Inside the NFL: In a close race for MVP, Brady gets the nod over Gurley - The Buffalo News

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Inside the NFL: In a close race for MVP, Brady gets the nod over Gurley

With the end of the regular season upon us, it's time to reveal my voting for the NFL All-Pro team and league superlatives.

First, here's the All-Pro ballot:

OFFENSE

WR: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston

Flex (RB or TE): Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh

TE: Rob Gronkowski, New England

LT: Tyron Smith, Dallas

LG: Richie Incognito, Buffalo

C: Jason Kelce, Philadelphia

RG: Zack Martin, Dallas

RT: Lane Johnson, Philadelphia

QB: Tom Brady, New England

RB: Todd Gurley, L.A. Rams

DEFENSE

Edge: Calais Campbell, Jacksonville; Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas

Interior linemen: Aaron Donald, L.A. Rams; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia

LB: Von Miller, Denver; Luke Kuechly, Carolina; Bobby Wagner, Seattle

CB: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville; Patrick Peterson, Arizona

S: Harrison Smith, Minnesota; Micah Hyde, Buffalo

DB: Chris Harris, Denver

SPECIAL TEAMS

Place Kicker: Justin Tucker, Baltimore

Punter: Brett Kern, Tennessee

Kick Returner: Pharoh Cooper, L.A. Rams

Punt Returner: Jamal Agnew, Detroit

Special Teamer: Matthew Slater, New England

Here are my choices for NFL superlatives, with midseason picks in parentheses:

Most Valuable Player
Tom Brady, QB, New England. (Brady). He's getting an extremely strong push from Todd Gurley, and it wouldn't shock me if the Rams' running back ends up beating Brady out for the honor. But my vote goes to Brady, because he's the driving force for what very well could be back-to-back Super Bowl victories for the Patriots. He continues to do an amazing job of keeping his team on top with an unmatched combination of play-making, intelligence and incredible drive that overshadows the fact he's 40 and has seemingly accomplished enough to be inclined to ease off the pedal. Not that this should be the reason Brady wins, but quarterbacks have won nine of the last 10 MVP awards. Running backs have won it six times in 30 years.

Offensive Player of the Year
Todd Gurley, RB, L.A. Rams. (Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City). Hunt had a dynamic rookie season and Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell very much belongs in this conversation. However, no player matches Gurley's overall offensive production. He leads the league in rushing yards (1,305), rushing touchdowns (13) and total touchdowns from scrimmage (19). What's more impressive is that Gurley has done all of this behind a pretty mediocre offensive line. His contributions not only have done plenty to help allow the Rams to make a remarkable improvement from last season, but they also greatly impacted the dramatic jump in the play of quarterback Jared Goff from his 2016 rookie year.

Defensive Player of the Year
Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville. (Campbell). This will go down as one of the top free-agent signings in a long time. The former Arizona Cardinal couldn't have delivered any better than he has for the four-year, $60-million contract the Jaguars gave him (including $30 million guaranteed). The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell promptly established himself as both a pass-rushing beast and a run-stopping force. His 14.5 sacks put him in a tie with Dallas' Demarcus Lawrence for second in the league. Campbell also has been a consistently disruptive force whether playing outside or inside.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City. (Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston). Watson went from being one of the best stories of 2017 to one of the saddest when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice. Hunt has been a terrific player from the start and looked like he wouldn't have much of a challenge for this honor until Watson's emergence. Hunt is a dynamic force as a runner and a receiver. He continues to excel with his ability to gain yards after contact. There aren't many others in the league better at that.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Tre'Davious White, CB, Buffalo. (White). I made this choice at the risk of being called a homer, but I sincerely believe he's deserving. New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore is an equally strong and, some might argue, a stronger candidate. Lattimore has five interceptions to White's four, and Lattimore returned one of his for a touchdown. However, all four of White's picks came in the fourth quarter, along with a forced fumble and fumble recovery. White showed a remarkable knack for rising to the occasion at the biggest moments. He also rebounded from the physical and emotional trauma of the cheap shot Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski delivered to the back of his head while White was face-down on the ground after intercepting a pass.

Comeback Player of the Year
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England. (Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City). His season will be somewhat tainted by that hit on White, but Gronk's return from major back surgery was still nothing short of miraculous. There was legitimate concern that he not only could miss some or all of this season, but his career might have been in jeopardy. Instead, he has been every bit the often unstoppable pass-catcher that he has been for the bulk of his career. Gronkowski has managed to help fill the massive void created by the season-ending knee injury to Brady's favorite target, wide receiver Julian Edelman, and that has done plenty to keep the Patriots on track for a Super Bowl repeat.

Coach of the Year
Sean McVay, L.A. Rams. (McVay). He guided an incredible turnaround, leading the Rams from last year's 4-12 finish to 11-4. And he did so as a rookie coach who, at 31, is the youngest at the helm of an NFL team. McVay not only did wonders for the Rams' offense, getting second-year quarterback Jared Goff to perform up to the level of the top overall draft pick he was in 2016, he also helped Gurley become a dominant force as a runner and receiver. Wade Phillips, the Rams' defensive coordinator, should be a front-runner for assistant coach of the year by implementing a new 3-4 base scheme and getting better production from Aaron Donald and the rest of the team's defense than Jeff Fisher did with a 4-3 base.

Here are a few additional categories:

Most Surprising Team

L.A. Rams. They nearly have three times the number of wins they had last year and achieved that under the guidance of a rookie coach and with a quarterback many were ready to declare a major bust as a rookie last year.

Most Disappointing Team

N.Y. Giants. It wasn't just that Ben McAdoo, fired before season's end, was a disaster as a coach who couldn't command the rest of his team and did a horrible job of running the offense, which is supposed to be his area of expertise. He also badly mishandled the situation with long-time quarterback Eli Manning. Jerry Reese also paid the price for some terrible free-agent signings and draft picks. At least the Giants seemingly did one thing right by hiring their new GM, Dave Gettleman, first and allowing him to pick the next full-time coach.

Watch out for ...

... the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.

The Jaguars have the NFL's third-ranked defense overall and are first against the pass. That can take a team a long way in the postseason. Can it make up for the shakiness of quarterback Blake Bortles? We'll see, although some of that could be offset by the fact the Jags have the league's top-ranked rushing attack, led by rookie Leonard Fournette.

The Saints? They have Drew Brees, who ranks third in the NFL in passer rating. His presence alone should count for plenty because he knows the way to a Super Bowl championship. But what makes the Saints even more dangerous is that in addition to ranking second in the NFL in offense and fifth in passing, they also have the fifth-ranked rushing offense and are solid on defense.

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