As the Indianapolis Colts kneeled down to book their place in the playoffs, they also ran out the clock on the 2018 regular season on Sunday night.
We were treated to season-arching storylines, fraught with drama, excitement, and a man called Patrick Mahomes.
As always, the end of the year means it’s time to hand out some awards.
We’ve gathered the Read American Football writing team to explore who might be taking home some hardware for their efforts in 2018.
We have had our say on the winners of the Coach of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Executive of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Most Valuable Player.
Joining us for this one is Tristan Fitzpatrick, David Howell, George Butler, Alan Cole, Tyler Arthur, Alex Murray, and myself, Sam Brown.
Coach of the Year
Tristan Fitzpatrick: Andy Reid took an undoubtedly talented Patrick Mahomes, and made him an MVP candidate. Mahomes is essentially a rookie; he only threw the ball 35 times last season. The defense is average, they lost their running back midseason, and yet they have the best record in the AFC. Kudos to rookie head coaches Frank Reich and Matt Nagy, but Reid shouldn’t be overlooked just because he’s a veteran. He did the best coaching job.
David Howell: Putting together the best record in the AFC with your best defensive player basically out of the picture? Take a bow, Andy Reid.
George Butler: This is a hard choice as there is at least four or five worthy candidates here but I’m giving the nod to Frank Reich. To turn around a Colts roster that most of us deemed as one of the least talented and inexperienced rosters in the NFL is one thing, but to have them in the playoffs and looking at least for now as a contender is remarkable. Of course, it helps having Andrew Luck as your quarterback, but he’s got the offensive line playing as an elite unit, turned around Eric Ebron’s career path, all while getting his young defense to play lights out. Not bad for a guy who was the Colts’ second choice.
Alan Cole: I’m going to go a little bit off the board here and take Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers. They went 11-2 in their final 13 games and he’s pulled off some amazing wins this year, the biggest of all coming in the last-second win against Kansas City on his two-point conversion call. He’s got them rolling towards the playoffs where they’ll be a very tough out.
Tyler Arthur: Frank Reich – I know that there were some great efforts this year, but this particular, last-minute, appointment has done a great job to build up what was an uninspiring team, into a now playoff team. In the preseason everyone was excited to see the return of Andrew Luck, but nobody expected such a transformation in the defense and the run game alongside the returning star QB.
Sam Brown: I like Alan’s pick here. So I’ll copy him and say Anthony Lynn. The Chargers have long been ridiculed as a team who are prone to beating themselves, but (save for a few games at the start of the season) his unit were highly professional when it came to closing games out. It’s not an easy environment, in that tiny stadium with next-to-no fans, so that’s why Lynn deserves this award in my book.
Comeback Player of the Year
TF: Andrew Luck. It feels like it’s been a decade but finally we have Luck back. I infamously predicted he’d be the 2015 MVP. I genuinely never thought we’d see Luck play in the NFL again, and when he did start the season, I didn’t think he’d be able to throw the ball. So glad to be wrong….again.
DH: Everyone’s going to say Luck and rightly so, but let’s not forget J.J. Watt also had his career in legitimate doubt for multiple seasons to then come back at an elite level; most years, he’d be a mortal lock for this. Make sure you appreciate the Luck-Watt battle every time it happens, because it looked like it never would again.
GB: Andrew, next. There isn’t any other player I’d consider for this award over Andrew Luck, who a year ago was on the shelf and we were wondering whether he’d ever be able to play the position effectively ever again. Despite a rough start, Luck ended finishing the year with a career completion percentage of 67.3, 39 touchdowns and his best quarterback rating of his career with 98.7. All this coming off a year out with a shoulder issue to his throwing arm and a make shift receiving core of Ryan Grant, Dontrelle Inman, Eric Ebron and of course TY Hilton. Despite a 1-5 start, ‘Captain’ Luck led the Colts to a 10-6 finish and a playoff berth for the first time in four years. No one else is worthier of this award.
AC: Again, this one is a lock. Andrew Luck got the Colts to 10-6 and back in the playoffs after missing all of 2017.
TA: Andrew Luck – As I explained in my Reich pick, the Colts may as well be the comeback _team_ of the year, and they were fronted by Andrew Luck, the most difficult man in all of football to hate. Literally just days before the season started people were still questioning whether Luck would even see the field this season, and now he has finished the year with 4,600 yards and 39 Touchdowns, leading the Colts to the playoffs.
