broncos. He was definitely worth that contract—the best player on one of the NFL's best defenses.
Schrager: Von Miller, Broncos. His 2016 was as good, if not better, than his unbelievable 2015. Considering the putrid offense in Denver this season, it's a minor miracle this team was even in the games it was. Miller was an absolute beast off the edge and still struck the fear in the hearts of opposing offenses.
Coach of the Year
Bedard: Bill Belichick, Patriots. Went 14-2 with three different starting quarterbacks and after trading his most talented defensive player (Jamie Collins). Dallas’ Jason Garrett is very worthy of this award as well.
Burke: Jason Garrett, Cowboys. Kudos to Jack Del Rio in Oakland and Adam Gase in Miami, but let’s be honest here: How many other teams could have lost their starting quarterback in the preseason, handed the reins over to a rookie and even stayed afloat, let alone won a division? Garrett’s staff deserves a ton of credit, too -- both DC Rod Marinelli and OC Scott Linehan. But this award recognizes the guy in charge. The Cowboys were an amazing story during the regular season.
Chase: Bill Belichick, Patriots. He won't win (Jason Garrett will) because we take for granted that Belichick can lose Tom Brady for four games and turn Jimmy Garoppolo into a bona fide NFL starter and that he can post the best record and best point differential in the NFL (113 better than any AFC team) without any other offensive Pro Bowlers and only two on the defensive side. This award always goes to the coach whose team that surprised the most. If it went to the best coach, Belichick would have a dozen.
DaSilva: Jason Garrett, Cowboys. The Cowboys overcame injuries to Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. Yet all they did was post the second-best record in the NFL at 13-3 with rookies starting at quarterback and running back. There isn’t a more deserving candidate than Jason Garrett, and it’s not really close.
Jacobs: Jason Garrett, Cowboys. A year ago, the Cowboys finished 4-12, the toxicity of Greg Hardy on their roster still fresh. With few changes (excepting an electrifying rookie running back and a new QB), Garrett has steered a remarkable turnaround. The Dak Prescott-Tony Romo situation was enough to split many an NFL locker room. But Garrett ensured that there would be no drama.
Jones: Jason Garrett, Cowboys. He went from 4-12 to 13-3 in a year with a meddlesome and controversy-starting owner, a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back, a decent defense—all while dealing with benching a franchise quarterback. In a league where the absurd so often is the reality, Garrett managed the NFC’s top-seeded team with calm and class
Kurtenbach: Jason Garrett, Cowboys. Starting quarterback goes down in preseason, with expectations sky high, and no one expects much from the defense. 13-3 says it all.
Schrager: Jason Garrett, Cowboys. Dallas seemingly cruised to the top seed in the NFC this year, but that was hardly the case this summer, when Jameill Showers was being discussed as a potential quarterback option. When you lose your top two quarterbacks before September, ride the arm of a fourth-round pick and the legs of a rookie running back, and find a way to keep it all calm and cool you earn my nod. There was no setback, distraction, or story line that got in Dallas' way this season.
Comeback Player of the Year
Bedard: Jordy Nelson, Packers. His 97 catches, 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns were very similar to his stats before tearing his ACL.
Burke, SI: Jordy Nelson, Packers. There is something uniquely special about the rapport Nelson shares with Aaron Rodgers. When Nelson is healthy, as he was again this season, the two share a sixth sense that allows them to beat defenses even when coverage appears to be solid. After missing a year with a knee injury, Nelson returned to top 1,200 yards receiving and he led the league with 14 touchdown catches. He may not have been better than he was before his injury, but he certainly was not worse. That’s a testament to what he accomplished in 2016.
Chase: DeMarco Murray, Titans. Because this award usually goes to the best player coming off a serious injury, Jordy Nelson will probably take home the honors and would be a deserving winner. Yet it's far more interesting when a player written off—like Murray was after falling off a cliff in Philadelphia just one year after his magical 1,845-yard season in Dallas—has a second act. With nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, Murray saved his career in 2016. That's a comeback.
DaSilva: Jordy Nelson, Packers. Nelson missed all of 2015 due to a crushing knee injury in the preseason. He came back this year to put up outstanding numbers. Melvin Gordon and DeMarco Murray are also candidates, but their “comebacks” were due to terrible 2015 seasons—largely the faults of their own.
Jacobs: Jordy Nelson, Packers. Nelson has been remarkable in his return from a torn ACL. We tend to cast aside a torn ACL as an injury players regularly come back from. But consider that Nelson is a 31-year old receiver and his 2016 season (97 catches, 1257 yards, 14 touchdowns) becomes all the more impressive.
Jones: Cameron Wake, Dolphins. Wake is about to 35. Guys that old don’t return from Achilles tears and have one of the best seasons of their life. Wake’s 11 ½ sacks this season helped Miami get back to the playoffs. Le’Veon Bell is the runner-up here.
