2013 NFL MVP Pick: Peyton Manning

I’ve saved the most obvious one for last. Anyone who doesn’t vote for Peyton Manning this year is doing it to be edgy, because he personally hates Peyton Manning, because he doesn’t like the word unanimous, because he’s an asshole, or probably some mix of the four. The only two interesting debates around MVP this year are who will be runner up and is Peyton Manning’s single the greatest by a quarterback of all time. I’m going to tackle the latter and then double back to the former.

There’s definitely an argument to be made that this is the greatest regular season by a quarterback in NFL history (playoffs are yet to be written). Manning now has both the single season passing touchdown record and the yardage record. He has the former by a pretty significant margin and he could have extended both even more if he hadn’t sat out the 2nd half of week 17’s game against the vastly overmatched Raiders’ defense. He also was the quarterback for the highest scoring offense in NFL history.

However, he did throw 10 interceptions and had one of the easiest schedules in terms of opponents’ defenses in the NFL. That’s obviously nitpicking, but when you’re talking about greatest of all time, you kind of have to nitpick. When Brady threw for 50 touchdowns in 2007, he threw just 8 interceptions. Sure, Manning broke Brady’s touchdown record by 5, but 2007 Brady still had the superior TD/INT ratio. He also was slightly better in terms of completion percentage (68.9% to 68.3%) and yards per attempt (8.32 to 8.31) and thus QB rating (117.2 to 115.1).

In fact, in terms of QB rating, a more all-encompassing statistic, Manning’s season didn’t rank 1st all time. It didn’t even rank 2nd all-time. 2013 Manning comes in 5th in this regard. Hell, he didn’t even lead the NFL in QB rating this year, as Nick Foles improbably posted the 3rd best single season quarterback rating in NFL history at 119.2. This wasn’t even the best QB rating of Manning’s career. In 2004, the first time he set the single season touchdown record, he had a 121.1 QB rating, which is 2nd all-time (Brady’s 2007 was 4th). That was as a result of a 67.6% completion percentage and a 9.17 YPA. There’s an argument to be made that this wasn’t even the best regular season of Manning’s career. Manning faced a tougher schedule in terms of opponents’ defenses in 2004, as did Brady in 2007.

If you love QB rating as a measure of quarterback’s season, then you might think Aaron Rodgers had the greatest regular season in NFL history by a quarterback in 2011. He completed 68.3% of his passes for an average of 9.25 yards per attempt and 45 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He did that in just 15 games, sitting out week 17 with the #1 seed locked up. Considering his backup Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns in that game, there’s an argument to be made that Rodgers (who was at 4643 yards and 45 touchdowns through 15 games), would have thrown for 5000+ yards and 50+ touchdowns had he played in that week 17 game against Detroit’s miserable secondary. Sure, Manning did that this year, but Rodgers would have done it with a higher YPA and fewer interceptions against a tougher schedule.

Another factor that needs to be mentioned is that, of the aforementioned 3 seasons, only Rodgers’ 2011 season was played under the stricter NFL head-to-head contact rules that have completely opened up the middle of the field. Who knows how good 2004 Manning and 2007 Brady would have been under 2013’s rules. That also brings some of the old timers into the conversation as it’s so much easier to pass the ball under today’s rules or even the rules of the 2000s than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

Steve Young’s 1994 season, in which he set the then record for QB rating at 112.8, was figuratively revolutionary. Young completed 70.3% of his passes for an average of 8.61 YPA, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions and he also rushed for 293 yards and 7 touchdowns, which doesn’t even show up in QB rating. How about Dan Marino throwing for 48 touchdowns and 5084 yards in 1984? Who throws for 48 touchdowns 5084 yards in 1984? That’s like 60 touchdowns 6000 yards by today’s standards.

Marino completed 64.2% of his passes for an average of 9.01 yards per attempt that season and though he did throw 17 interceptions, his 108.9 QB rating is still 16th all-time and was 2nd at the time back then, behind Milt Blum’s 1960 season. How about Milt Blum? Can we throw him into the discussion for completing 60.4% of his passes for an average of 9.2 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions in 1960? What’s that by today’s standards? Does anyone know? Is there an exchange rate? And how have I written 800+ words already without mentioning Joe Montana, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time? His 1989 season, in which he had a 112.4 QB rating, is still 7th all-time in QB rating and was a record at the time. Sure he only played in 13 games, but he completed 70.2% of his passes for an average of 9.12 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Milt Blum only played in 14 games. Should we hold that against poor old Milt Blum?

