DeMarco Murray headlines NFL midseason award winners
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
With the exception of the Cowboys and Redskins, who play Monday night, every team has passed the midway point of the season. From here on out the games get exponentially more important, but that doesn't mean the first half of the season didn't matter. Here are the NFL season awards front-runners after the first eight weeks.
Offensive Rookie of the Year -- Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills WR
Watkins and fellow wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin are stride-for-stride with each other for this category. Both have 38 receptions and five touchdowns, and Watkins has 590 yards compared to Benjamin's 571. Both players have taken the pressure of being their team's best wideout and are excelling, though the argument could be made that Benjamin has been more consistent.
Watkins has put up some stinkers, including a two-catch, 19-yard outing against San Diego and getting marooned on Revis Island with two catches for 20 yards. In all, Watkins has four games this season in which he put up less than 35 yards receiving while Benjamin has none.
But when Watkins is on, he's on. In his most recent game he had 157 yards and a touchdown, and could have easily scored again if he didn't get caught celebrating before reaching the endzone. Watkins has stepped up big time after the Bills lost Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Buffalo's two best running backs, the latter of which will miss the rest of the season.
In his last two games, both wins, Watkins has 279 yards and three touchdowns. The former Clemson star has hauled in over 100 yards in three games this season compared to just one from Benjamin. There's also something to be said from the fact that Watkins has to get his numbers catching passes from Kyle Orton, while Benjamin's quarterback is Cam Newton.
Honorable mentions -- Benjamin, Branden Oliver, Derek Carr
Defensive Rookie of the Year -- C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens LB
It's a tough spot to be in, drafted in the first round and expected to fill the void left in the middle of the linebacking corps left by Ray Lewis. Mosley has done as good a job as could possibly be done, as he leads all rookies in tackles by a comfortable margin and leads all linebackers in the NFL in passes broken up.
Mosley hasn't shown any signs of rookie jitters after being picked 17th overall out of Alabama. He has played well and made big plays in divisional games for the Ravens. Against the Steelers in Week 2, Mosley forced a fumble from Heath Miller and recovered it to bring the Baltimore offense out on its own 20-yard line in the fourth quarter. In Week 8 at Cincinnati, Mosley picked off Andy Dalton to set up a field goal that put the Ravens up by four with four minutes left in the game.
Baltimore ended up losing the game on a game-winning quarterback sneak by Dalton, but Mosley was the best player on the field that day. In addition to his interception, he tallied 13 tackles and a pass defended for good measure.
Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller also deserves some consideration for this award. Fuller was the Defensive Rookie of the Month for September after he had two monster games against the 49ers and Jets after Charles Tillman was lost for the season. He's been the lone bright spot on that Chicago defense, but is dealing with a broken hand and a hip pointer that has troubled him the past couple weeks.
Honorable mentions -- Fuller, Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald
Comeback Player of the Year - Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB
Duh. It's pretty unfair to put arguably the best quarterback in the National Football League on the Comeback Player list but since Rodgers fractured his collarbone last season, causing him to miss seven games, he's eligible.
Rodgers looks as healthy as ever and even with his recent one touchdown to two interceptions performance against the Saints, he has still thrown for 19 touchdowns against just three picks on the season. From Week 2 through Week 7, Rodgers threw 17 touchdowns and no interceptions, had an average QBR of 123.8 and the Packers went 5-1 in that span.
It's his award to lose, though I don't think he will be putting that one in his trophy cabinet.
Honorable mentions -- Steve Smith, Sr., Rob Gronkowski, Julio Jones, Von Miller
Coach of the Year -- Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Arians, who won the award in 2012 with the Colts, has done a remarkable job with the Cardinals. Despite having to play three different quarterbacks at separate points in the season, Arizona is 6-1, having just beaten the previously 5-1 Eagles, and are atop the toughest division in football.
Quarterback isn't the only position Arians has had to deal with injuries. Star defensive lineman Calais Campbell had to miss two games with a knee injury, while defensive starters Darnell Dockett, Matt Shaughnessy and John Abraham are all on injured reserve, with only Shaughnessy expected to return.
Arizona's defense yet again remains among the league's best in stopping the run a year after they were the best run defense in Arians' first season with the team. The Cardinals have allowed less than 21 points in all but one of their games so far this season, while averaging over 23 points on offense (again, while having to play three different quarterbacks already). A lot of credit for the Cardinals' surprise season has to go to Arians.
Honorable mentions -- Jason Garrett, Chip Kelly
Defensive Player of the Year -- J.J. Watt, Houston Texans DE
Watt basically is the Texans' defense. Through eight games he has seven sacks, 32 tackles and an 80-yard pick-six. With Brian Cushing struggling to regain his once-dominant form, and now hampered with a knee injury that caused him to miss Week 8, as well as No.1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney missing six games himself, Watt has had to put the Texans' pass rushing duties on his back.
Watt's a nearly unstoppable force and is already showing he's worth every penny of the $100 million contract he signed in September. He's carrying a defense that's averaging less than 14 points in their victories, and any team that starts Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback needs that from their defense.
Despite all the attention from the offensive line being paid to Watt every time he's on the field, he's still tied for second among defensive linemen in sacks, and even though no team wants to run the ball in his direction he's tied for fourth among linemen in tackles. With Clowney back in the lineup, maybe some of the heat will be taken off Watt and he can eclipse 20 sacks for the second time in his four-year career.
Honorable mentions -- Miller, Muhammad Wilkerson, DeAndre Levy
Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player -- DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys RB
It takes a special season for a running back to win MVP. Since 2000, only four have done it. Shaun Alexander, LaDanian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson each had to rush for at least 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns to win their MVP's. Murray is on pace for over 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns.
With 916 yards and seven touchdowns through seven games, Murray has been by far the best player at his position in the league. He also became the only running back in league history to rush for over 100 yards in the first seven games of the season. Think about that. Jim Brown couldn't do that, Walter Payton couldn't do that, Emmitt Smith couldn't do that, but Murray did.
Behind the best offensive line in the NFL, the Cowboys' running game has taken pressure off of Tony Romo to have to win games through the air. Romo looks more comfortable in the pocket than he ever has, and the three-headed dragon of Murray, Romo and Dez Bryant has propelled Dallas to an out-of-nowhere 6-1 record.
With a league-leading 26.7 rushing attempts per game, Dallas should think about easing the workload off of Murray for his health's sake. That could open the door for Peyton Manning or another quarterback to leap frog Murray in the MVP race, but for the first half of the season, Murray is the best player in football.
OPOY Honorable mentions -- Manning, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Antonio Brown, Matt Forte
MVP Honorable mentions -- Manning, Rivers, Luck
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo