The Gushfest (End of Season Awards)


160-96 at the end of the regular season for a .625 winning percentage. I’ll take it.

Due to the absolute outburst of gaudy statistics this year, it was REALLY hard to pick awards winners this year without feeling like you were slighting 4-5 players in each category. I mean think about it:

Matthew Stafford: 41TD, 16INT, 5,038 passing yards, led the Lions to a 10-win playoff season. Probably not getting a single MVP Vote

Larry Fitzgerald: 80 balls, 1411 yards, 8TDs, 0 quarterbacks. Probably not getting any love other than a Pro Bowl start

London Fletcher: 166 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 picks, 1.5 sacks. Rewarded with another year of Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder.

Darren Sproles: An all-time record 2,696 total yards from scrimmage. No Pro-Bowl.

Jared Allen: 22 sacks, 4 forced fumbles on an awful defense. Rewarded by wasting the rest of his prime during the rebuild.

I really could go on and on and on. Wanna know how gaudy stats are this year?

Nate Washington (yes, Nate Washington): 74 catches, 1,023 yards and 7TDs.

Antonio Brown: 69 catches 1,108 yards with 83% of his catches going for 1st downs

Vincent Jackson: 60 catches 1,106 yards with a whopping 90% of his catches going for 1sts.

Marques Colston: 80 balls, 1,143 yards and 8TDs

Hakeem Nicks: 76 balls, 1,192 yards and 7TDs, did not lead his team in any receiving category

And if it weren’t for Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski both shattering every record Kellen Winslow thought he had forever, there are Pro Bowl TE candidates everywhere

Aaron Hernandez: 79 balls, 910 yards and 7TDs

Jason Witten: 79 balls, 942 yards and 5TDs

Tony Gonzalez: 80 balls, 875 yards and 7TDs

The grand point you have to take out of all this is that you really have to look at WHEN the production happened, since it was basically everywhere, before you really can assign value to it, and credit someone in this mess of offensive shrapnel with being the best player. In honor of Steve, let’s start with my first ever end-of-season award tie.

Fans love Jordy Nelson and Victor Cruz, and there's many reasons why.

My Most Improved Player Award is a tie between Victor Cruz and Jordy Nelson – Jordy fits this award better in the strictest sense of the word. He was a secret weapon known mostly to purists last year, parlayed it into a monster postseason and carried it over into stardom this year. 68 catches, 1263 yards and 15 TDs later, he’s a 6-3 215lb gymnast that is nobody’s secret. Jordy is as good as any receiver in the NFL down for down now, and I expect him to continue this production for years to come. Victor Cruz is a better human interest story, and while it’s easy to describe his production this year vs. 3 games, 0 catches and an IR placement as improvement, I don’t quite think I’ve ever seen an in-season improvement from September to December by any offensive player like this in my lifetime. He went from dropping a key pass in Week 1, “Stepping up for a week” in Week 3, Inventing a TD celebration in Week 5 to cap off a tour-de-force performance, scoring a game winner when it couldn’t have been needed more in Week 7, to racking up 5 100+ yard games in his final 7 games to claim every Giants receiving record in the books. If you haven’t watched some of his highlights because the Giants aren’t your team, I really suggest you look them up on nfl.com. I was worried that he might be more flash than fundamentals, but I was dead wrong. He’s as crisp a route-runner as Steve Smith ever was, and has a top-end burst that Steve Smith never had. I can’t think of a reason besides injury that he doesn’t keep this up for the next five years. Kudos to Jerry Reese for finding guys like him, Jake Ballard, Jacquian Williams and Greg Jones to round out what could have been serious deficits on his team.

Oh shit, wait, Steve Smith is tough as nails and can beat you anywhere on the field, I forgot....

The Comeback Player of the Year is a short conversation, and goes to Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. How did we ever forget how monstrous this guy can be in the open field? 85 touches, 1450 yards from scrimmage and a 6TD mark that would have been higher had Cam Newton not run it so well. No one has been more instrumental to the breakout of Cam Newton than the man who stood back with his team and committed to developing his fearlessness downfield. It wasn’t all that long ago that this guy almost won a Super Bowl, led a team to a #1 seed despite his quarterback, and broke his arm scoring a touchdown against the Giants in a game that held nothing in the balance for them. He will be a key lead dog when the Panthers start attracting free agents to the Cam show.

Better record, tougher division, playoff appearance.

And while Cam Newton’s rookie record-breaking has done nothing short of remind me of how scared I used to be of Randall Cunningham, The Offensive Rookie of the Year goes to Andrew Dalton. I had a feeling looking at all the quarterbacks coming in this year’s draft that Dalton would be a keeper. The four years of being a starter in a pro-style offense that put his college program on the map from anonymity is not all that far off from how you build your NFL reputation. You could see in each passing week of the preseason that he was picking things up, not repeating mistakes, and getting enough respect from his teammates to get a league-wide nickname. Who doesn’t love saying “The Red Rifle” when he just heaves one up for AJ Green to get. He’s had his bumps, and there’s a decent chance he’ll come out straight up flat in the playoffs, but you can’t really hate on what they were able to accomplish given how tough their division is.

