Through the midway point of the 2019 season, there have been many surprises, disappointments, and unforeseen storylines across the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots remain the two undefeated teams, all the off-season hype around the now last-place Cleveland Browns has cooled down, and the youth movement at quarterback — whether it’s Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, or Dak Prescott — has been thrilling to watch. We’re eight weeks in, and with eight weeks left, here’s our rankings on all the awards and moves so far this year.
NFL MVP: Christian McCaffrey and Lamar Jackson
When the Carolina Panthers lost their starting quarterback and former 2015 MVP Cam Newton to injury, it was widely thought that the Panthers’ season was over. With the undrafted and unproven second-year quarterback Kyle Allen set to start, the Panthers turned to their starting running back, Christian McCaffrey to carry their offense. And he was more than prepared to step up to the challenge. As of Week 9, McCaffrey is second in the league in rushing with 881 yards on 165 rushes for an average yards per attempt of 5.3 yards. McCaffrey is the unquestionable engine of the Panthers’ offense. The Stanford University product has proven draft pundits who questioned his ability to be anything more than a situational running back wrong. Versatile as a runner and a receiver, McCaffrey rarely leaves the field. On average he has been on the field for 93 percent of the Panthers’ offensive plays and he’s on pace to break records for touches. For perspective, the Dallas Cowboys’ workhouse rusher, Ezekiel Elliott, has only taken part in 79 percent of his team’s plays. McCaffrey leads the NFL with 1,244 yards from scrimmage, which accounts for 36 percent of the team’s offensive production. Though he is an excellent runner, his ability as a receiver makes him stand out from other running backs. He runs a complex route tree usually reserved for wide receivers. He is one of the NFL’s offensive efficiency leaders and has pulled the Panthers back into playoff contention with his play over the first half of the season. Though the MVP race is usually biased towards quarterbacks — the nature of the sport makes them more important — McCaffrey’s name should remain in the MVP conversation.
Lamar Jackson has made a strong case for the MVP, thus far defeating the previously unbeaten Patriots while tearing up defenses with unreal highlight plays each week. The former first-round pick and Heisman Trophy winner has improved his completion percentage, touchdown/interception ratio, and quarterback rating from a year ago all while guiding the Baltimore Ravens to the top of the AFC. If Jackson continues to dismantle defenses like he has been doing, there’s no reason he won’t be in the MVP race come February.
When Nicholas Bosa was selected second overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, no one, including the 49ers, could’ve predicted the immediate impact he has had so far. Through eight weeks, Bosa had 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery in addition to a crazy acrobatic interception, which he almost returned for a touchdown. Adding Bosa to the Niners already-loaded defensive line has catapulted the team to the top of the NFC.
D.K. Metcalf is an athletic wonder; he stands at 6’ 3”, 229 lbs. with 1.6-percent body fat and abs that look chiseled out of rock. At the combine, Metcalf showed off this ability, getting into the top 90th percentile of bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, and recording a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash. The biggest question about Metcalf was his ability to transition from college football to the NFL. Wide receiver is notoriously one of the most challenging positions to pick up and perform well in as a rookie. Colleges generally have wide receivers running very simplistic route trees and defenders who are less athletic and slow.
Metcalf seemed to fit the bill of a college wide receiver who feasted on less talent and would struggle against more talented NFL defensive backs and a more complicated playbook. Up to this point in the season, Metcalf has put up respectable numbers: 525 yards, 29 reception, and 5 touchdowns. But Metcalf is getting better as the season goes on. At the beginning of the season, a lot was made about the fact that the Seattle Seahawks would just have Metcalf run go routes — which would line him up on the outside and have him run in a straight line. This took advantage of his speed and size while covering up his limited lateral movement. As the season went on, his route tree evolved and became more complex. He has lined up outside the numbers and inside at slot. His rare combination of speed and size make him both a deep threat and a go-to jump ball receiver. Metcalf has made himself into the surefire number-two option on an explosive Seahawks offense. His athletic ability, along with his improving instincts and understanding of the wide receiver position, make him a fascinating young player with a lot of potential.
Josh Jacobs was the sole running back selected in the draft back in April and he has far exceeded expectations for Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders this year. Ranking top five in the NFL in rushing yards while also leading all rookies in yards and rushing touchdowns, Jacobs has helped transform the Raiders’ offense into a legitimate force in the AFC.
Bosa could sit for the rest of the season and still win this award. His menacing presence at the defensive end position and polished repertoire of skill moves has made him one of the league’s best in just his first year.
NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Richard Sherman and Leonard Fournette
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman has worked his way back from a ruptured left Achilles to become one of the premier cover cornerbacks in the NFL. Sherman was ranked the 13th best corner through Week 5 by Pro Football Focus. After recording no takeaways in 2018, Sherman has 3 interceptions so far. He has improved across the board in 2019. In 2018, he allowed a passer rating of 100.5 on throws into his coverage. This year, it’s down to 50.6.
There are a collection of players who are well deserving of the award this year. But the turnaround Leonard Fournette has had after a disappointing sophomore year last year has been fun to watch. Fournette is top five in rushing yards, after an abysmal 439 yards last year, and has kept the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoff hunt with UDFA Gardner Minshew II at quarterback. Fournette’s offseason regimen is a big reason for this re-awakening. For three months, the star running back distanced himself from distractions in Wyoming where he trained and lost over 20 pounds, which has clearly paid its dividends.
Coach of the Year: Kliff Kingsbury and Sean Payton
Though it may feel weird to give this award to the coach of a team that is 3–6–1 and at the bottom of their division — and a coach who, arguably, failed up into an NFL head coaching job after a lackluster college career — Kliff Kingsbury deserves some credit for the job he has done with the Arizona Cardinals. Kingsbury, who worked with Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray during their time in college, was brought to Glendale to bring the air-raid system, a simple, pass-first college offense, to the NFL. The Cardinals hoped Kingsbury would do for them what Chip Kelly did for the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles. From the start, it was clear Kingsbury’s offense was struggling to work in the NFL. Not only was the Cardinals’ roster lacking talent, but it also seemed that NFL defenses were not shocked and unprepared to counter Kingsbury’s college offense. At this point, Kingsbury has done something many NFL coaches, past and present, have refused to do: adapt and change. For example, instead of stubbornly holding onto the pass-first mentality of the air-raid system, Kingsbury has begun to emphasize the Cardinals’ run game, utilizing former Pro Bowler David Johnson and more recently Kenyan Drake. Kingsbury borrows plays from other teams to augment his offense, openly admitting, “I’m probably the biggest thief of concepts and gadgetry and everything.” Kingsbury is not the best coach in the NFL and his team is bound to finish with, at best, an even record. In reality, he should be nowhere near any conversation for coach of the year. However, I believe he deserves some credit for doing something only the best do: acknowledging they are wrong and making changes to improve their team.
With many noteworthy nominees for Coach of the Year, it is hard to pick only one coach at the midway point. But what Sean Payton has been able to do with Drew Brees out for five weeks has been nothing short of amazing. Teddy Bridgewater helped the New Orleans Saints to a 5–0 record in Brees’s absence, and with Payton’s offensive play calling, the Saints remain in the hunt for a first-round bye.
Most Surprising Team:
Andrew Luck’s retirement a week before the 2019 season shocked the NFL community as a whole and many immediately wrote the Indianapolis Colts off. But Jacoby Brissett has not missed a beat, guiding the Colts to the top of the AFC Southern Division with impressive wins against the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, in which they won on the road at an always-chaotic Arrowhead Stadium.
Most Disappointing Team: Bears and Browns
Coming off a 2018 season where they won the NFC North title, the Chicago Bears sit at third place in their division. Before the season, the Bears looked like they were in position to retake their division title. Their world-beating defense remained mostly intact and head coach Matt Nagy looked like one of the more innovative offensive minds in the league. Starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky made mistakes, but he seemed to be going in the right direction. The league’s best defense in 2018 benefited from turnovers: a NFL-high 27 interceptions and 9 fumbles. Turnovers are the hardest statistic to maintain season to season, so regression for the Bears’ defense was predictable. The team also lost their defensive coordinator Victor Fangio — one of the best defensive minds in the NFL — to a head coaching position with the Denver Broncos. But the defense is not entirely responsible for the Bears’ disappointing season. The team’s offense bears most of the blame. Starter Trubisky has regressed in his third year. He has completed only 63 percent of his passes for just 5.6 yards per attempt. Trubisky regularly sails passes to open receivers and forces balls into double coverage. Trubisky’s main strength, his ability to run, has been underutilized, and Nagy’s play-calling is partially to blame for this as well. The Bears were wasting their playoff window because of Trubisky’s poor play. If the Bears want to get back to playoff contention, they need to address the quarterback position.
The Browns garnered the most hype of any team this past offseason with the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. and hopes of Mayfield finally leading the team to the playoffs. Halfway through the season, it is no secret the Browns have been an utter disaster, whether it’s Baker’s regression, Freddie Kitchens’ inept play-calling, or the lack of discipline that has led to the team leading the league in penalties. Unless the team seriously turns it around in the second half of the season, Kitchens’ time in Cleveland will likely be over.