Kurtenbach: Cameron Wake, Dolphins. The 34-year-old tore his Achilles but came back and registered 11.5 sacks. That's otherworldly.
Schrager: Jordy Nelson, Packers. Tore his ACL. Came back slow out of the gate. Most unstoppable receiver in the league the final five weeks of the season. If that's not a comeback campaign, what is?
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Bedard: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. Easily won the league rushing title with 1,631 yards, and while he runs behind a great offensive line he's pretty darn good as well.
Burke: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. Darren McFadden rushed for 1,000 yards as a Cowboy last season, much of it coming with Tony Romo on the shelf, so that does lend credence to the argument that Dallas’s line is the real star. What McFadden never did, though, is absolutely take over games by overpowering opponents the way Elliott did throughout his rookie season. The 1,994 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs hardly even cover the impact he made. Save for two outings vs. the Giants, Elliott helped Dallas dictate the course of every game in which he played.
Chase: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. You could argue that Dak Prescott deserves this award over his teammate. You'd be wrong, but you could definitely argue that.
DaSilva: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. This is a two-man race between Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. However, considering that Elliott was so much better than every other running back, he gets the nod. He paced the league with 1,631 rushing yards, 318 more than any other player – and he didn’t even play the last game. Elliott was the best rookie in the league this year regardless of position.
Jacobs: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. The most no-brainer of all the awards. Elliott didn’t break Eric Dickerson’s rushing record, but he attacked defensive lines all season en route to leading the league with 1,631 rushing yards. Elliott the real deal, a throwback to the great running backs of yesteryear.
Jones: Dak Prescott, Cowboys.The rookie quarterback wins this award because his running back took the overall offensive award. Prescott had a great season, but in terms of value, Elliott meant more to Dallas.
Kurtenbach: Dak Prescott, Cowboys. Running behind that offensive line is not as hard as being the wildly successful (save for that game in New Jersey) quarterback of a winning Dallas Cowboys team. Prescott was so cool, calm, and collected it was easy to forget he's a rookie.
Schrager: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. If they give him the rock down the stretch in games 16 and 17, he probably breaks Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. I spoke with a defensive coordinator over the weekend. He said what's so maddening about playing Elliott is that you think he's making 1- or 2-yard runs, and then you look up and it's second-and-3. He makes the impossible look effortless. Complete back and an unbelievable season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Bedard: Joey Bosa, Chargers. Despite his team stupidly getting into a contract squabble with him, Bosa put up 10.5 sacks and ranked fifth among all edge players in ProFootballFocus.com's pass-rushing productivity stat.
Burke: Joey Bosa, Chargers. In the MVP discussion, I placed importance on Matt Ryan excelling in 16 games while Tom Brady had to sit out four. It’s a different situation when it comes to Bosa (who did not make his debut until Week 5) because he was so head and shoulders above the rest of the defensive rookie class once he took the field. Had he not missed the first quarter of the year, Bosa would have challenged Vic Beasley (15.5) for the league high in sacks.
Chase: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars. Playing corner as a rookie is probably the most difficult transition in football, something you wouldn't have known from watching Ramsey, the fifth pick of the draft out of Florida State. He regularly lined up across from team's top receivers and held them in check for a unit that ended the season ranked No. 5 in the NFL. Joey Bosa was great—probably the best defensive rookie on a per-game basis— but the first month of the season can't be ignored. Right, Tom?
DaSilva: Joey Bosa, Chargers. Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey made a strong push for Defensive Rookie of the Year with his late-season surge, but ultimately Bosa should win it. He recorded 10.5 sacks, a number that’s hardly ever reached by a rookie—never mind a rookie who only played 12 games. He looks every bit like the dominant defensive end many expected him to be.
Jacobs: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars Ramsey edges out Bosa since he played a full season. Under the radar in Jacksonville, Ramsey has already developed into a corner teams are avoiding. He can handle most No. 1 receivers and plays with an edge that can be very disruptive.
Jones: Joey Bosa, Chargers. He missed almost the entire preseason in a contract dispute and then missed four games because of health. He still had 10 1/2 sacks in his rookie season. Bosa is the clear favorite here.
Kurtenbach: Joey Bosa, Chargers. When Bosa finally cracked the Chargers' lineup, he changed the entire complexity of that defense. No defensive rookie had a greater impact on his team than Bosa in 2016.
Schrager: Keanu Neal, Falcons. Neal might not be on the national media's radar, but he's been an absolute stud since missing the first few weeks with an injury. He led all rookies in tackles by a country mile, sets the tone for the Atlanta defensive backfield and is a scud missile. Crazy thing is that my No. 2 on this list is Deion Jones, another Falcons rookie.