Over an 18-year period, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning combined to appear in 18 AFC title games and 13 Super Bowls, winning eight titles. And yet, when all was said and done, the two won only eight (really, it was more like seven and a half) regular season MVP awards.
That’s not a small number, to be sure. But were there 10 years in that timeframe when one of those two was not the most valuable player in the game? I would contend that there were not. Which is evidence that we tend to overcomplicate these things and pick awards based on storylines, and who might be due to win, rather than the best guys for the trophies.
Sometimes, the best answer is the easy one.
And that’s really what I thought of as I conducted my annual midseason awards poll with front-office folks this week and watched a flood of votes in two different categories come in for reigning Super Bowl MVP and 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Voting for Mahomes to win his second MVP in three years might not be as interesting as giving Russell Wilson his first MVP. But, as lot of these guys paid to evaluate players see it, it is right.
Some scored the competition for Wilson based on how he’s had to load the Seahawks onto his back, as the defense and running game have struggled for traction. Others just went for the guy who is, quite simply, the best player in the sport.
“Twenty-five-to-one TD to INT ratio,” said one AFC executive. “That’s unheard of.”
I had to look that up to verify it, by the way, maybe because I’ve been desensitized to the outrageousness of what the 25-year-old is doing (which is part of why the great ones sometimes don’t win these awards). Our exec was correct: Mahomes’s TD-to-INT ratio is 25-to-1. He’s also completed 66.9% of his passes for 2,687 yards and a 115.9 rating, which puts him in play for a second 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard season.
When he accomplished that the first time he was just the second player to do it, joining Manning. He could come out of this year with two of the three 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history. Again, he turned 25 eight weeks ago.
“Close to a 67% completion percentage, one pick, a little over eight yards per attempt, it’s rare stuff man,” said an NFC exec. “And he could also be a guy who doesn’t get enough credit. We’ve come to just expect this out of him, but we need to truly appreciate what we’re witnessing.”
Consider the results you’re about to read an appreciation.
Week 10’s here, and so is your GamePlan! Inside the column, we’re bringing you …
• A look at the suddenly high success rate on first-round quarterbacks.
• The tell that the NFL badly wants the Super Bowl played on time.
• Power rankings!
But we’re starting with all the results from our annual poll.
As many of you know, I’m a child of the ’90s, so I’ve seen this before. Michael Jordan won the NBA MVP award four times during that decade (plus a fifth in 1988), and anyone who lived through that knows that number doesn’t do enough to illustrate how truly dominant he was. But the people who vote on these things found a way to sneak one over to Charles Barkley, and another to Karl Malone, and now it almost looks like a misprint in the history books.
The execs I polled this week didn’t let that happen with Mahomes.
So here’s how we did it, which is pretty much the same way we did it last year: I asked for award winners in six categories (MVP, OPOY, DPOY, OROY, DROY, COY), and presented five poll questions. Then, we tallied up the votes (we got 31 ballots back) and the answers to the poll questions. Remember The MMQB did our own midseason awards round-up, but below is what I got from execs around the league.
Winner: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (17 votes).
Also receiving votes: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (9), Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (3), Saints RB Alvin Kamara (1), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (1).
My take: Mahomes wound up appearing as MVP or Offensive Player of the Year on 23 of 31 ballots. He was named both MVP and OPOY on two of those ballots. Which is, again, reflective of his standing as the sport’s best player.
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (10 votes).
Also receiving votes: Mahomes (8), Wilson (4), Kamara (2.5), Rodgers (1.5), Bills QB Josh Allen (1), Saints QB Drew Brees (1), Bills WR Stefon Diggs (1), Seahawks WR D.K. Metcalf (1), Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (1).
My take: The vagueness on the definition of this award—and how it’s different from the MVP, which always goes to an offensive player—often means it’s interpreted every which way. That’s the case here. But if you take it as a non-QB award, as many people do? Then Cook is very deserving (as is my pick, Kamara).
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: Rams DT Aaron Donald (10 votes).
Also receiving votes: Steelers OLB T.J. Watt (8), Browns DE Myles Garrett (7), Buccaneers LB Devin White (3), Cardinals S Budda Baker (2), 49ers MLB Fred Warner (1).
My take: Score another one for the best player—Donald’s been dominant, and really made it easier for new Rams coordinator Brandon Staley to implement a new scheme. But Watt and Garrett are very much in play for the award with eight weeks to go.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Winner (tie): Chargers QB Justin Herbert and Bengals QB Joe Burrow (15 votes each).
Also receiving votes: Jaguars RB James Robinson (1).
My take: I see this vote as two things: a tribute to how steady and solid Burrow’s been since being thrown into a rebuilding situation, and a tribute to how many people Herbert has proven wrong as he’s come on. This one should be a fight to the finish.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Ravens LB Patrick Queen (12 votes).
