The MMQB 2016 NFL Awards
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The MMQB 2016 NFL Awards

Our eclectic panel of journalists, players and coaching and front-office vets—plus a couple big-name ringers—make their picks for the major honors of the 2016 season

Who's the MVP?

The MMQB put out a call for MVP votes from voices around the NFL. Here's a sample of who they picked.

 

If the 50-member panel of Associated Press NFL MVP voters mirrors the way this year’s 31-member awards panel for The MMQB voted this week, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will walk on stage at the NFL Honors event the night before the Super Bowl to claim his first-ever Most Valuable Player—unless, of course, the Falcons are playing in Super Bowl 51.

The MMQB panel’s voting was conducted this week, after the end of the regular season. Unlike the AP vote, which asks balloters to vote for one winner in all categories, The MMQB asked its eclectic group of voters (more about that later) to choose the top five for each award. The first-place nominee on each ballot was awarded seven points, second place five points, and 3-2-1, in order, for third, fourth and fifth place on each ballot.

The panel consisted of members of the media, from the writing staff at The MMQB to other long-time NFL journalists; active and former players (Jason McCourty of the Titans, Josh McCown of the Browns, and former offensive linemen Ross Tucker and Geoff Schwartz); former Panthers GM Marty Hurney and former coordinator Greg Roman; three Pro Football Focus tape analysts; and a slew of NFL network veterans, including Rich Eisen and Alex Flanagan. And then there are my wild-card voters—megafans whom I’ve gotten to know over the years: Grammy-winning artist John Legend and best-selling author Harlan Coben. (Full panel is listed at the end of the story.)

We’ll go through the list of awards, category by category, and let you hear from voters on why they made the picks they made.

By the way, the AP’s 50 voters had a Wednesday noon deadline for their ballots. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a major difference in the awards when they’re announced Feb. 4 in Houston.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta 17 167
Tom Brady, QB, New England 6 136
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay 4 102
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland 0 61
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas 2 46
 

Also receiving votes: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas 28 points; Matt Stafford QB, Detroit, 5; Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle, 4; Le’Veon Bell, RB, PIttsburgh, 3; David Johnson, RB, Arizona, 2; Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore, 1; Von Miller, LB, Denver, 1.

Lots of voters felt as I did: This was one of the toughest years in which to decide on an MVP. Judy Battista, of NFL.com, who went with Elliott, expressed the difficulty of choosing among the range of worthy candidates. “Utterly impossible MVP choice this year,” she said. “I can make a good argument for all of them. Zeke gets the slight edge for completely transforming the Cowboys. Ask me again in 30 minutes, though, and I may have changed my mind again.”

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Elliott and his fellow Cowboys rookies, Dak Prescott, got some notice but likely canceled each other out. As for the established veterans, Brady’s missing the first four games due to his suspension had to factor into his failure to sway most voters regardless of where they stood on Deflategate—no MVP winner in the 59-year history of the award has ever missed a quarter of his team’s games. Rodgers suffered from his team’s 4-6 start and his subpar play for part of the season. Carr was enormously influential to his team’s success in the toughest division in football, but his numbers were dwarfed by those of Ryan.

The nine-year vet led the league in passer rating (117.1) and yards per attempt (9.3), and had career highs in yards (4,944) and touchdown passes (38), and a career low in interceptions (seven).

Said Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders: “Matt Ryan is the MVP, and I’m sorry, it’s not really close. The award is Most Valuable Player of 2016. It’s not Most Valuable Player of All Time, and it’s not Most Valuable Player in December, and it’s not Most Valuable Player Who Doesn’t Share His Locker Room with a Very Bad Defense. Matt Ryan is the No. 1 quarterback of 2016 by almost any metric, particularly advanced metrics. No quarterback faced a harder schedule of opposing pass defenses this year; Ryan played nine games against teams ranked in the top dozen for pass defense by Football Outsiders. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are all-time greats. Matt Ryan is not. But he was the best player of the 2016 regular season.”

And this from Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk: “Ryan played all 16 games (sorry Tom Brady), was great all year (sorry, Aaron Rodgers), didn’t have a disqualifying performance on a Thursday night against a division rival (sorry, Derek Carr), doesn’t have a stellar offensive line or top-ranked running game (sorry, Dak Prescott) and averaged an uncanny 9.3 yards per attempt. Which would be hard to do when running plays against no defense at all.”