The point is: picking the single greatest regular season all-time by a quarterback is near impossible for a variety of factors. Peyton Manning’s season is in there, but it’s hardly the only one that deserves mention. Just know it was the best season by a quarterback this season (sorry Nick Foles, you have to play more than 9 games all the way through) and he deserves the MVP unanimously for that reason.

Now who deserves to be the runner up? Well, that’s a bigger field than who deserves to win. LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles were both all-purpose freaks for playoff teams, but they’re just running backs and you really have to do what Adrian Peterson did last year to deserve to be MVP in today’s NFL. Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and even Tom Brady did great things from the quarterback position this year. You could also get me to listen on Nick Foles, but I don’t think any other quarterback had as good of a season this year as Philip Rivers.

I touched upon this when I laid out his candidacy for Comeback Player of the Year. It didn’t give it to him because it required a loose definition of “comeback,” but he fits here perfectly no matter your definition of “value.” After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. There were rumors of injuries and age, going into his age 32 season, was also seen as a factor.

Instead, Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013, with help from his new coaching staff and the front office. New head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt did a fantastic job fixing Rivers and building an offense better suited to his strengths. Also, after playing for 2 years with minimal offensive supporting cast, new GM Tom Telesco (who got some Executive of the Year consideration from me) did a great job fixing the situation, without big offensive signings and with just one off-season. Drafting DJ Fluker in the first round helped, but the real steals were getting Keenan Allen (an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate) in the 3rd round getting and King Dunlap and Danny Woodhead on cheap contracts in free agency.

The results were great. Rivers posted a 105.5 QB rating that tied for his career best. He completed 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, while leading the Chargers to a 2nd place finish in rate of moving the chains (78.26%) behind Denver and an AFC Wild Card berth, in spite of a terrible defense supporting him (75.36%). Rivers still didn’t have a lot of offensive help around him, but he made the most of it. He finished 2nd behind Peyton Manning in QB rating among quarterbacks who made every start (Nick Foles and Josh McCown also qualified and had higher QB ratings than Rivers). For all of that, I think he deserves to be the runner up here.




2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Pick: JJ Watt

Defensive Player of the Year more often than not goes to the best defensive player on one of the best defenses in the NFL. I have a very strong feeling this award will go to media darling Luke Kuechly, the consensus top player on a Carolina defense that allowed the 2nd fewest points in the NFL this season. I don’t think that’s deserved. Kuechly definitely had a great season, but he’s not nearly as flawless as people seem to think he is.

As good as he is against the run, he can struggle in coverage. Only one middle linebacker (the Jets’ Demario Davis) allowed more completions than the 55 Kuechly allowed, as Davis allowed 56. Putting up a ton of tackles is great, but it’s an overrated stat because not all tackles are equal. If you’re tackling a guy after a 9 yard completion, you’re not doing a lot of good. Kuechly also missed 14 tackles, 6th at his position.

Kuechly had just 39 tackles for a “stop” against the run, meaning a tackle within 4 yards of the line of original line of scrimmage on first down, 6 yards on 2nd down, or the full distance on 3rd or 4th down. He did this on 325 run snaps, a rate of 12.0% that was 7th among eligible middle linebackers. That’s certainly not bad, but considering his run play is his best attribute, it’s hardly Defensive Player of the Year material and he was helped by a fantastic defensive line eating up blocks in front of him.

All this might sound like nitpicking, but nitpicking is what you have to do when picking a single defensive player for an award. Carolina certainly has a great defense and Kuechly is a big part of the reason why, but he has a fantastic supporting cast. You could make an argument that he’s not even the best defensive player on his team with the way Greg Hardy played this year. Hell, you could make an argument that he wasn’t even the best linebacker on his team with the way Thomas Davis played.

Pro Football Focus had him as their 8th ranked middle linebacker and left him off of their Pro-Bowl team. I don’t know if I would go quite that far (they had a two-down linebacker in Brandon Spikes and a player who missed significant time with injury in Sean Lee above him), but I’d say Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are probably better middle linebackers than he is and you can make arguments that other 3-4 middle linebackers like Derrick Johnson and Karlos Dansby, as well as Detroit’s 4-3 middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch had better years than him. Outside linebacker Lavonte David is also someone I’d vote for over Kueckly and I already mentioned teammate Thomas Davis. I like Kueckly, but there are players who had far better seasons than him this year.

