We’ve hit the halfway point of the NFL season. Time to revise my quarter-poll ballot for league superlatives.
At the end of the year, I’ll submit a final, official one for the Associated Press.
For now, here are my choices, with the quarter picks in parentheses:
Most Valuable Player
Tom Brady, QB, New England. (Brady). Never mind that he's 40. It clearly isn't holding him back from performing at a level most other quarterbacks – or players at any position for that matter – can only dream about. Injuries to key members of his supporting cast don't seem to bother him, or the Patriots, either. Not only has Brady repeatedly helped rally his team to victories, but he also has found ways to improve his game. Philadelphia's Carson Wentz and Kansas City's Alex Smith are viable candidates that could change this choice by the end of the season, but there's just no going against Brady at this point.
Offensive Player of the Year
Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City. (Hunt). After eight games, Hunt continues to be the NFL's rushing leader with 763 yards and leader in yards from scrimmage with 1,070. He's one of the league's best in yards after contact, often making him an effective player regardless of what sort of openings his line provides. Wentz and Smith are considerations here as well, along with Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who is highly effective as a runner and receiver. This award could have voters pulled in a lot of different places through the final half of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville. (DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas). No free agent has made a larger impact on his new team than the one Campbell has made on the Jaguars. The former Arizona Cardinal ranks second in the NFL with 10 sacks. Campbell also has 27 pressures and 32 tackles. Thanks largely to his pass-rushing and run-stuffing, as well as to his leadership and versatility (he can also play tackle), the Jaguars' league-leading 33 sacks and overall dominant defensive play are paving the way for the team's resurgence. Meanwhile, Lawrence hasn't exactly disappeared. He continues to have a Pro Bowl season, but no defensive player in the league is reaching Campbell's game-wrecking heights.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston. (Hunt). It's too bad that this won't hold up, of course, because Watson suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice Thursday. He had rapidly become one of the best stories in the league, setting records on a regular basis and being the primary reason the Texans have gone from averaging 17.4 points per game in 2016 to an NFL-best 30.2 points per game. Hunt still would have been very much in the conversation and still might have grabbed some votes even if Watson had remained healthy. Now, this clearly looks like Hunt's honor to lose the rest of the way.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo. (White). Thursday night's disastrous showing by the Bills against the New York Jets could do some damage to the favorable attention he had mostly gained from the rest of the league. White struggled, but not enough to lose his grip on this honor. The Bills' main defensive problem against the Jets was being dominated at the line. White built on his strong performance through the first four games by blanketing Amari Cooper a week after the Oakland Raiders' receiver had a career performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Bills can remain in the playoff hunt, White's stock will remain strong. However, linebacker T.J. Watt, younger brother of J.J. Watt, is getting much-deserved credit for the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive resurgence and cornerback Marshon Lattimore has also done plenty to help turn around the New Orleans Saints' D.
Comeback Player of the Year
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City. (Houston). There are several worthy candidates for this honor. Strong cases can be made for others, but I have not seen a stronger one than Houston continues to provide for himself. He did himself plenty of favors with a dominant showing against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Houston will get some solid challenges through the rest of the season and one of the biggest will come from New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has picked up plenty of the pass-catching slack caused by Julian Edelman's season-ending injury. Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, and Rams quarterback Jared Goff are also going to be in the discussion.
Coach of the Year
Sean McVay, L.A. Rams. (McVay). The NFL's youngest coach continues to have an amazing rookie season. The Rams' five victories are already one more than the four they had all last season, but the 31-year-old coach has done so much more, beginning with helping Goff make a dramatic improvement over his disappointing rookie year after becoming the top overall pick of the draft. McVay also deserves credit for getting much better production from Gurley, whose eight touchdowns have done a great deal to allow the Rams to average 30 points per game after generating only 14 points per game last year.
*Richie Incognito going off on Thursday Night Football games grabbed a good deal of national attention, which was exactly what the media-savvy Bills offensive guard wanted. He made excellent points about how much he and other players around the league hate the quick turnaround and how difficult it is on them physically. The games have mostly been lopsided and filled with blunders, as was the case with the Bills' 34-21 loss against the Jets that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Of course, Incognito's case would have been stronger if he made it after a Bills win, because the conditions are essentially the same for both teams even though Buffalo had to make the short trip to New Jersey for the game. What his comments will do, perhaps, is help fuel the conversation – which is coming from network-television executives – that NFL TV ratings are suffering from over-saturation and that Thursday Night Football is the main reason for the audience decline.
*The strange and woeful history of the perpetual train wreck that has been the Cleveland Browns managed to get even stranger after their failure to submit the proper paperwork before last Tuesday's NFL trade deadline to complete a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals for backup quarterback AJ McCarron. Now, it seems, the Browns are flirting with even more potential embarrassment with the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon from a suspension that has sidelined him since Dec. 21, 2014.
The NFL has cleared Gordon to return to meetings and conditioning work with the Browns. If he actually returns to action, it figures to be asking a lot for him to return to the Pro Bowl level he reached in 2013 when he led the NFL in receiving yards despite being suspended for two games.
But I have watched this guy up close, from his very first practices after the Browns selected him as a supplemental draft pick. He is an incredible athlete, doing things with raw skill that were unmatched by most others at his position. I don't know what the version of Gordon after three years away from football will look like, but something tells me, if he can stay on the straight and narrow long enough, he will make an impact because he is that incredible a talent.