We’ve hit the quarter pole of the NFL season. Time to take a first crack at filling out a ballot for league superlatives.
Here are my choices (we’ll check back at midseason to see how these are working out):
Most Valuable Player
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta
He leads the NFL in every major passing category. The three that stand out the most are completion percentage (72.1), touchdowns (11) and interceptions (two). Throwing to Julio Jones, who had 300 receiving yards against Carolina last Sunday, can do plenty to help boost a passer’s numbers. Beyond that, however, Ryan isn’t exactly working with an all-star receiving cast, thus enhancing his value to the Falcons.
Honorable mentions: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh; Von Miller, OLB, Denver; Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota; Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle; Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia; Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh.
Offensive Player of the Year
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta
He’s on pace for 1,952 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Although he’s far from being the most targeted receiver in the NFL, Jones still manages to average a whopping 22.2 yards per reception.
Honorable mentions: Ryan, Roethlisberger, Brown, Derek Carr, QB, Oakland.
Defensive Player of the Year
Von Miller, OLB, Denver
He’s showing just how wise the Broncos were to end what had been a contentious negotiation by making the Super Bowl MVP the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player with a six-year contract worth $114.5 million. Miller leads the NFL with 5.5 sacks, and has made them at critical moments. He had one late in the season-opening victory against Carolina and a strip sack that decided the outcome against Indianapolis.
Honorable mentions: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles; Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City; Zach Brown, LB, Buffalo; Jamie Collins, OLB, New England.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Three-way tie: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia/Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas/Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas
It was impossible to separate them. Both quarterbacks were thrown into extremely difficult situations – Wentz unexpectedly being named the starter after the Eagles traded Bradford to Minnesota at the end of the preseason, and Prescott taking over after Tony Romo suffered a broken bone in his back. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing with 412 yards on 94 carries, an average of 4.4 yards per rush, and has scored three touchdowns. He also leads the league with 27 first downs, all by rush. This could very well be the most intriguing awards race to track through the rest of the season.
Honorable mentions: Will Fuller, WR, Houston; Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville
The Jaguars did a good job of providing long-term help for their defense by using their top three draft picks on cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack and Ngakoue. Ramsey is another solid candidate for this honor, while Jack hasn’t played much. Ngakoue has the most impressive stats, though: three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.
Honorable mentions: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville; Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta; Su’a Cravens, LB/S, Washington.
Comeback Player of the Year
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee
After his disastrous season with the Eagles last year, Murray has come roaring back, albeit on a losing team. He ranks in the top five in the NFL in rushing yards (340), rushing touchdowns (three), and rushing average (5.2 yards). But there is a great deal of competition for this honor, and there is reason to think it might be different by the end, if not the middle, of the season.
Honorable mention: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay; Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina; Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona; Steve Smith Sr., WR, Baltimore; Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis.
Coach of the Year
Bill Belichick, New England
You guide your team to a 3-1 start without the best player in the NFL, you have to be the hands-down winner of this award. Period. Not only did the Patriots win three games without Tom Brady, they overcame a shoulder injury to No. 2 quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in their second game and scored their most convincing win in Week Three – 27-0 against Houston – with rookie third-stringer Jacoby Brissett, who finished the game with an injured thumb with which he played against the Bills last Sunday. Brissett reportedly underwent surgery on the thumb Friday.
Honorable mentions: Doug Pederson, Philadelphia; Mike Zimmer, Minnesota; Gary Kubiak, Denver; Jason Garrett, Dallas.
Top Surprise Team
This was another tough one, because there were many choices. The Eagles came out on top because they’ve managed to remain unbeaten with a rookie quarterback who wasn’t expected to start from the beginning of the season.
Honorable mentions: Los Angeles, Dallas.
Top Disappointing Team
The Panthers went from playing in the Super Bowl to bringing up the rear at 1-3. Although their offense ranks fourth in the league, Cam Newton is getting beat up. Their defense has been pretty average.
Honorable mentions: Arizona, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans.
Don’t be surprised if …
… the Miami Dolphins have an implosion that begins on defense. Their trio of defensive line stars -- Ndamukong Suh (1.5 sacks), Cameron Wake (one) and former Bills malcontent Mario Williams (one) – have combined for a mere 3.5 sacks in four games. By comparison, Bills outside linebackers Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander have four sacks each. Wake and Williams already are telling reporters that opposing quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball quickly with three-step drops. Sound familiar?
… the Patriots’ defense gets a significant boost with the return of end Rob Ninkovich from his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. It will barely be discussed, given that it’s coming at the same time as Brady’s return from his Deflategate suspension. But the Patriots were reminded of how much they missed Ninkovich in last Sunday’s loss against the Bills. Last season, he led the Pats with 13 quarterback hits and 22 pressures, tied for second in drawing penalties with five, and was fourth with 6.5 sacks. Ninkovich should greatly enhance an already strong end rotation that includes Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and Trey Flowers.
… The Cincinnati Bengals’ streak of 16 games, including the playoffs, without allowing a 100-yard rusher comes to an end Sunday against the Cowboys. In his last two outings, Elliott has rushed for 140 and 138 yards. The backs who have come closest to snapping the string so far are the Jets’ Matt Forte (96), Pittsburgh’s DeAngelo Williams (94), and the Bills’ LeSean McCoy (90). The only teams with longer such streaks are Denver (21) and Tampa Bay (17).
… The Oakland Raiders go with a pair of rookie running backs against the San Diego Chargers Sunday. With Latavius Murray dealing with a sore right foot, the Raiders are likely to have Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington share the rushing load. Each stands 5-foot-8, and, as Richard was quoted as saying on sfgate.com, “We definitely feed off of each other. First, we want to go out there and help the team win. But we also want to let people know we’re two rookies to be reckoned with.”