COACH OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Jason Garrett, Dallas 12 145
Bill Belichick, New England 9 132
Jack Del Rio, Oakland 6 118
Adam Gase, Miami 4 83
Andy Reid, Kansas City 0 40
 

Also receiving votes: Dan Quinn, Atlanta, 26 points; Jim Caldwell, Detroit, 4; Ben McAdoo, New York Giants, 2; Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh, 2; Mike McCarthy, Green Bay, 1; Mike Mularkey, Tennessee 1; Bill O’Brien, Houston, 1.

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There was widespread love for Garrett, Belichick and Del Rio, and very high regard for the job Gase did with the Dolphins. I thought NBC’s 18-time Emmy-award Sunday night producer, Fred Gaudelli, put it best with how tortured he was on this vote. “I went back and forth, back and forth, between Garrett and Belichick,” Gaudelli said. “When we look back on Belichick’s incredible coaching career, no doubt this will be one of his best seasons. No Brady for the first four weeks, and no Gronk [tight end Rob Gronkowski] for half the season. And getting [line coach] Dante Scarnecchia back was a huge move to shore up the offensive line. But I picked Garrett. The way Jason managed the team after the disaster of last year, and came up with a system on offense where Dak Prescott could be efficient and successful, led to Dallas being able to play a type of football where they didn’t have to expose that defense. I think they were on the field less than any other defense in football this year. When I looked at the entire team—the way he managed it, doing it with the rookie quarterback, and having the team in complete sync, I just thought it was a great job of coaching and managing the team.”

ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Kyle Shanahan, OC, Atlanta 10 134
Rod Marinelli, DC, Dallas 3 67
Steve Spagnuolo, DC, Giants 2 65
Scott Linehan, OC, Dallas  3 61
Josh McDaniels, OC, New England 4 48
 

Also receiving votes: Dante Scarnecchia, New England, OL, 35; Romeo Crennel, DC, Houston 31;  Dave Toub, special teams, Kansas City, 21; Matt Patricia, DC, New England, 19; Bill Musgrave, OC, Oakland, 8; Mike Munchak, OL, Pittsburgh, 6; Wade Phillips, DC, Denver, 6; Jim Bob Cooter, OC, Detroit, 5; Mike Tice, OL, Oakland, 5; Tom Cable, OL/assistant head coach, Seattle, 5; Keith Butler, DC, Pittsburgh, 3; Dowell Loggains, OC, Chicago, 3; Teryl Austin, DC, Detroit, 3; Vance Joseph, DC, Miami, 3; Mike Smith, DC, Tampa Bay, 3; Brian Flores, LBs, New England, 2; Kris Richard, DC, Seattle, 2; Frank Pollack, OL, Dallas, 2; Jim Schwartz, DC, Philadelphia, 2; John Butler, secondary, Houston, 2.

“There’s a reason Shanahan is linked to four head-coaching vacancies—and counting,” said Robert Klemko of The MMQB.

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And the reason is … “The Falcons’ offense may not be unstoppable, but it certainly seems that way,” said our site’s Albert Breer. “Shanahan’s unit has churned out over 400 yards in half its games, ranks second in the league in total offense, led the league in scoring (by a 71-point margin), and was fifth in rush offense even while Matt Ryan had his best season. Shanahan’s ‘résumé’ season had been 2012, when the Redskins took the NFL by storm with Robert Griffin and an adapted Baylor spread scheme. This one tops that one.”

SiriusXM NFL Radio’s Steve Cohen liked both Dallas coordinators, and voted for Marinelli. “The Cowboys had the best coaching staff in football hands down. What Scott Linehan accomplished with two rookies lined up behind center should lead to another head coaching job for him. As incredible as the Cowboys offense was (five Pro Bowl players), it was their defense that was more surprising. They came into the season with three suspended players, and Rod Marinelli coached up a ‘No-Name Defense’ that didn’t feature a single Pro Bowl player.”

The MMQB’s Vrentas voted for Spagnuolo. “Often the best coaching jobs happen when coaches have the least talent. That was what Steve Spagnuolo was up against last year. But this year‎ he faced a different kind of challenge—integrating three high-priced free agents with young, developing players in key roles. The results have been a defense that has carried the Giants back to the playoffs despite an inconsistent offense.”

Alex Flanagan of NFL Network lauded New England’s McDaniels. “Bill Belichick puts a lot of trust in his offensive coordinator, and McDaniels gracefully navigated the year being thrown one curveball after another this season. I remember listening to him a few years ago reflect on his head coaching stint during one of my Thursday Night Football production meetings. He talked about a book on his bedside where he wrote down all of the things he had learned and would do differently if he ever became a head coach again. I imagine that book is full and ready to be put to use.”