14 sacks. 2 forced fumbles, and the pass-rushing complement to Patrick Willis.

Without a runaway candidate, I decided to give the Defensive Rookie of the Year to Aldon Smith.  Von Miller came on a little too late for me, and he doesn’t really fit a team’s needs the way Aldon Smith did. The 49er front seven was already borderlining on outstanding, but didn’t quite have much of a pass rush. This excellent first-round pick changed all that. The Niners can play run and field-position in this quarterback-driven league because guys like Aldon Smith have had an instant impact on their defense. It’s the defensive equivalent of an explosive receiver joining your team.

"Mayyyybe if Jim Harbaugh acted like an adult....."

My Coach of the Year is likely to be an unpopular one in John Fox. Everyone’s going to go for Jim Harbaugh. People are projecting decades of success for him. I don’t buy it. If Rex’s brashness didn’t last past 3 seasons, why would Harbaugh’s? Even if he WAS a good Xs and Os guy, and Rex is one of the best on defense, people eventually tune you out. My coach of the year always tends to go to a guy who kept his team together with a bottomless pit of a worst-case scenario over someone who merely improved his team by a few wins and got in the playoffs. This Tebow thing could have been an absolute career-ruining disaster for John Fox, and instead he parlayed it into a division title. He was somehow able to take an option-style offense that he knew couldn’t score big points, and literally spun it into a motivating fodder for his defense. He got veterans like Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil to buy into this when other coaches wouldn’t have gotten it to go anywhere, and it would have sunk them into another rebuild. Instead, John Fox got the most out of his defense, which looks to be pretty good heading into next year with the right moves, and was PR gold with his team’s unconvential offense. The end of the road was rocky for the Broncos, but they have a legitimate shot at stealing one tomorrow given what everyone in Pittsburgh is going through between injuries and tragedies. If the Broncos win a playoff game and the Niners don’t, how is Harbaugh the coach of the year?

Another offense dumps Jeremy Shockey and gets better

In a year without a true runaway candidate, I’m giving my Executive of the Year award to Mickey Loomis of the Saints. Honestly, he could have won it on the Darren Sproles signing alone, but cutting Jeremy Shockey and letting Jimmy Graham loose on the NFL has also made him look like a genius. Adding role players like Aubrayo Franklin to the defense to basically give Gregg Williams toys wasn’t a bad idea either. The Saints’ defense wasn’t totally up to how good I thought it was going to be this year, but whose defense was? The important thing is that he listened to Drew Brees, knew what he had in his draft picks, and continues to make this team a contender year after year. It’s arguable the Saints look better right now than the Packers. That’s not easy to put together.

What a year for Drew Brees.

In a quarterback’s year, no quarterback quarterbacked like Drew Brees, which is why he’s my Offensive Player of the Year. I’m honestly out of superlatives. Rodgers got figured out a little bit down the stretch, Brees got better. Let’s take a look at all of the single season records Drew Brees broke this year:

  • Single season passing leader – 5,476 yards (2011)
  • Most completions in a season – 468 (2011)
  • Most 300+ yard passing games in a season – 13 (2011)
  • Most consecutive 300+ yard passing games – 7 (2011) (Weeks 10,12,13,14,15,16,17; 2011)
  • Most consecutive games with 350+ yards passing – 4 (Weeks 3,4,5,6; 2011)
  • Highest completion percentage, season – 71.2% (2011)
  • Most consecutive seasons with 4000+ passing yards – 6 (2006-2011; tied with Peyton Manning)
  • Most consecutive seasons with 4000+ passing yards and 30+ Touchdowns – 4, 2008-current
  • Most games with 20+ completions, season – 16 (2010,2011)
  • Most consecutive 350+ completion seasons, career – 6 (2006-2011)
  • Most 400+ completion seasons, career – 4 (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011)
  • Most completions in a playoff game – 39 (at Seattle, 1/8/2011)
  • Most consecutive games with at least 20 completions – 36
  • Most Seasons with 5000+ passing yards- 2 (2008 & 2011)
  • Most Seasons with 20+ completions, season – 2 (2010 & 2011)
  • First quarterback in NFL History to surpass 3,000 passing yards by Week 9. (3,004 yards in 2011)
  • First quarterback in NFL History to surpass 4,000 passing yards in the first 12 games. (4,031 yards in 2011)

What Brees did this season obliterated the already lofty expectations everyone has of him as the best player in the history of his franchise. Like I said, the numbers tell it better than I can, and the superlatives would just be filler. He’s that good.

The next Julius Peppers

I know Jared Allen had a fantastic season, and that the season sack-leader should pretty much always get at least a little love for defensive player of the year. Jared Allen got 49 of a possible 50 All-Pro votes and is likely to get the AP honor, but I have two qualms about that. First, he was stat-racking as the only functional component to an old and awful defense on an old and awful team. Second, you need to be a complete player, not just a pass rusher, to win Defensive Player of the Year. It’s what got Revis robbed in his greatest year. Granted, it’s a testimony to his infamous “motor” and he deserves any individual accolade he gets, but there’s only one defensive player who arguably single-handedly won big games for his team. He wears #90 for the New York Giants, and his name is Jason Pierre-Paul, the SPTKF6 Defensive Player of the Year. When I look at the top sack guys for DPOY-love, I like to look at their total tackles and passes defensed. Sacking the QB isn’t the whole picture. You need to be able to play the run, make tackles in the open-field, and bat down balls when you can’t get there. Let’s compare JPP to the other top defenders in the league this year:

Jared Allen – 22 sacks – 66 tackles – 3 passes defensed – 4 forced fumbles – 1 interception – Pretty Good!