The other guy I could see winning this award, based on the best player on the best defense model is Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. He deserves this award much more than Kuechly, as he actually is the best player on his defense and, with apologies to Darrelle Revis, he’s also probably the best player in the NFL at his position, picking off 8 passes for the 2nd straight year and allowing a 47.3 QB rating against that was the best in the NFL at his position. Sherman would probably get my 4th place vote and it’s hard to compare guys across positions. However, there are 3 guys who I think had better years, but they may fly under the radar because they played on teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

My 3rd place choice would be Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers were, by all measures, a bad team this year, going 4-12, but their defense was easily their best side of the ball. They allowed opponents to move the chains at a 72.95% rate that is higher than average, but not significantly and Gerald McCoy really was able to make a huge impact on Tampa Bay’s defensive line without much help whatsoever from his linemates.

The dominant player on an average defense on a bad team narrative isn’t nearly as sexy as Sherman’s or Kuechly’s, but McCoy graded out, by far, as Pro Football Focus’ #1 defensive tackle, he had 10 sacks, 14 hits, and 56 quarterback hurries, while playing well against the run as well. You’d be happy with those pass rush numbers from a defensive end. You’re thrilled with those pass rush numbers from a defensive tackle who was double teamed on almost every play because of the lack of talent around him. Only two defensive players in the league had bigger gaps between them and the #2 player at his position on Pro Football Focus. Unsurprisingly, those are the two guys I’m going to talk about next.

Robert Quinn would get my 2nd place vote and I think he actually has a good chance to win the award. St. Louis’ defense wasn’t particularly good or anything and the Rams finished 7-9 and outside of the playoffs, but he finished tied for first in the NFL in sacks with 19, which is something voters like to see. Robert Mathis also had 19 sacks, but he doesn’t get much consideration from me because Quinn was easily the best edge rusher in the NFL. Their sack numbers might have been the same, but Quinn had 21 quarterback hits and 51 quarterback hurries, while Mathis had 5 hits and 39 hurries. That’s not much of a contest, which is why Quinn was far and away Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 4-3 defensive end, while Mathis was 2nd among 3-4 outside linebackers.

Quinn’s pass rush productivity number of 15.3 was not only far and away the best among 4-3 defensive ends (Cameron Wake was 2nd at 14.0), but only Jerry Hughes, a 3-4 outside linebacker from the Bills of all people, had a higher pass rush productivity at any position and he was at 15.4. Quinn also played well against the run as his 25 run stops on 312 run snaps gave him an 8.0% rate that ranked 14th at his position. As a result, Quinn graded out 3rd at his position against the run, which is part of how he was able to grade out so much higher than everyone at his position. Like McCoy, he was a dominant player on an average defense (73.44% rate of moving the chains against) on a bad team, but he deserves recognition and for more than just his raw sack numbers.

The only player who had a bigger gap between them and the player ranked in 2nd below them on Pro Football Focus is a familiar name, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt. I’m going to preface this by saying there’s a next to zero chance that Watt actually wins this award. The voters hate voting for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, as the only player to ever win it twice in a row was Lawrence Taylor and he did it in a strike shortened season. It’s not going to happen for the first time in a season of regular length with a guy who played on a 2-14 team and didn’t come close to matching his sack total from the year before.

That being said, there’s definitely an argument to be made that Watt had a better year this year than last year. He was the definition of dominant player on an average defense on a bad team. The Texans’ defense was hardly the problem this season, as they allowed opponents to move the chains at a 69.40% rate, above average. They were just consistently saddled with bad field position thanks to an inept offense and “allowed” several touchdowns when they weren’t even on the field, in the form of return touchdowns on special teams and off of turnovers. Watt is by far the biggest reason why they were solid on defense.

Watt didn’t come close to matching the 21 sacks he had in 2012 (11) nor the 15 batted passes (6), but he had 36 quarterback hits and 38 quarterback hurries, as opposed to 25 hits and 30 hurries the year before. Those 36 quarterback hits were by far best in the NFL. Only Quinn with 23 even came close. As a result, Watt had a pass rush productivity number of 12.8 which not only blew out of the water the next best pass rush productivity number by an interior defensive lineman (Gerald McCoy with 11.1), but it blew the 10.8 pass rush productivity number he had in 2012 out of the water as well. Sacking the quarterback is great, but getting to the quarterback consistently, getting in his head and hurrying throws is even better.

Watt didn’t match his absurd 17.1% run stop rate from 2013, but his 13.7% run stop rate was 2nd in the NFL among eligible players behind Kenrick Ellis of the Jets, a part-time player whose name has now improbably ended up in an article about Defensive Player of the Year. Watt also actually had a higher run grade on Pro Football Focus in 2013 than in 2012 and a higher grade overall. He didn’t post the flashy numbers he did in 2012 or play on a good team like in 2012, but the argument can still be made that he played as well or better.

