#5 Deshaun Watson, QB Houston Texans
Surprising choice? Sure, but hear me out. While he’s obviously disqualified from actually winning MVP (and Offensive Rookie of the Year as well) for missing half of the season due to injury, the former Clemson star should at least receive a little bit of consideration.
Two reasons why. First, Watson was outstanding when healthy. Before his Week 8 injury, Watson led all QB’s in Total QBR (81.5) and touchdown passes (19). He was certainly on pace for an MVP-caliber campaign. Additionally, the star rookie piloted the highest-scoring offense (34.6 points per game) during his stint as the starter. And even though the Texans lost three games with Watson under center, the offense scored at least 33 points in each of those contests. If only the defense hadn’t given up an average of 40 points!
More importantly, though, look how helpless Houston was without Watson:
- With Watson (6 starts): 3-3 (.500), 34.6 points per game, +49 point differential
- Without Watson (10 starts): 1-9 (.100), 13.0 points per game, -147 point differential
So not only was Watson one of the most outstanding players in football when healthy, he was clearly one of the most valuable, too.
#4 Case Keenum, QB Minnesota Vikings
Keenum truly had a remarkable season. One year after being released by the Los Angeles Rams, the former undrafted free agent came to Minnesota to back up Sam Bradford and, eventually, Teddy Bridgewater as well. But Keenum took advantage of his opportunity to start after Bradford suffered another injury: he finished second in the NFL in both Total QBR (69.8) and completion percentage (67.6%) while leading the Vikings to an NFC North title.
Without Keenum, Minnesota could not possibly be in the position it is in now: favored to win the NFC entering the postseason. Coupled with his above-average statistical season, Keenum is undoubtedly worthy of MVP votes. The case against Case , however, is that clearly the Vikings’ strength is their defense, which ranked first in a host of key categories during the regular season. With the likes of Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, and Anthony Barr on the defensive side of the ball, as well as players like receiver Adam Thielen on offense, I’m not even sure Keenum is one of Minnesota’s five best players. For that reason, Keenum comes in at #4.
#3 Carson Wentz, QB Philadelphia Eagles
It’s tricky to determine whether Wentz is “eligible” to win this award having not played a full season. But what Wentz has going for him is this: he was 11-2 as a starter and still managed to lead the NFL in Total QBR (75.8) and finish second in touchdown passes (33) despite missing the Eagles’ final three games.
However, the case for Wentz from a statistical perspective is somewhat shaky. Not only did he rank just 25th among 32 eligible quarterbacks in completion percentage (60.2%), but he only graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th-best quarterback, which is noteworthy because PFF factors in advanced statistics like adjusted completion%, passer rating vs pressure, and turnover-worthy throws.
Plus, for the same reason that Tom Brady was penalized last season for missing four games despite posting a 28 TD/2 INT season for the 14-2 Patriots, the same will likely happen to Wentz. The two cases are also similar because while New England went 3-1 in Brady’s absence last season, Philadelphia managed to secure the top seed in the NFC by going 2-0 in the two games it played following Wentz’s injury that had import. If anything, it actually would’ve helped Wentz’s MVP case if the Eagles had faltered over that stretch.
#2 Todd Gurley, RB Los Angeles Rams
#1 Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots
All indications are that the MVP race will come down to these two, and rightfully so. Gurley led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,093) and total touchdowns (19) for a Rams offense that led the NFL in scoring. Brady, meanwhile, was his usual self, finishing at least in the top five in every major statistical category (passing yards, Total QBR, touchdown passes, etc) while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ best quarterback by the more advanced metrics.
What gives Brady the edge? For starters, one of the arguments for Gurley is that he has had an extraordinary campaign similar to the MVP-winning seasons by the likes of Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson, which is necessary given how often this award is given to quarterbacks. But as people like ESPN’s Bill Barnwell have noted, this isn’t really the case with Gurley, as his yardage and touchdown totals don’t even rank in the top 25 all-time for a single season. Moreover, with respect to Gurley’s 2,000+ yards from scrimmage, this isn’t remarkable from a historical perspective, either. David Johnson (2,118 yards in 2016), DeMarco Murray (2,261 in ’14), and LeSean McCoy (2,146 yards in ’13) all recently posted superior seasons in terms of scrimmage yards but did not receive anywhere near the MVP consideration that Gurley has enjoyed from the media. Plus, if Gurley’s season was so special, how come he wasn’t the rushing champion?
As for Brady, his case is simple. The MVP almost always goes to the QB who a) has an outstanding statistical season and/or b) quarterbacks the best team in football. Take Cam Newton in 2015, for instance. He arguably wasn’t the best quarterback from a statistical standpoint (Carson Palmer finished with a far superior Total QBR and better passing numbers), but Newton still had a terrific stat-line that was arguably the best. And, more importantly, he led the Panthers to the league’s best record and the top seed in the NFC.
Relating this back to Brady’s 2017 campaign, the two-time MVP clearly finished with the best resume among quarterbacks. As mentioned, Brady ranked near the top in every statistical category and graded out as the league’s top signal-caller according to Pro Football Focus (by a wide margin, no less). What’s really impressive, though, is how he accomplished all of this without Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and, most notably, Julian Edelman — his three top wide receivers from last year’s Super Bowl run — for large chunks of the season (in Edelman and Mitchell’s case, they haven’t suited up at all). He also made due with a defense that ranked 22nd in total efficiency according to Football Outsiders.
Regardless, Brady still managed to come through in clutch situations while leading New England to the top seed in the AFC and tied for the best record in football. He’s the MVP, “signs of slippage” aside.
Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB Los Angeles
I’ve always said that OPOY should go to the most outstanding non-quarterback. Clearly that was Gurley this year, although Antonio Brown is worthy of consideration as well.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT Los Angeles
He’s arguably the most dominant player at his respective position in the NFL: Donald led the NFL in total pressures despite being a defensive tackle! Plus, he was the biggest reason why LA ranked 6th in defensive efficiency.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Alvin Kamara, RB New Orleans
Kamara was better on a per-play basis than Hunt. Despite the fact that Hunt won the NFL’s rushing title, Kamara averaged 6.1 yards per carry compared to Hunt’s 4.9 and he was far more impactful as a receiver: the Saints’ rookie led all running backs in receptions (81) and receiving yards (826). I give him the slight nod, even though Hunt is certainly deserving.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore, CB New Orleans
Wow, the Saints and Rams are really dominating my awards section! Nonetheless, Lattimore was immediately one of the top shutdown corners in the league. He led all rookies with five interceptions and finished in the top ten among all defensive backs in passes defended.
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Los Angeles
There are plenty of deserving choices for Coach of the Year, including Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone, and Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson. But none of those candidates were as influential as McVay. In his first season in LA, the offensive guru helped the Rams, who finished 4-12 last year, become the first team in NFL history to go from finishing dead-last in scoring to 1st the following season. Case closed.