DeMarcus Ware – 19.5 sacks – 58 tackles – 2 passes defensed – 2 forced fumbles – Overrated and one-dimensional, especially for a linebacker.

Jason Babin – 18 sacks – 40 tackles – 2 passes defensed – 3 forced fumbles – Yikes, even MORE one-dimensional

David Harris – 86 tackles – 5 sacks – 4 interceptions – 9 passes defensed – Probably my 2nd place vote. I love how he plays

Jason Pierre Paul – 16.5 sacks – 86 tackles – 6 passes defensed – 2 forced fumbles – 1 “iblockafieldgoal”

JPP has 14 more tackles than any other DE (Calais Campbell is 2nd with 72) had an outstanding pass-rushing year when his teammates were inconsistent and an injury-riddled shell of themselves, got better as the games got bigger, and made a rare game-winning play for a defensive player. He tackles in the open field, stops the run, is a beautiful mix of talent, effort, and naivete from not being raised and told he was the best thing since sliced bread on his Pop Warner team, and clearly had a tip-of-the-iceberg year deserving of 34 All-Pro votes. I said when he was drafted that he would either be Jerry Reese’s biggest mistake or the next Julius Peppers. You don’t draft a guy that raw unless you endorse your coaching staff whole-heartedly. The coaching and effort have paid off. Welcome to superstardom.

The SPTKF6 MVP

Honestly, if there were 6 MVP trophies this year, I could probably give them out and not feel bad about any of them. This year was that well-played on offense, and with all the passing records obliterated into a new age, you really had to look inside the numbers to define what was truly valuable. The obvious position in question is quarterback, so which quarterback gave you the most valuable season? Aaron Rodgers is probably going to get the AP nod. It’s a safe pick. He’s the best quarterback in the league right now, but I would argue that Drew Brees is putting up better offensive numbers across the board AND, that epic Matt Flynn performance against a Detroit team that BADLY needed to win that one in the worst way to get out of playing in the Superdome later tonight, put a dent into how much of the offense’s success is predicated on Rodgers. Let’s be real here: those receivers are phenomenal, and Mike McCarthy’s an excellent offensive playcaller. That team was 13-3 with alot of the same players with Brett Favre in 2007 as well. The Packers are a well-oiled machine, not the pedestal for one guy to get all the praise.

Giving it to Drew Brees not only kinda-sorta-irks me because I hate giving two awards in the same season to the same guy, but it also downplays how well their running backs have played this year. Drew Brees threw alot, but he still only threw when he wanted to, and he has a tremendous home-dome advantage.

That kinda leaves me torn between Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning, and thusly this is the question: Is it more valuble to be the face of a franchise’s renaissance (and for all we know, this could just be a good year), or to throw 15 4th quarter touchdown passes.

I can’t see anything more valuable that happened this year than Eli’s 15 4th quarter touchdown passes.

The STPKF6 MVP by the slimmest of margins is Eli Manning. I’m picking this based on the most pure definition of valuable, because without Eli, Cruz and JPP, the Giants are debating between Luck and Griffin. If you take out the clutch passing Eli did all season long, week-to-week, regardless of venue, opponent, situation or outcome, the Giants win 3 games. With half a nod to Corey Webster’s first half, these were the only guys who showed up, and Eli STILL got this team into the postseason. The Lions were showing in December last year that they could get it done without Stafford, Brees’ home/away splits are too staggering (even if he is a far better quarterback). Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford put their numbers up playing 11 games indoors. Eli put his up playing 13 games outdoors, with his team needing every single yard. Look at their schedule and tell me how many laughers they had. MAYBE the last two games. Maybe. I always knew Eli would be good, but never this good. It got to the point where I’m sitting on the couch and feeling bad for him that I’m asking him to make yet ANOTHER 80 yard game winning drive, and he didn’t care. He didn’t care when his team was 12-4 and he had one of the most conservative good years a QB can have, and he doesn’t care if he’s 9-7 having to sling the ball all over the place to get where he needs to go. He just gets himself ready and plays. If you show up with him, GREAT! You’re getting the ball!. If you don’t, he’ll find someone else. Of all the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, none of them have had the upheaval of receiving corps each of the last three seasons like Eli did, and he still found ways to make stars out of people. If you still bag on him after he’s made Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard household names, you just hate him and should stop watching. The Giants are in the divisional round of the playoffs for the third time in five seasons because of his cool-handed leadership, and the world is grossly lacking in people who lead by example. It was an absolute pleasure watching him week in and week out deliver the goods. Nobody individually meant more to their team.

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