No defensive player in the NFL had a bigger margin between the player who was in 2nd place behind him at his position on Pro Football Focus than Watt in terms of raw numbers and only Quinn had a bigger margin in terms of percentage. However, it’s a very small advantage to Quinn in that aspect and that can be attributed to the lack of real difference makers at 4-3 defensive end this year. Greg Hardy and Cameron Wake both had very good years, but after that the position is pretty devoid of elite level guys.

The field that Quinn blew out of the water at 4-3 defensive end is not nearly as good as the field Watt blew out of the water at 3-4 defensive end. Guys like Calais Campbell, Kyle Williams, Cameron Jordan, and even my Defensive Rookie of the Year pick Sheldon Richardson all had fantastic seasons from the 3-4 defensive end position. Watt was significantly better than all of them. For that reason, in spite of his lower raw numbers and his team’s significantly worse performance this year, Watt is still the best defensive player in football. And that’s what this award should be about.




2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Pick: Sheldon Richardson

In my Offensive Rookie of the Year write up, I talked about how hard it is to compare players across positions, which led to a trio of wide receiver Keenan Allen, running back Eddie Lacy, and guard Larry Warford that was hard to choose from. The same is true on defense, but fortunately there’s one defensive rookie who I feel was by far the best, regardless of position. I say this with apologies to the two Carolina defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short (who I talked about in the writeup for Dave Gettleman for Executive of the Year), Buffalo middle linebacker Kiko Alonso, and even injured Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu.

New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson was the only defensive rookie I even really considered as a Pro-Bowler (Mathieu I would have had he not gotten hurt) and I think he was one of the best defensive linemen in the game this year. The fact that he didn’t make the Pro-Bowl is a testament to the public’s obsession with sack numbers and their distastes for all things Jets (unless they’re hilarious).

Richardson only had 4 sacks on the year but was a huge part of a dominant Jets’ 3 man defensive line that played a big role in the Jets finishing #1 in yards per carry allowed, allowing 3.4 yards per carry. No one else allowed fewer than 3.7 and there was more distance between #2 and #11 than there was in between #2 and #1. For that reason, I argued the Jets’ entire defensive line should have gotten to go to Hawaii. There might not be a single better unit on any other team except for maybe Seattle’s secondary.

Richardson’s 52 solo tackles were 2nd most at the 5-technique defensive end position behind all-everything JJ Watt and he also had 16 assisted tackles, which led the position, and missed just 4 tackles. As good as JJ Watt was, he missed 7 tackles. Richardson also had 41 “stops” which also came in 2nd at his positions, again behind Watt. Stops refer to a tackle within 4 yards of the original line of scrimmage on 1st down, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance and 3rd and 4th down. 32 of those stops came on run plays, on 325 run snaps, a rate of 9.8% that was 7th among eligible 5-technique defensive ends. He also did a great job of tying up multiple blockers when asked. For his work against the run, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 5-technique against the run and 5th overall.

He wasn’t nearly as impressive as a pass rusher, with those aforementioned 4 sacks. He also had 5 hits and 24 hurries, for a pass rush productivity number of 5.4, 29th at his position out of 45 eligible. That isn’t that bad and he only graded out slightly below average in this aspect on Pro Football Focus. Overall, his body of work at his position is significantly greater than any other defensive rookie, especially since rushing the passer wasn’t his primary job. For that reason, he deserves Defensive Rookie of the Year.




2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Pick: Larry Warford

The way I see it, there are 4 strong candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year. It’s hard to pick between them because they all played very well at their respective positions and it’s tough to compare players across position. I’m going to narrow the field down by eliminating one of the two players who play the same position, running backs Giovani Bernard of the Bengals and Eddie Lacy of the Packers (Le’Veon Bell is in there to an extent, but I think Bernard and Lacy had noticeably better seasons).

Bernard and Lacy both had very good seasons, but were polar opposites in terms of how they play. Lacy is a 230 pound bruiser, while Bernard is somewhere around 200-205 and is already one of the best in space running backs in the NFL. Other than that though, they’re very comparable. They had the exact same grade on Pro Football Focus, tying for 4th among running backs (for comparison, Bell was 26th) with Lacy excelling as a runner and Bernard excelling in the pass game. They both averaged 4.1 yards per carry with 2.3 yards per carry after first contact.

Lacy saw more usage (319 touches to 225), but they played a comparable amount of snaps, with Bernard playing 627 and Lacy playing 689. In terms of elusive rating (which takes into account broken tackles and yards after contact), Bernard ranked 10th and Lacy ranked 11th. Bernard also averaged 9.2 yards per catch, while Lacy averaged just 7.3 yards per carry. Lacy outrushed Bernard by far (1178 to 695) and scored 11 total times to Bernard’s 8, but in terms of yards from scrimmage the gap was smaller, as Lacy was at 1435 and Bernard was at 1209, even though Bernard had 94 fewer touches. Lacy was the more traditional back and I think had the slightly bigger impact, which is why I’m giving him the edge, but few running backs are scarier when they have room to run than Bernard. Other writers seem to agree as Lacy was named to the 2nd team All-Pro, while Bernard wasn’t.

