2014 NFL season award winners predictions
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
We say it every year, but what a crazy NFL season it was. A historically good crop of rookie wide receivers. A defensive lineman who had what could be the first MVP season in nearly 30 years for someone who prevents scoring drives rather than conducts them. A popular choice to be one of the first coaches fired this season is now a popular pick to win the award for best in the league. I wrote my selections for the award winners at midseason, but now is when the hardware is actually awarded and a lot of these choices have completely changed.
Offensive Rookie of the Year -- Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants WR
When the midseason award was given out after Week 8, Beckham had played in just three games totaling 10 catches for just over 100 yards and three touchdowns. Since then, Beckham has been by far the most productive rookie wideout and arguably the best wide receiver in football. His 1,199 receiving yards in the last nine weeks of the season is the most of any player during that span, and is more yards than every other rookie wideout put up in 16 weeks. His 12 touchdowns on the year is tied for third in the entire league.
But it's not just about the stats, it's how easy the game already seems to Beckham. He's become Eli Manning's favorite target, and it's not hard to see why when Beckham makes plays that maybe one or two other people on Earth can make.
It's going to be fun watching this special group of wide receivers grow, but for now Beckham stands out as the best of the bunch.
Runner-up -- Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR
Defensive Rookie of the Year -- Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams DT
This draft class may be remembered for the wide receivers it produced, as well as for a certain fun-loving quarterback that went to Cleveland, but there are a lot of terrific defensive players as well.
Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller went on a scorching start to his first season and 49ers third-round linebacker Chris Borland was one of the best stories in the league during the latter part of the year. Linebackers C.J. Mosley of the Ravens and Khalil Mack of the Raiders were incredibly productive throughout the entire season.
But this award belongs to Donald, who was one of just three rookies named to the Pro Bowl and is the first Rams rookie defender to make it in over 40 years. He belongs in the same conversation with the other defensive tackles named to the Pro Bowl such as Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, because, like those two, Donald has rare athletic ability you just don't see in an interior lineman.
Donald's total of nine sacks on the year leads all rookies and is the most of any defensive tackle in the NFC. In fact, the only defensive tackle in all of football with more sacks than Donald is Buffalo's Marcell Dareus, who has 10.
On a defensive line that has Robert Quinn and a healthy Chris Long next year, Donald will probably be the most-feared player in that unit.
Runner-up -- C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens LB
Comeback Player of the Year -- Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots TE
Aaron Rodgers was my pick for the midseason winner, and he's done absolutely nothing to lose it except that I've tweaked my personal definition of the award. Everyone knew Rodgers was going to have another monster year if he stayed healthy, and this award should go to a player whose production is actually something of a surprise.
There were legitimate concerns whether Gronk would ever be the same after he broke his arm in 2012 which led to four different surgeries on that arm as well as a back surgery in 2013 and another surgery that year to repair a torn ACL and MCL that he suffered late last season.
The Patriots seemed as concerned as everyone else heading into the season, and limited Gronkowski's snaps in the first few games of the season. But since Week 5, Gronk has played the lion's share of snaps save for a Week 17 breather in a game that didn't mean anything to New England. Not surprisingly, the Patriots went 10-1 from Week 5 onward with Tom Brady's best target back in the fold.
Gronk has taken the throne as the best tight end in the NFL, and the most important player to the New England Patriots' Super Bowl chances not named Brady. His 1,124 receiving yards leads the team and leads all tight ends in the league while his 12 touchdowns are tied with Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas for most among his position. Again, those numbers came after playing under limited snaps initially and not playing at all in the final week of the season.
Runner-up -- Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore Ravens WR
Coach of the Year -- Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
The Cards haven't looked great recently, and they slipped from the top spot in the NFC playoff picture to ending up at the five-seed, but there's only so much you can do with Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas as your starting quarterbacks.
Arians deserves a ton of credit for keeping his team competitive despite the ridiculous amount of injuries he's had to deal with. Not many teams could suffer so much heavy bombardment to their roster and come out of it 11-5 and in the playoffs, but the Cardinals did.
Arians has preached the next man up mentality to his team and the players never lost their focus. The two-game slide to end the season is a little disconcerting, including a Week 17 loss to the reeling 49ers. They won't have the luxury of a home game in the playoffs unless they make the Super Bowl, conveniently being held in their home stadium. They also might be without the services of Drew Stanton, who filled in admirably after Carson Palmer went down, so it could be very rough sailing for Arizona.
However, for what he's managed to do this season, Arians deserves this award. It's just too bad that the injury to Stanton may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Runner-up -- Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Offensive Player of the Year -- DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys RB
Any time you break a record held by Emmitt Smith, that's a pretty good season. That's what Murray did when he broke Smith's Cowboys record for rushing yards in a season, ending the year with 1,845 yards on the ground.
Murray has been a maniac all season and, despite carrying the ball way more times than any other running back in the league, he hasn't showed any signs of fatigue. In the last five games, Murray has rushed for six touchdowns and averaged just a hair under 100 yards per contest.
Murray doesn't just get his team down the field, he finishes those drives. His 13 rushing touchdowns are tied with Marshawn Lynch for most in the league, and he also has more than double the amount of 20-plus and 40-plus yard runs than Lynch has. The one thing that soured Murray's season early on was his fumbling, but after losing the ball five times in the first eight games he hasn't fumbled once since.
He's a huge reason why Dallas won the NFC East and is the third seed in the NFC playoffs, and also why Jason Garrett kept his job. Hopefully the Cowboys will reward Murray this offseason (he's a free agent) but even if they don't there will be no shortage of teams that will.
Runner-up -- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB
Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player -- J.J. Watt, Houston Texans DE
I said not too long ago that if the Houston Texans made the playoffs, Watt is the MVP. They didn't, so I guess I'm going back on my word, but come on, Watt did everything short of start at quarterback to help his team win games.
Watt's season is an all-timer for any defensive player in the history of the game. He eclipsed 20 sacks for the second time in his four-year career, the only player to ever have multiple 20-sack seasons. His 78 combined tackles lead all defensive linemen, and he broke up 10 passes, again, the most of all defensive linemen.
It doesn't stop there, not even close. Watt had an 80-yard pick-six in Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills, a game Houston ended up winning by six. He also had three receiving touchdowns as a goal-line tight end, and a 45-yard fumble recovery touchdown against the Colts. In Week 17 he sacked Blake Bortles three times, one of which went for his first safety on the year. Just more points Watt has put up on the scoreboard by himself this season.
Watt, more than any other player in the NFL today, just looks like a man playing against little kids. In six games he took down the opposing quarterback at least twice, as he shook off offensive linemen like they were a fly on his nose. No player in the NFL is as far above the rest at his position than Watt, in fact no player in the NFL is as good at his job as Watt is at his.
Truthfully, Watt is also helped by the fact that no quarterback really set the world on fire this season. Rodgers was the best of the signal callers, but compared to his MVP year in 2011 his numbers are worse pretty much across the board.
Just think of it like this. In 10 years, when you think back to this season, who will be the first player you think of? Probably Watt, right?
DPOY Runner-up -- Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs OLB
MVP Runner-up -- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB
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