SB: It’s just Andrew Luck, isn’t it. I can’t say anything more than these boys here.
Executive of the Year
TF: Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears. Last to first. Team improvements are what you hire a GM for and there hasn’t been a more improved team. He drafted Mitchell Trubisky, hired Matt Nagy and traded for Khalil Mack. Need I say more?
DH: It has to be Ryan Pace for his job in Chicago. Exploiting the Raiers’ mess isn’t the hardest job, but it’s worth noting that they likely paid barely more than one late first-round pick to get Khalil Mack, as their 2020 first is offset by a 2020 second from the nomadic Raiers, who have no home, no D, and no shot of that pick being outside the top 40. It’s an even better trade than you think it was, and Pace did much else right with his moves this year.
GB: Arguably worthy of this title for the Khalil Mack trade alone, Ryan Pace has transformed this Chicago Bears team into a legit contender in the NFC. Adding Mack to already good group led the Bears to projected into elite status with 27 turnovers, 50 sacks and just five rushing touchdowns allowed all year. Not only did Pace nail that trade but also landed on his first three draft picks. First-round pick Roquan Smith led the ‘Monsters of the Midway’ in tackles, second-round receiver Anthony Miller led the team in touchdown grabs with seven while fellow second-rounder James Daniels stepped in midway through the season and was part of the unit that allowed the second fewest quarterback hits in the league. I still haven’t mentioned the free agent trio of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton who made up three of Chicago’s top four receiving yard leaders.
AC: It has to be Ryan Pace. If you trade for Khalil Mack and also get a second round pick back, you win this award 100 times out of 100.
TA: Ryan Pace – The Chicago Bears have undoubtedly seen one of the biggest transformations of the season, as a team, but this isn’t just because of Matt Nagy, as some people seem to think. It isn’t just a fresh offensive scheme that has ascended the Chi-town team, their defense has been absolutely phenomenal, and that is largely down to the personnel changes, headlined by Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, and of course Khalil Mack. The Khalil Mack trade alone is enough to fight for this award, but when you combine that with the efforts on offense and being able to facilitate Matt Nagy so successfully earns Pace this award for me.
SB: Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts. I appreciate the Ryan Pace claims, but Ballard has entirely transformed this team. Once well-known for having one of the worst offensive lines in the league, two Colts rookies – Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith – both graded in the top five rookie offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus’ measurements. Luck had all day to throw, and things are looking brighter for next year too – the Colts will have three picks in the top 50 in next year’s draft.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
TF: Saquon Barkley: 5 yards per attempt, 2028 all purpose yards, 11 TDs. He’s a top 5 running back in the league. Baker Mayfield is NOT a top 5 QB. Yet he made little difference to the Giants record. Individually he deserves this award, collectively the Giants should have taken a QB.
DH: Welcome to the era of Cleveland Browns relevance. Regards, Baker Mayfield. I’m having my music performed professionally within walking distance of the Browns facility next month (shameless plug!) and it feels weird to think that if it goes down terribly I won’t be able to reach for a current Browns young QB reference.
GB: A two-horse race between #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and coincidentally the guy who went off the board with the very next pick, Saquon Barkley. Both showed this year why they were chosen so high respectively with Mayfield leading a resurgent Browns team that almost seemed to be cursed at the quarterback position until the former Oklahoma Sooner came along. With over 3,000 yards, 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 96.2, it finally looks as though the Browns have their guy to end the ‘factory of sadness’ era. However, I’m going to give the award to Barkley. While Mayfield looked like a franchise quarterback for just over half the season, Barkley looked like an elite running back all year. Over 1300 rushing yards and eleven touchdowns while averaging 5 yards per rush is a stat line that we expect from the Ezekiel Elliots of this world, not a rookie playing behind a bottom 10 offensive line. Barkley ripped off 16 runs of 20 yards or more which led the league and was near enough the only reason worth watching the Giants this year.
AC: No question about it, Baker Mayfield. He was the best quarterback to come out of the 2018 draft class, and resurrected Cleveland’s franchise after going 1-31 in the two previous seasons.