Also receiving votes: Washington DE Chase Young (9), Panthers S Jeremy Chinn (4), Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield (4), Colts S Julian Blackmon (1), Bears CB Jaylon Johnson (1).
My take: I thought this would be Young, who has 17 quarterback pressures in seven games, and already looks like an All-Pro. Then I checked out Queen’s stat line: 52 tackles, five QB hits, four tackles for losses, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a pass defensed and a touchdown. Baltimore got him with the 28th pick, by the way.
Coach of the Year
Winner (tie): Brian Flores, Dolphins; and Mike Tomlin, Steelers (14 votes each).
Also receiving votes: Sean McDermott, Bills (2); Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals (1).
My take: I think this is a result of how you interpret the award. If you look at who has his team in the best spot, and has brought the most consistency, it’s Tomlin. If you look at who’s brought his team back from the dead, it’s Flores. Both have done a great job.
What’s your biggest surprise so far this year, and why?
• One NFC GM said, simply, “How many young quarterbacks are having success.” And he wasn’t the only one with that sentiment. An AFC GM said his surprise was “the play of Josh Allen. The coaching staff has done a tremendous job developing him.” And another NFC personnel chief looked at even younger guys than that, saying, “How well both Burrow and Herbert have played as rookie QBs (and Tua could bring this to three by end of the year). Don’t usually see two guys come in and play with that much command over an offense.” Another NFC exec echoed that, emailing, “Rookie QBs (Burrow, Herbert, Tua) having early-season success with a virtual offseason, no OTAs and no pre-season games.”
• America’s Team came up a bunch too, as did the division they play in. To our question, one NFC exec texted: “Dallas. Yes, they have had injuries, but they are a mess on both sides of the ball.” Another NFC exec echoed that, saying, “Even before Dak’s injury, this is a team that is way more talented than their play and record suggest.” And from an AFC exec: “A disaster—horrific turn of events while having Super Bowl hopes coming in. It’s not just Dak’s injury, everything has gone wrong.” Others lumped division rivals in with Dallas. “NFC East,” said an AFC GM, “Cowboys and Eagles suck.” Another AFC GM added, “I’m surprised the Eagles are not dominating the NFC East, and surprised Wentz looks like a rookie. Worst year of his career.”
• COVID-19 came up repeatedly, too, and it was actually in a positive way. “No postponed games or shutdowns yet,” texted an NFC exec. “Players, teams and league have done a great job. Hope we can keep it up.” An AFC pro scouting director pointed to a more specific situation for his surprise: “that the league so smoothly navigated the initial outbreak in Tennessee.” Another AFC scouting director summed up the sentiment I got from lots of folks this way: “That we have made it thus far. It was hard to believe back in July we would have a season at all with so many questions that hadn’t been answered. The NFL has done a great job, regardless of the final outcome.”
• You’ll see Flores come up repeatedly, and this was another place where the job the Dolphins’ coach has done was lauded. “Biggest surprise thus far is the job Brian Flores is doing with the Miami Dolphins,” said an exec from a rival AFC team. “Flo has done a great job. He has a lot of new parts on offense and defense along with a new OC and DC. Oh, and no offseason to get those pieces to gel. It’s easy to spend a ton of money in free agency and pick a bunch of players in the draft but the ability to bring those pieces together in such a short amount of time with no offseason is impressive.”
• And if you want one more feel good answer, here’s one from an NFC scouting director: “Seeing Alex Smith play in a game and throw a pass, let alone for 300-plus yards. Truly remarkable. He didn’t need to play in a game to be Comeback Player of the Year in my eyes. To be active and suited on a roster was a special sight.”
Which player from another team doesn’t get the credit he deserves?
• Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey was a popular answer for the second straight year. “They just paid him, but he is very unique—inside/outside, matches on perimeter, slot and TEs,” said an AFC personnel director. “Opens up their defense to be very flexible.” An AFC pro scouting director added, “For decades, Baltimore’s personality came from the linebacker room. That guy for them now is an outside corner.”
• Another popular answer: Fred Warner, and you’ll see that he actually got a DPOY vote in the tally above. One AFC scouting director called him “one of the elite playmakers at the ILB position in the NFL.” An NFC exec made it simpler: “He’s a BEAST.” His presence here, too, should illustrate the Niners’ comfort level in moving Kwon Alexander.
• Bills WR Stefon Diggs also got multiple mentions, and an OPOY vote. “We all knew how good Stefon was in Minnesota, but I didn’t think he would mean this much to Josh Allen and the Bills offense,” said a rival AFC exec. “The Bills staff did a great job identifying a weakness and finding a solution. Also, tip the hat to the Vikings for finding a like-piece [Justin Jefferson] to replace him; both teams should be thrilled moving forward.”
• Budda Baker was also mentioned on multiple lists, and got multiple DPOY votes—and yet, somehow it feels like he’s best known for getting run down by D.K. Metcalf on SNF.