The next candidate is someone who probably won’t even get consideration from the voters, but unfairly because of his position. There’s never been an offensive lineman win the award, let alone a guard and frankly if Joe Thomas couldn’t win in 2007, I don’t think any offensive lineman will win the award until we have a serious shift in the way the position is viewed. Also, I’m probably not talking about the offensive lineman you’re thinking about. In a draft that had offensive lineman go 6 times in the first 11 picks and 9 times in the first round overall, the one who had the biggest impact was a 3rd rounder out of Kentucky by the name of Larry Warford.

Warford played every snap one of Detroit’s 1158 offensive snaps as a rookie on a much underrated offensive line that surrendered 23 sacks, 2nd fewest in the NFL. Some of that is because of Matt Stafford’s strong pocket presence and quick release, but you kind of need to have a quarterback with elite pocket presence and a quick release to allow fewer than 30 sacks over the course of a 16 game season, so I wouldn’t hold that against them or Warford. Warford didn’t allow a single sack from the right guard spot and only allowed 5 quarterback hits and 10 hurries, while committing just 4 penalties this season. That’s insane, regardless of who his quarterback is.

Warford played every snap over a 16 game season and only allowed his man to even get close to the quarterback 15 times. In fact, he only allowed more than 2 quarterback pressures in a game once and that was against Cincinnati, when he was frequently matched up with all-everything defensive tackle Geno Atkins, before Atkins’ injury. On top of that, the right guard gap produced 4.8 yards per carry for the Lions, a team that averaged just 4.0 yards per carry overall. As a result, Warford was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked guard and was an obvious Pro-Bowl snub.

The final candidate is someone who gets much more attention, San Diego wide receiver Keenan Allen. Like Warford and Lacy, what Allen did that was so impressive was he didn’t seem like a rookie. He was one of the best receivers in the NFL and by far his team’s best receiver, taking on the opponent’s #1 cornerback and double teams with frequency. His 1046 receiving yards were just 21st in the NFL, but Pro Football Focus takes into account how much attention from the defense he was getting and they graded him 10th overall and 8th in pass catching grade.

He also did that despite being a healthy scratch week 1 and not becoming a starter until week 4. He caught 70.3% of passes thrown to him and he ranked 7th in the NFL in quarterback rating when thrown to, among eligible receivers, as Philip Rivers had a 118.1 QB rating throwing to Allen. Wide receivers almost always take a year or two to develop. Rookie wideouts aren’t supposed to do what Keenan Allen did. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and didn’t come close to what Keenan Allen did this year as rookies (58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively).

At the end of the day, it’s a very tough choice. Like I said earlier, all 3 of these guys didn’t resemble rookies at all. They’re already among the best players in the NFL at their respective positions. I’m giving it to Larry Warford because I think he dominated his position more than the other 2, but it could really go either way. It’s tough to compare across positions. For what’s it’s worth, Warford had the highest grade among the 3 on Pro Football Focus, though you can’t compare players across positions. He also tied for highest ranked, coming in 4th at his position. Also, Warford has zero chance of getting the actual award, so it’s nice to give him some recognition here.




2013 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Pick: Jason Peters

We don’t have nearly the Comeback Player of the Year field that we had a year ago. If anyone this year did what Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning, or Jamaal Charles did in 2012, they would have won this year’s award by runaway. Instead, we have only maximum three real candidates this year, depending on your particular definition of “comeback.”

Jason Peters fits every definition of comeback. He tore his Achilles in the off-season before the 2012 season and didn’t play a snap all season. Going into his age 31 season in 2013, there was reason to doubt he’d be the same player he was before the injury. He wasn’t quite the player he was in 2011, when he was the runaway top offensive tackle on Pro Football Focus, but he still had a fantastic year.

He was a deserving Pro-Bowler on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive tackle, surrendering 4 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and committing 4 penalties, while excelling as a run blocker as well. He was a great fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, often lining up in weird formations and having to move around much more than the usual offensive tackle. Even at his age and off of a serious leg injury, Peters did not lack athleticism at all and was a big part of the Eagles’ success.