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Reggie McKenzie, GM, Oakland 13 148
Jerry/Stephen Jones, Owner/VP, Dallas 9 141
Jerry Reese, GM, New York Giants 2 90
Thomas Dimitroff, GM, Atlanta 1 47
Jon Robinson, GM, Tennessee 1 32
 

Also receiving votes: Bill Belichick, GM, New England, 32; John Dorsey, GM, Kansas City, 29; Howie Roseman, GM, Philadelphia, 13; Bob Quinn, GM, Detroit, 13; Scott Pioli, assistant GM, Atlanta, 6; Mike Tannenbaum, VP of football operations, Miami, 6; Kevin Colbert, GM, Pittsburgh, 2; John Schneider, GM, Seattle, 1; Jason Licht, GM, Tampa Bay, 1.

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Emily Kaplan of The MMQB credited McKenzie for moves he’s made for several seasons (including this one) that showed up big in 2016. “McKenzie inherited a Raiders team that was, frankly, a mess, and went 11-37 his first three years,” Kaplan said. “My nomination for McKenzie is as much a marvel of his achievements as it is a reminder that patience, however untrendy in today’s NFL, can be rewarding. McKenzie, a first-time GM, designed a framework that allows his franchise to prosper for the foreseeable future. He even paid homage to his mentor, Green Bay architect Ron Wolf, by drafting quarterbacks even when it didn’t appear that he needed one —yet another McKenzie move that proved prescient this year with the pick of Connor Cook in the fourth round.”

Tom Pelissero of USA Today agreed: “This is really a pick for five years of work, but isn’t that the proper way to judge a GM? Owner Mark Davis gave McKenzie time to do things the right way, and the result is the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 14 years. If that’s not worth an award, what is?”

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta 5 104
David Johnson, RB, Arizona 8 102
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas 5 88
Tom Brady, QB, New England 6 84
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay 3 45
 

Also receiving votes: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh, 34; Derek Carr, QB, Oakland,18; Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta, 13; Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay, 12; Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans, 8; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants, 7; Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City, 6; Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas, 4; Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh, 3; T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis, 2; Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami, 2; Tyron Smith, T, Dallas, 2; Matt Stafford, QB, Detroit, 1; LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England, 1; Trent Williams, T, Washington, 1; Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore, 1; Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore, 1.

This award is always confusing. If you’re the Most Valuable Player, how can someone else win the offensive player of the year?

I’ll give you my reasoning this year. I voted for Johnson, with Ryan second and Elliott third. I believe this award goes to the best offensive performance of the year. While Ryan’s performance was terrific and the best overall clearly among the quarterbacks, I think Johnson’s 16-game effort (well, 15.5; he got hurt in the last game of the year for the Cardinals, at Los Angeles) is one of the best by a back in years. Consider that in his first 15 games, Johnson, playing behind a mediocre offensive line, became the second back ever to top 100 rushing/receiving yards in 15 straight games.

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No running back had a game as physically demanding and as brutishly productive as Johnson had on an October Sunday night against Seattle. I was in the house that night as the Cardinals and Seahawks tied 6-6, and Johnson was targeted with the football 46 times. Forty-six! He rushed 33 times for 113 yards, then had 13 passes thrown his way by Carson Palmer. He caught eight for 58 yards. Think of his performance that night this way:

• Arizona ran 57 offensive plays, and 41 were runs or receptions by Johnson.
• Arizona had 257 offensive yards that night, and 171 of those yards were produced by Johnson.

But Ryan was great this year too, obviously. Johnson made it a very close vote.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Oakland 13 143
Von Miller, OLB, Denver 8 135
Landon Collins, S, New York Giants 5 94
Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta 1 50
Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles 3 44
 

Also receiving votes: Eric Berry, S, Kansas City, 29; Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle, 23; Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City, 13; Sean Lee, LB, Dallas, 8; Aqib Talib, CB, Denver, 4; Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia, 2; Malcolm Butler, CB, New England, 2; Olivier Vernon, DE, New York Giants, 1; Lorenzo Alexander, LB, Buffalo, 1; Zach Orr, LB, Baltimore, 1; Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle, 1; Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver, 1; Earl Thomas, S, Seattle, 1.

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Klemko said of Mack: “Oakland’s playoff aspirations seemed to take a hit with the early-season loss of defensive lineman Mario Edwards, but Mack took a defense with major holes at every level and made it competitive by sheer will. His 11 sacks came with five forced fumbles and a rare knack for making big plays in big moments, none bigger than game-clinching strip-sacks in consecutive weeks against Carolina and Buffalo.”

