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NFL Notes: Ready for awards season

With NFL Honors Night on the horizon it's time to hand out some awards.


The final week of the NFL season has officially arrived with the Chiefs and Eagles descending upon Arizona as they prepare to kick off Super Bowl LVII on Sunday. Lots of storylines have already been discussed with Andy Reid facing his former team and the Kelce brothers facing each other.

But we're more interested in the league in general, and before Sunday night's kickoff the NFL will hold its annual honors night on February 9. Rather than delving into the matchups between the teams we'll offer our thoughts on the awards that will be doled out Thursday night.


Finalists: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City; Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo; Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia; Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati; Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota

My pick: Hurts

As usual the quarterbacks are well represented, as they should be. All five players were instrumental in their teams' success, and the four quarterbacks all made it at least to the divisional round while Mahomes and Hurts will go at it in the Super Bowl.

That pair would be my two finalists, with Hurts holding a slight edge due to his incredible production on the ground. That said, Mahomes will likely win the award for the second time and he would be a worthy selection. After losing Tyreek Hill he was forced to integrate an entirely new set of wide receivers and did so effectively. By leaning on tight end Travis Kelce, Mahomes passed for 5,250 yards and 41 touchdowns against just 12 picks. The Chiefs finished 14-3 and earned the top seed in AFC as a result.

The passing numbers dwarf Hurts' but that doesn't tell the whole story. First, Hurts was no slouch throwing the ball, completing better than 66 percent of his throws for 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions. But he also added 760 yards on the ground and an incredible 13 rushing touchdowns. Only Cam Newton had more in a season when he rushed for 14 as a rookie in 2011. Including the rushing totals, Mahomes still topped Hurts in terms of touchdowns at 44-35 but obviously the gap is much tighter, and Hurts missed a pair of games due to a shoulder injury.

During the time that Hurts missed, the Eagles went 0-2, including a dismal home loss to the lowly Saints. His value was on display in his absence, and his development transformed Philly from a fringe playoff team to a bona fide title contender.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

Offensive Player of the Year

Finalists: Mahomes, Jefferson, Hurts, Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City

My pick: Jefferson

While the quarterbacks dominate the MVP voting, OPY should be reserved for a truly outstanding season at a different position. Both Hill and Jefferson certainly qualify, and Jefferson gets the nod for both his incredible production and his penchant for carrying his team to victory in key spots.

In terms of numbers, Jefferson was slightly better with 128 catches for 1,809 yards and eight touchdowns. Hill lagged a bit in all three categories with 119 receptions for 1,710 yards and seven touchdowns, although he added an eighth as a rusher.

The difference for me was the amount of game-changing plays Jefferson turned in at key moments. None was bigger than his ridiculous fourth-down grab at Buffalo to extend the Vikings drive in an eventual overtime win. Time and time again Jefferson made contested grabs even as opponents knew where Kirk Cousins was going with the football, and still he delivered.

The Hill camp has a solid argument when considering Tua Tagovailoa missed all or parts of five games, forcing him to catch passes from rookie seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson at times. But Jefferson's season was just a bit better and he deserves the award.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones.

Defensive Player of the Year

Finalists: Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco; Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City; Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas

My pick: Jones

This is another award where I acknowledge I am not picking the eventually winner. Nick Bosa is the best player on the league's best defense and his 18.5 sacks led the league. For those reasons I believe he will take home the award.

That said, few players have dominated games from the inside like Aaron Donald did over the past several years. Jones did exactly that for much of the 2022 season and therefore should be rewarded as Donald was. Jones finished with 15.5 sacks lining up predominantly on the inside, and he always seems to be at his best in the biggest games. He is capable of wrecking a game for opposing offenses, and he is pretty stout in the inside against the run as well. Jones won't likely win it, but he should.

New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Finalists: Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets; Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle; Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco

My pick: Wilson

First, I'm not sure Purdy even belongs on this list after playing in less than half of his team's games. He performed well for the most part but few would argue that his job was overly difficult given the talent lining up all around him and what he was asked to do. So, for me it came to Wilson and Walker, and Wilson to me was the clear winner.

He caught 83 passes for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns despite playing on an offense that was searching for steady quarterback play all season long with Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson and Mike White all struggling to move the team. Wilson showed savvy route-running from Day 1 and seemed to emerge as a leader on the Jets offense as the season progressed. If the Jets can figure out the quarterback position (Aaron Rodgers?) Wilson will become an even bigger problem in the AFC East.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Finalists: Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets; Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit; Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle

My pick: Gardner

The Jets make it a clean sweep in the rookie categories (and they might have had another candidate had running back Breece Hall not gone down with a torn ACL midseason). Gardner was consistent from the day he arrived, shutting down all comers throughout the season. He finished with a league-high 20 passes defensed and earned first-team All-Pro honors despite the fact that he was tested early and often throughout the year.

Woolen's ball-hawking skills were impressive as well as he finished with six picks and made a number of plays for the Seahawks, and Hutchinson came on toward the end of the season but neither was as productive and consistent as Gardner.

Comeback Player of the Year

Finalists: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants; Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina; Geno Smith, QB, Seattle

My pick: Barkley

I'll state up front that this is the award that I like the least. I have no idea what the criteria is supposed to be. Is if for a player coming off an injury? A bad season? Or, like Smith, seasons of inactivity? There's just too much ambiguity.

But I'll go with Barkley, who bounced back from a couple of down seasons to lead the Giants to the playoffs. He rushed for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 338 more yards as a receiver. He and McCaffrey were terrific coming off injuries and either would be a solid choice.

Smith's emergence from a career spent mostly as a backup will likely garner him the award, but again, what exactly did he come back from?

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni .
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni .

Coach of the Year

Finalists: Brian Daboll, New York Giants; Sean McDermott, Buffalo; Doug Pederson, Jacksonville; Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco; Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia

My pick: Sirianni

This is another award with so many deserving candidates. Oftentimes the vote goes to a coach who enjoys success with a team that wasn't expected to do much (Daboll/Pederson) but I'm not sure anyone transformed his team more than Sirianni did.

He turned Hurts loose in their second season together and that lifted the Eagles offense to new heights. Yes Philadelphia added A.J. Brown, Haason Reddick and other key players but Sirianni was able to push all the right buttons to allow the Eagles to emerge as one of the most talented teams in football.

Daboll would be my second choice based on everything he was able to squeeze out of Daniel Jones and a very limited Giants roster.

View some of the best images of Tom Brady throughout his illustrious career with the New England Patriots.

That was quick

Last week I previewed the potential for some quarterback movement to once again dominant the offseason landscape and it didn't take long for the first domino to fall. Tom Brady's retirement, exactly a year following his first announcement, seems more final this time around and therefore removes one of the top names from the potential list of available passers.

That leaves Aaron Rodgers alone atop any such list, and rumors persist that his departure from Green Bay seems far more likely than a year ago when nothing of any substance ever materialized. Rodgers joked after appearing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am that he heard a lot of calls from fans of various teams, citing the Raiders as being the most vocal. The Packers appear anxious to move on to Jordan Love, and would like to send Rodgers to the AFC, which would be bad news for the Patriots as it could potentially add another obstacle to overcome on the playoff road. The Jets and Raiders would be two likely destinations for the four-time MVP, but there will be other suitors as well.

In other quarterback-related news, Sean Payton's hiring in Denver has to be welcome news for Russell Wilson. The former Seahawks star looked close to the end of the line a year ago, but Payton's reputation as an offensive mastermind could be the remedy to getting Wilson back on track. If so, add Denver to the list of teams to be concerned about.

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