Terrell Suggs is another candidate whose comeback has a looser definition. Suggs also tore his Achilles right around the same time Jason Peters did, but he came back last year to play 8 games, 12 games if you include the Super Bowl run. He also suffered a serious biceps injury along the way and predictably was a shell of his normal self and even that’s being generous. Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Suggs graded out below average in 2012.

In 2013, there was some concern that, going his age 31 season, he had ruined his body playing through all of those injuries in 2012 and that he wouldn’t be the same player again. He wasn’t the same player in 2013, but he was still pretty damn good, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. Baltimore didn’t even make the playoffs in 2013, the year after winning the Super Bowl, but you can’t blame the defense, as it was one of the best in the NFL. In fact, I’d say the 2013 defense, regular season at least, was better than the 2012 defense in the regular season. Suggs being fully healthy again was a big part of that.

Philip Rivers is the 3rd candidate and his candidacy requires the loosest definition of comeback, as he hasn’t missed a game in 9 years as a starter. Instead, his comeback was a comeback from poor coaching and a lack of talent around him. After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. There were rumors of injuries and age, going into his age 32 season, was also seen as a factor.

Instead, Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013, with help from his new coaching staff and the front office. New head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt did a fantastic job fixing Rivers and building an offense better suited to his strengths. Also, after playing for 2 years with minimal offensive supporting cast, new GM Tom Telesco (who got some Executive of the Year consideration from me) did a great job fixing the situation, without big offensive signings and with just one off-season. Drafting DJ Fluker in the first round helped, but the real steals were getting Keenan Allen (an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate) in the 3rd round getting and King Dunlap and Danny Woodhead on cheap contracts in free agency.

The results were great. Rivers posted a 105.5 QB rating that tied for his career best. He completed 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, while leading the Chargers to a 2nd place finish in rate of moving the chains and an AFC Wild Card berth, in spite of a terrible defense supporting him. Rivers still didn’t have a lot of offensive help around him, but he made the most of it and would get my 2nd place MVP vote behind Peyton Manning. At the end of the day, I’m taking Jason Peters here because he fits the truest definition of a comeback and because the way he dominated his position this season, after what happened last season and his age, is very impressive, but all 3 got consideration.




2013 NFL Coach of the Year Pick: Bill Belichick

What Andy Reid has done in Kansas City this season is impressive, but it’s overshadowed by what Bill Belichick has done in New England. At the beginning of the season, I did a list of the top-200 NFL players. New England had 11, tied with Seattle and San Francisco for the most. Of those 11 players, 4 are currently on season ending injured reserve (Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork).

One has fumbled his way to the bench (Stevan Ridley) and has been replaced in the starting lineup by a guy who was traded for a 7th round pick last April (LeGarrette Blount). Another (Danny Amendola) is 3rd on the team in snaps played at wide receiver behind a guy who is making less than a million dollars on a one year deal (Julian Edelman) and a guy who went undrafted in April’s draft (Kenbrell Thompkins). Another (Ryan Wendell) has not lived up to a strong 2012. Even their future Hall-of-Fame quarterback (Tom Brady) has showed his age and not lived up to expectations. Of those top-200, only Devin McCourty, who has quietly become one of the premier safeties in the game, Logan Mankins and Nate Solder have played 15+ games and exceeded expectations.

Add in Aaron Hernandez’s incarceration in June, Shane Vereen missing 8 games, Aqib Talib being in and out of the lineup with hip problems, Wes Welker leaving, and an improved AFC East and you have the perfect storm it would have taken to knock the Patriots off of their extended run of dominance, which had featured 11 seasons of 10+ wins, 10 division titles, 9 seasons of 11+ wins, 7 seasons of 12+ wins, 7 AFC Championships appearances, 5 Super Bowl appearances, and 3 Super Bowl victories. If they had gone 8-8 this season, no one would have been surprised.

Instead, the Patriots won 12 games and the AFC East by 4 games, got the AFC’s #2 seed and yet another 1st round bye, and didn’t lose by more than a touchdown all season, with all 4 losses possibly winnable. They seem poised for yet another AFC Championship appearance. They won by 34 in Baltimore, something that had never been done in the history of the Ravens franchise, shattering the previous record margin of victory by a road team of 27.

In that game, they started their left guard at left tackle and had 6 separate rookies play at least 50 snaps, including two rookies who went undrafted (Chris Jones, Josh Kline) and another (Duron Harmon) who everyone laughed at the Patriots for drafting in the 3rd round. Sealver Siliga, an inexperienced 2011 undrafted rookie signed off the street, also started that game, as he did in the week 17 game against Buffalo, a 34-20 victory in which Siliga shined against the run.