Mike Silver, of NFL.com was eloquent about Berry, his choice. “Eric Berry is more than just a great story, an elite player who fought through lymphoma and made an inspirational comeback at the highest level, Silver said. “He’s also the best player on a Chiefs team that confounded virtually everyone by going 12-4 and earning the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Berry made so many huge plays in 2016, and perhaps the biggest one of the season: His interception and return of a two-point conversion attempt gave the Chiefs an unlikely victory over the Falcons and ultimately secured the division title and first-round bye for Kansas City. After Berry had a huge game in a late-November Sunday night overtime victory over the Broncos in Denver, I visited the Chiefs’ locker room, where player after player cited the veteran safety as the key to the team’s chemistry. Quarterback Alex Smith told me: ‘Really, he’s the perfect example of what we are, and we feed off him. When you have a culture of unselfish players who come together and confront challenges head on, it can take you a long way.’ ”

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas 24 202
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas 6 166
Tyreek Hill, WR/KR, Kansas City  0 64
Jack Conklin, T, Tennessee 0 40.5
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago 0 35
 

Also receiving votes: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans (18.5), Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia,10, Cody Whitehair, C, Chicago, 9, Taylor Decker, T, Detroit, 6, Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee, 3; Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland, 2; Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England, 1; DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland, 1.

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Alex Stern of the league’s official stat-keeper, the Elias Sports Bureau, has watched the league longer than I have, and he thought Elliott had a rare season. (Which he did.) “Ezekiel Elliott was the game’s leading individual rusher—for both teams—in all 13 Cowboys wins this season,” Stern said. “His 132.9 yards from scrimmage per game this season was the highest average over the last 10 years for any player on a top-playoff-seeded team, and also the highest over the last decade for a player on a team that won at least 13 games.”

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego 28 209
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville 3 127
Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta 0 50
Chris Jones, DE, Kansas City 0 45
Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta 0 38
 

Also receiving votes: DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco, 29; Leonard Floyd, OLB, Chicago, 15; Eli Apple, CB, New York Giants, 10; Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay, 9; Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville, 6; Brian Poole, CB, Atlanta, 2; Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay, 2; James Bradberry, CB, Carolina, 1; Karl Joseph, S, Oakland, 1; Sean Davis, S, Pittsburgh, 1.

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Bosa, who missed the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury, was a surprising landslide pick over Jalen Ramsey, who played a strong corner for the Jags much of the year. Veteran NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz explained why: “I talked with multiple offensive lineman who played against Bosa this season and they all said he’s the best rookie pass rusher they have faced. He’s super-advanced with his hand usage which is commonly the toughest thing for rookies to learn. He has good raw power and change of direction. I think what impressed me is his knack for finishing plays. Lots of defensive linemen get close, but the difference between an elite lineman and just a good one is being able to finish. That last burst to get to the quarterback or the runner—that’s something that can’t be taught and Bosa does it well.“

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  First-Place Votes Total Points
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay 21 177
Cameron Wake, DE, Miami 5 113
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh 1 59
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle 1 32
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee 0 31
 

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Also receiving votes: Steve Smith Sr., WR, Baltimore (29), Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis (28), Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego (19), Terrell Suggs, OLB, (14), Nate Solder, LT, New England, 10.5; Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore, 7; Eric Berry, S, Kansas City, 5; Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants, 5; Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina, 3; Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants, 3; Marcus Cannon, T, New England, 2.5; Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh, 1; Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore, 1.

 
The panelists:

Don Banks, NFL.com
Judy Battista, NFL.com
Andy Benoit, The MMQB
Albert Breer, The MMQB
Harlan Coben, author
Steve Cohen, SiriusXM
Rich Eisen, NFL Network
Khaled Elsayed, Pro Football Focus
Alex Flanagan, NFL Network
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk
Fred Gaudelli, NBC Sports
Neil Hornsby, Pro Football Focus
Marty Hurney, former GM
Emily Kaplan, The MMQB
Peter King, The MMQB
Robert Klemko, The MMQB
John Legend, musician
Robert Mays, The Ringer
Jason McCourty, Titans DB
Josh McCown, Browns QB
Tom Peliserro, USA Today
Ian Rapoport, NFL.com
Tim Rohan, The MMQB
Greg Roman, longtime offensive coordinator
Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders
Geoff Schwartz, podcaster, author, former NFL OL
Mike Silver, NFL.com
Alex Stern, Elias Sports Bureau
Ben Stockwell, Pro Football Focus
Ross Tucker, NBCSN, SiriusXM
Jenny Vrentas, The MMQB

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.