Plenty of can­di­dates half­way to NFL awards

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - SPORTS - BY BARRY WILNER

By the time ev­ery NFL team has played eight games, there are some heav­ily es­tab­lished favourites for The As­so­ci­ated Press NFL awards that are handed out on Su­per Bowl eve. Not this year.

MVP? Lots of can­di­dates and not just quar­ter­backs.

Coach of the Year? Nearly ev­ery divi­sion has a con­tender.

Come­back Player? Some likely Hall of Famers are in the mix there.

So the AP polled a few of the 50 vot­ers for the awards, in­clud­ing gen­uine Hall of Famer James Lofton. The theme was clear: There isn’t much clar­ity as we head into the fi­nal eight weeks of the sched­ule.

MVP

This hon­our has gone to a quar­ter­back the past five sea­sons and 10 of 11. Two run­ning backs, Adrian Peter­son in 2012 and Ladainian Tom­lin­son in 2006, broke through the QB dom­i­na­tion in the past dozen years.

Lofton and some oth­ers se­lect Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes.

“So good you just can’t take your eyes off of him,” the CBS an­a­lyst says.

“Maybe this opin­ion changes next week, given the stel­lar com­pe­ti­tion that in­cludes (Todd) Gur­ley and (Drew) Brees,” adds USA To­day’s Jar­rett Bell. “Maybe not, as the kid keeps show­ing up. A first-year starter as quar­ter­back? Hey, Ma­homes is like the new Kurt Warner.”

Paul Do­mow­itch of the Philadel­phia Daily News opts for Brees. Charean Wil­liams of Pro Foot­ball Talk prefers Gur­ley.

Don’t for­get about Tom Brady, Adam Thie­len or Philip Rivers, and per­haps even a de­fen­sive force such as J.J. Watt.

COACH

An­other wide-open field headed by, ac­cord­ing to Jenny Vrentas of Mon­day Morn­ing Quar­ter­back, Kansas City’s Andy Reid.

“I se­lected Andy Reid ... for his abil­ity to seam­lessly tran­si­tion from Alex Smith to Ma­homes,” Vrentas ex­plains. “He’s been so in­vested in Ma­homes’ de­vel­op­ment that he sits with him on the bench in be­tween of­fen­sive se­ries, go­ing over what they see and how they’ll at­tack the op­po­nent next. Reid has demon­strated an abil­ity to keep his of­fence fresh and tai­lored to his play­ers, up­dat­ing his West Coast sys­tem with spread con­cepts pulled from the col­lege ranks.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday points to last year’s win­ner, Sean Mcvay of the Rams.

“He’s one of the bright­est minds in the game, and at 32, is prov­ing not only to be a bril­liant play caller, but an ex­cep­tional leader as well,” Glauber says.

Not far be­hind in our lit­tle poll: the Saints’ Sean Pay­ton, the Tex­ans’ Bill O’brien, the Bears’ Matt Nagy, and the Charg­ers’ An­thony Lynn, whose team “plays a road game ev­ery week,” Lofton notes.

COME­BACK PLAYER

Rarely has there been such an im­pres­sive group vy­ing for an award no one re­ally wants to win con­sid­er­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of a come­back.

From Watt to Peter­son to Aaron Rodgers, from An­drew Luck to Car­son Wentz to De­shaun Wat­son, from Odell Beck­ham Jr. to Richard Sher­man - WOW!

“It’s ei­ther An­drew Luck or Watt,” says Wil­liams, “but Watt has re­turned to be­ing one of the best at his po­si­tion. He is play­ing at an All-pro and Pro Bowl level. Luck is not one of the top-five quar­ter­backs in the NFL and maybe not in the top 10.”

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports goes for the Colts quar­ter­back.

“Can’t imag­ine the frus­tra­tion he’s faced,” Adelson says. “A pro’s pro.”

Vrentas picks Watt.

“The surgery Watt had last Oc­to­ber to put his leg back to­gether af­ter a tib­ial plateau frac­ture was so com­pli­cated that the sur­geons couldn’t even be cer­tain that it would work, and that his leg would be able to bear the full weight of his body while run­ning full speed,” she ex­plains. “Watt, who has nine sacks in nine games, was un­de­terred. He wasn’t back to full strength in the sea­son opener but has steadily got­ten bet­ter each week, a scary thought for op­po­nents.”

OF­FEN­SIVE PLAYER

An­other free-for-all, with Gur­ley, Ma­homes, Thie­len, Brees, Michael Thomas and James Con­ner get­ting con­sid­er­a­tion.

“Be­fore it’s done, he could wind up as MVP,” Bell says of Gur­ley, his choice in this cat­e­gory. “Ditto for Brees. Run­ning backs don’t get the same love as quar­ter­backs in the pass-cen­tric en­vi­ron­ment of the NFL. But if Gur­ley breaks Ladainian Tom­lin­son’s sin­gle-sea­son TD record and the Rams keep win­ning big, peo­ple will have to take no­tice. Then again, Brees has a few records and has never been MVP.”

Do­mow­itch, a Brees sup­porter for MVP, puts Ma­homes here. So does Wil­liams.

DE­FEN­SIVE PLAYER

This cat­e­gory could be a twohorse race be­tween a pair of thor­ough­breds pre­vi­ously hon­oured with the award: Aaron Don­ald and Watt.

“Now that’s a man who don’t need no stink­ing train­ing camp,” Bell says of Don­ald.

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports prefers Don­ald, as well.

“A game wrecker on ev­ery down,” Adelson says.

Adds Glauber: “Don­ald is a dis­rup­tive force in the mid­dle and al­ready has 10 sacks. The only prob­lem for him - and the Rams - is that teams will of­ten go to great lengths to shut him down. Thus, the con­stant dou­ble teams he has to fight through.”

Lofton likes what Khalil Mack has done in Chicago: “Mack turned the Bears from pre­tenders to con­tenders.” But this train could be a run­away for Don­ald and Mack.

OF­FEN­SIVE ROOKIE

No con­test.

“He’s the only good thing go­ing for an aw­ful Gi­ants team,” Glauber says of Gi­ants RB Saquon Barkley. “Un­til the Gi­ants fig­ure out their quar­ter­back sit­u­a­tion, he’ll be wasted in this of­fence.”

But not lost in the awards prog­nos­ti­ca­tions.

“On pace for more than 2,000 to­tal yards - on a bad team,” Adelson notes.

DE­FEN­SIVE ROOKIE

Charg­ers safety Der­win James has got­ten lots of love, but there’s no run­away leader.

“Dar­ius Leonard and Den­zel Ward make this an in­ter­est­ing race for the award down the stretch,” Wil­liams says.

Glauber leans to Leonard: “Half­way through the sea­son, he not only led all NFL rook­ies with 88 tack­les, he led all NFL play­ers in that cat­e­gory. He also has four sacks and three forced fum­bles and has al­ready won de­fen­sive rookie of the week hon­ours twice.”

AP PHOTO

Kansas City Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes will gar­ner plenty of at­ten­tion for the MVP award this sea­son.

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