Fellow undrafted rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Joe Vellano also contributed significantly to this team this season, each playing over 500 snaps. Add in Chris Jones and that’s 3 undrafted rookies who played 500+ snaps for them. The Patriots had at least 58 different players play at least one snap on offense or defense and 46 different players play at least 100 snaps. Basically, if you made this team’s 53 man roster out of the pre-season, you played a significant role on this team this season, unless you got hurt, which you probably did.

Yes, Andy Reid improved the Chiefs from 2 wins to 11 wins, but being significantly better than Romeo Crennel sometimes isn’t enough to win you this award. This year is one of those times. If Bill Belichick is coaching the Chiefs, they win at least 11 games. You can’t say the same thing for the Patriots with Andy Reid. Never mind the fact that coaching is just Bill Belichick’s day job, that he also is the general manager of this team and makes all of the personnel decisions. I don’t know when the man sleeps, especially this season. Maybe that’s why he constantly looks like a zombie in a hoodie on the sideline every Sunday, but 75% of the time, they’ve won.

And if for no other reason, give it to him because he’s only won the award 3 times in his career, even though the vast majority of people would agree he’s the greatest coach of his era and one of the tops of all time. The fact that he’s only won it 3 times is borderline criminal and a testament to how messed up the Coach of the Year voting system is. The media almost always gives this award to a first year coach who saw a big improvement in win total (as it’s been 4 of the last 7 times), not the man who did the best job. This season, and most seasons, that’s Bill Belichick.




2013 NFL Executive of the Year Pick: Dave Gettleman

Dave Gettleman was hired as the Panthers’ general manager in January of 2013, coming over from his previous job as Senior Pro Personnel Analyst with the New York Giants, where he had worked in the front office since 1999. He deserves a lot of credit for the Panthers’ breakout season and thus this award. An examination of the Panthers’ salary cap shows us why. The Panthers have 7 players with cap numbers of higher than 5 million this season, which puts them among the tops in the NFL, none of whose current contract was signed while Gettleman was the general manager. Teams who are structured like that almost have to get top level performances from those highly paid players to be successful.

How did those guys fare for Carolina this year? Well, Jon Beason was traded to New York early in the season after getting benched, leaving about 5.3 million in dead money on Carolina’s cap with him. DeAngelo Williams carried the ball 201 times and averaged about 4.2 yards per carry, hardly worth his top-10 positional cap number. Steve Smith caught 64 passes for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns, for the 4th worst season of his career, behind his rookie year, the Jimmy Clausen year, and the year he missed 15 games with injury. Among wide receivers, he was 14th in cap number and 39th in receiving yards. Also 10 tight ends had more receiving yards than him.

Ryan Kalil had a solid season, but didn’t live up to the then record contract for a center he signed a few years back. His cap number was 3rd at his position, but he ranked just 10th among centers on Pro Football Focus. Charles Johnson also had a solid season, coming in 19th among 4-3 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus, but that hardly makes him worth the 5th highest cap number among 4-3 defensive ends and 8th among defensive ends regardless of scheme.

Only two of those seven had years that were worth their cap number. Thomas Davis is one. His cap number was 3rd among 4-3 outside linebackers, but that’s also exactly where he graded out at his position on Pro Football Focus. Thomas Davis wasn’t signed by Gettleman. He was inherited. However, Gettleman is undoubtedly a big part of the reason why he’s still here. Davis has torn his ACL three times in his career. Not many general managers would have kept a guy like that on the roster at his current cap number when cutting him would have saved over 2 million in cap space and close to 5 million in cash. Gettleman did and the Panthers were rewarded for it.

Cam Newton is the other one. He had a cap number of about 6 million, by virtue of being the #1 overall pick in 2011. It’s a solid chunk of the cap, but it was just 18th among quarterbacks. I think you’d have a hard time finding 17 quarterbacks who had a better season than Cam Newton. Newton wasn’t drafted by Gettleman, so he doesn’t deserve credit here, but it’s worth noting that he’s one of the few good things left behind by the previous regime.

There were a few other good things left behind by the previous regime. Gettleman didn’t draft either Luke Kueckly or Greg Hardy, both of whom were vital to Carolina’s success this season and greatly exceeded their cap numbers on their rookie deals. Veteran Jordan Gross had a vintage year this year and was much better than his 4.9 million dollar cap number. However, it’s still a head scratcher how Carolina was not only able to finish 12-4, win the NFC South, and get the #2 seed, despite having their high cap number guys struggle, but also how they were able to do this with about 11 million dollars left in cap space, 6th in the NFL.

There are two reasons for this and Gettleman has his hands all over both of them. They got great production out of guys signed to cheap deals and they nailed the 2013 NFL Draft, Gettleman’s first with the team. The biggest example of cheap salaried guys making a huge impact is in the secondary. The secondary was in dire need of help coming off of last season and desperately needed an overhaul. However, the Panthers didn’t commit a single draft pick to it.

