And a rookie shall lead them for MVP

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - TEXANS EXTRA - john.mcclain@chron.com twit­ter.com/mc­clain_on_nfl JOHN McCLAIN On the Tex­ans

Se­lect­ing a mid­sea­son MVP for the Tex­ans is an easy as­sign­ment. It has to be rookie quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son, right? Even though the Tex­ans were 3-3 in Wat­son’s starts, his ac­com­plish­ments were ex­tra­or­di­nary, start­ing with his 19 touch­down passes be­ing the most in NFL history for a quar­ter­back in his first seven games.

In nearly ev­ery sur­vey of NFL mid­sea­son awards by the me­dia, Wat­son is get­ting recog­ni­tion as Of­fen­sive Rookie of the Year. That’s league, not team.

Team-wise, Wat­son is the Tex­ans’ mid­sea­son MVP.

Now the Tex­ans are find­ing out what life is like with­out their MVP, gone be­cause of sea­so­nend­ing knee surgery.

As the Tex­ans ap­proach Sun­day’s game against the Los Angeles Rams and the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing 3-6 for the first time un­der Bill O’Brien, let’s look back at the first half of the sea­son and our mid­sea­son award win­ners.

To keep in line with the As­so­ci­ated Press’ of­fi­cial All-Pro team voted on after the sea­son, we’ll keep the same awards.

The Of­fen­sive Player of the Year is re­ceiver DeAn­dre Hop­kins, who’s on a pace for 16 touch­down re­cep­tions that would shat­ter his team record of 11 set in 2015.

After missing most of pre­sea­son and a lot of train­ing camp with a bro­ken thumb, Hop­kins has been ex­cep­tional with 51 catches for 692 yards (13.6 av­er­age) and eight touch­downs.

And don’t for­get how many plays Hop­kins draws dou­ble cov­er­age.

Our De­fen­sive Player of the Year is Jade­veon Clowney, who moves ef­fort­lessly be­tween end and out­side line­backer. He leads the team with five sacks, seven quar­ter­back hits and nine tack­les for loss.

No mat­ter where he lines up or how much at­ten­tion he gets from block­ers, Clowney has been dis­rup­tive against the run and pass.

We’ve cho­sen Wat­son for our rookie award. That one was easy. Truth­fully, the De­fen­sive Rookie of the Year Award wasn’t too dif­fi­cult, ei­ther.

Top rookie on de­fense

In­side line­backer Zach Cun­ning­ham, the sec­ond-round pick from Van­der­bilt, has filled in ad­mirably for Brian Cush­ing, who was sus­pended and won’t re­turn un­til the last five games.

Cun­ning­ham wins this award over Dy­lan Cole, an un­drafted free agent who was a huge sur­prise be­fore suf­fer­ing a ham­string in­jury that has cost him the last two games and might keep him out for two more.

When asked about Cun­ning­ham, O’Brien al­ways praises him for his play against the run and in pass cov­er­age. He’s tied for fourth on the team with 34 tack­les.

Our Come­back Player of the Year is cen­ter Nick Martin. After spend­ing his rookie year on in­jured re­serve, Martin has be­come an an­chor in the mid­dle of the of­fen­sive line and has ev­ery­thing it takes to im­prove and be­come one of the best in the league at his po­si­tion.

Now, we’re go­ing to add a cat­e­gory: Spe­cial Teams Player of the Year.

There’s only one an­swer, punter Shane Lech­ler.

Lech­ler, 41 and play­ing in his 18th sea­son, has a gross av­er­age of 50.2 yards, in­clud­ing a net of 42.6. He has put 18 in­side the 20 and has only one touch­back.

At his cur­rent pace, Lech­ler will fin­ish with his best gross av­er­age since 2011 and his best net since 2009. He’s also on pace to set a ca­reer high with 36 in­side the 20 and a ca­reer low with two touch­backs.

The Tex­ans have to play the sec­ond half of their sea­son with­out Wat­son, de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt and out­side line­backer Whit­ney Mer­cilus, among oth­ers who are in­jured.

O’Brien seeks con­sis­tency

They are 12-point un­der­dogs against the sur­pris­ing Rams, who are 6-2 un­der first-year coach Sean McVay.

“I love these guys,” O’Brien said last week. “I sup­port these guys. We’ve got great vet­eran lead­er­ship.

“We’ve been dealt some blows, and our guys play hard. They show up ev­ery day and prac­tice hard. They do ev­ery­thing we ask. We can’t ask any more of our play­ers other than let’s get a lit­tle more con­sis­tent ex­e­cu­tion and the coaches — ev­ery­body — work­ing to­gether to coach bet­ter and play bet­ter.”

With so many sig­nif­i­cant play­ers missing, that might be eas­ier said than done, es­pe­cially against a white-hot team like the Rams.

Michael Cia­glo / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

OF­FEN­SIVE MVP WR DeAn­dre Hop­kins

Eric Gay / As­so­ci­ated Press

DE­FEN­SIVE MVP LB Jade­veon Clowney

Michael Cia­glo / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

MID­SEA­SON MVP QB De­shaun Wat­son

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