NFL mid-season awards: Watkins leads rookie chase

As we approach the midpoint of the 2014 NFL season, it’s time to start handing out the hardware. Instead of our weekly takeaways, we decided to take a full look back at the first eight weeks of the year.

Some of these trophies are bound to switch hands down the stretch, but here is the mid-season edition of Sportsnet’s NFL awards:

Most valuable player:

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos — Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers were in consideration, but Manning is the choice. It seems too obvious, but the Broncos quarterback is in the midst of another special season. Manning leads the league in passing yards per attempt and is tied for first (with Luck) in touchdown passes. What makes Manning special is his ability to elevate the people around him and his work with receiver Emmanuel Sanders has been outstanding. The Broncos couldn’t function in nearly the same capacity without Manning.

Honourable mention: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Offensive player of the year:

DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys — Thanks to a revamped offensive line, Murray has been the driving force of the Cowboys’ stunning 6-2 start. The running back has rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games. Murray leads the league with 1,054 rushing yards, which is an astounding 288 yards more than any other running back.

Honourable mention: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Defensive player of the year:

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans — This one isn’t even a debate. J.J. Watt has been so dominant this season, he should be in the MVP discussion. Watt has seven sacks, seven pass deflections, a forced fumble, and 32 tackles this season — which are absurd numbers for a defensive lineman but stats don’t do him justice. Watt is a force in every possible way — and he even scores touchdowns. He has two this year.

Honourable mention: Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

Offensive rookie of the year:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills — How often does a Bills first-round pick work out this well? Watkins is the real deal, though. The game-breaking wideout ranks 12th in the league in receiving yards, 20th in yards per reception, and is tied for 12th in touchdown catches with five. He’s slightly ahead of Carolina’s impressive rookie, Kelvin Benjamin, in most of those categories (they’re tied in touchdowns), so he gets the edge for now.

Honourable mention: Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

Defensive rookie of the year:

C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens — Mosley has seamlessly transitioned into the NFL at the middle linebacker spot. His value was obvious against Cincinnati last Sunday, registering 13 total tackles (eight solo) and a key interception that could have set them up for the winning score. In total, Mosley is playing at a Pro Bowl level with 76 tackles in eight games – good for fourth in the league – and has added two interceptions as well.

Honourable mention: Khalil Mack, LB Oakland Raiders

Coach of the year:

Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals — This is another no doubter. The Cardinals have the best record in the NFC and have overcome a number of devastating injuries in the process. Imagine how good this team would be if defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell were healthy. Arians’ personality and gutsy play calling have been a perfect fit for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer.

Honourable mention: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

Most improved player:

Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions — Those who watched Golden Tate closely in Seattle knew how talented he was, but now it’s clear that the Seahawks’ run-first offence was holding him back. This season, Tate ranks in the top five in both receptions and receiving yards and is already less than 100 yards from exceeding his career high. He makes game-changing plays on a weekly basis and he’s doing a lot of this with top receiver Calvin Johnson on the shelf. It’s clear that Tate has been the best free-agent pickup of the off-season.

Honourable mention: Emmanuel Sanders, WR Denver Broncos

Least valuable player:

Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets — Where do we even begin? Smith has regressed in an ugly fashion in his sophomore season. The Jets quarterback is averaging less than six yards per pass, less than a touchdown per game, and has already thrown double-digit interceptions. His play has been so abysmal that Jets fans are clamouring for the days of Mark Sanchez. Maybe not that bad, but Smith’s awful performance is the primary reason why New York has a 1-7 record at the midway point. That’s why he’s riding the bench going forward.

Honourable mention: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Oakland Raiders

Next coach to be fired:

Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons — Usually at the halfway mark of the season, the award is for the first coach to be fired but the Raiders already took home that prize. So as we look ahead, the next best bet has to be in Atlanta where Mike Smith’s team is crumbling at the seams. He has to be on the hot seat after blowing a 21-0 lead to a Detroit team without Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson in London but the team’s issues are bigger than that. He has a record of just 6-18 since reaching the NFC Championship two years ago and has made several head-scratching coaching decisions over the course of the season. They have lost their identity and it’s time for Arthur Blank to head in a new direction.

Honourable mention: Rex Ryan, New York Jets

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