It was a risky move, but it paid off. The Panthers finished 11th in the NFL in yards per attempt allowed and 2nd in the NFL in points allowed. Captain Munnerlyn, Michael Mitchell, Melvin White, Quintin Mikell, and Drayton Florence were the top-5 guys in terms of snaps played on that secondary. Not exactly big name guys, but they definitely got the job done. They combined to play 3897 snaps and only Melvin White graded out below average on Pro Football Focus and he did so just barely. Their combined salary cap number: About 3.6 million. That’s bargain shopping.

Who are these guys and where did Gettleman find them? Mitchell was a 2nd round pick in 2009 by the Raiders and washed out of Oakland, signing with Carolina for 1 million dollars this past off-season. Quintin Mikell is a veteran in his age 33 season, his 11th in the NFL, and was completely overlooked by the league because of that, signing with Carolina for the veteran’s minimum right before the season started. Drayton Florence was in a similar situation, also in his age 33 season and his 11th in the NFL, but he was actually cut from his one year deal by the Panthers in final cuts, before re-signing with them for the veterans minimum in mid-September. Melvin White, meanwhile, signed with the Panthers as an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette after the draft.

The only one of those five who was on the Panthers’ roster before the season was Captain Munnerlyn, a 6th round pick of the Panthers in 2008 and someone who did play a lot of snaps for the Panthers in past seasons. Gettleman didn’t draft Munnerlyn, but he did bring him back on a one year, 1.1 million dollar deal this off-season, after he failed to get more than that on the open market. Munnerlyn was the highest paid of their secondary quintet, but he was also the best of the bunch. The diminutive 5-8 cornerback excelled in all 3 facets of the game, run defense, pass coverage, and blitzing, doing his best Antoine Winfield impression and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked cornerback.

The secondary wasn’t the only area where Gettleman found deals. Needing help on the offensive line and wide receiver, Gettleman turned to Travelle Wharton and Ted Ginn, who each had cap numbers of 1.1 million this past year. Turning to Wharton and Ginn wasn’t exactly in vogue this off-season, which is why they were able to come so cheap. Wharton is a former Carolina offensive lineman who gave them some good years from 2004-2012, but got released as a cap casualty after the 2011 season. Wharton then went to Cincinnati, but didn’t play a regular season snap for the team, missing the entirety of the season with a knee injury. The Panthers took a chance on the 10-year veteran going into his age 32 season, coming off of a lost season with injury, and having been cut twice since his last regular season snap, and the rewards were great. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked guard.

Ted Ginn wasn’t quite as good. The bust of a 2007 1st round pick bounced around from Miami to San Francisco to Carolina this last off-season, but he definitely had a positive impact and I don’t just mean catching the winning touchdown in the Panthers’ victory over New Orleans, which essentially won them the NFC South. Ginn was 4th on the team in receiving, catching 36 passes for 556 yards and 5 touchdowns. That doesn’t sound like much, but he graded out above average as a receiver in Pro Football Focus and played a valuable role as the 3rd receiver. He also provided value on special teams, averaging 12.2 yards per punt return on 26 returns and 23.8 yards per kickoff return on 25 returns.

And that was just in free agency. Gettleman’s first year on the job also featured a very strong draft. He didn’t have a lot of resources to work with, as the Panthers had just 5 picks in this draft, as a result of past trades. Their final 3 draft picks (Edmund Kugbila, AJ Klein, and Kenjon Barner) didn’t do much of note this season, but given the way Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short, their first and second round picks respectively, played, they didn’t have to. Both emerged as starters at what was a long-time need position of defensive tackle and they didn’t just start. They both played extremely well and should get Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration, grading out 16th and 14th respectively among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus.

Now, Gettleman doesn’t deserve all the credit for the production of the cheap signings and rookies. The players themselves obviously deserve some credit, as does head coach Ron Rivera, but Gettleman deserves most of the credit. Gettleman also deserves credit for not firing Ron Rivera, who is a Coach of the Year Candidate in his own right, after the public outcry for him to be let go and after it would have been very easy to let him go. Even I thought they should have fired him, after his continued struggles in close games to start the season (2-14 to start his career in games decided by a touchdown or less at that point) threatened to derail my prediction that they would win 12 games, the NFC South, and get the #2 seed (it didn’t thankfully). For all of the great work he did getting them to that point in a tough situation given the previous regime’s habit of giving out undeserved exorbitant contracts, Gettleman deserves Executive of the Year.