TA: Saquon Barkley – This is an easy one. Shoutout to my boy Baker, but Saquon Barkley was absolutely elite in his rookie season. It’s terrible to think that the Giants probably shouldn’t have picked him, but good lord he was good. One of only three rookies in history to record over 2,000 all-purpose yards, he is an absolutely incredible talent, and will be considered one of the best running backs in the NFL for years to come.
SB: Baker takes this one for me. Mainly to spite Colin Cowherd.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
TF: Darius Leonard. It’s hard not to get caught up in the Colts’ narrative. I’m not as day-dreamy as others, but like Luck, Leonard just deserves this. 111 solo tackles, 7 sacks at linebacker is amazing considering fellow rookie Bradley Chubb had 12 as a DE. Huge year.
DH: There are numerous good options here. I’ll take the homer pick of Derwin James seeing as I am one of the ten Chargers fans, but if people decide to go “ooh tackle stats!” and pick Darius Leonard I am not going to complain because he was in fact that good.
GB: Another award, another Indianapolis Colt. Darius Leonard is my pick for defensive rookie of the year almost based on the sheer amount of tackles he made alone. His 163 tackles led the league (and he even missed a game) but it would be naïve to ignore the other facets of Leonard’s game that make him worthy of this award. 12 of those 163 tackles were for a loss while he also forced four fumbles, recovering two. Leonard is a huge factor in elevating one of the worst defenses in the NFL into a group that ranks 11th in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed. Just to add some perspective, they ranked 30th in both categories last year. He may not have made the Pro Bowl, but he’s bestowed with this greater honour.
AC: I’ll double down on my love for the Chargers and go with Derwin James. That was the steal of the draft at 17th overall, and he’s proved it by playing in all 16 games and leading the Chargers in tackles and interceptions.
TA: Darius Leonard – I think it’s safe to say the Colts had a good year, and yet again I have a Colt winning this award. Darius Leonard lead the league in tackles as a rookie – the first to do this since Luke Kuechly’s first season – with 163, a Colt’s franchise high. On top of the huge tackling numbers he had 7 sacks and six forced turnovers (2 picks and four forced fumbles). He could be a truly top-tier linebacker for many seasons to come, amongst a revitalised Colts D.
SB: Darius ‘Maniac’ Leonard. ‘Tackles’ are a flawed stat, but when you’ve got over 160 on a decent defense, it has to mean something. Factor in the sacks, interceptions, and forced fumbles, and this man looked like a straight All-Pro his first year in the league.
Offensive Player of the Year
TF: Patrick Mahomes. Though it may end up as a consolation to the MVP. He attempted more passes, completed more passes, threw more touchdowns, had more yards, was sacked more and didn’t have the safety blanket of Alvin Kamara that Drew Brees did.
DH: A distinction here: I like to lean into the distinction between this award and MVP by making MVP the player responsible for the most added wins – which will always be a QB – and use this for the flat-out best offensive player even if he couldn’t add as much value. I’ll go for George Kittle for putting up over 1,350 yards with a QB carousel in a Shanahan offense that historically made way more use of the X receiver than the TE, but I could’ve picked Hopkins or Thomas just as easily. All three were absurdly good at their jobs.
GB: Patrick Mahomes was simply scintillating this year, breaking all sorts of records for the Kansas City Chiefs all while in his first year as a starter. Mahomes proved to be the exact antithesis of his predecessor Alex Smith as he slung the football through the air to the tune of 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions. Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback to throw for as many yards and touchdowns in the same season, and he won the MVP that year. At just 23 years old, Mahomes is playing the position at an absurdly high level which makes it scarier to think of how Mahomes will improve with age and as he begins to fine tune his play. Blessed with a dangerous receiving core in Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce, Mahomes has shredded every defense in his path this year and it is still within his ability to lead KC to the Super Bowl and I wouldn’t bet against him.
AC: The most electrifying player in the league this year was Patrick Mahomes. Over 5,000 yards, 50 touchdowns, and the road to the Super Bowl on the AFC side runs through Arrowhead Stadium largely thanks to him.
TA: Drew Brees – The MVP race is very close this year but I think there is only one winner for that – but I had to honour my #2 with the Offensive Player OTY award. Drew Brees had a very impressive season, with his trademark accuracy absolutely terrorising defenses across the league. Michael Thomas and Brees are a terrifying combination, to say the least, and Sean Payton is having a whale of a time with his creative and aggressive playcalling, entrusting that Brees can lead the team into the playoffs – I could really see a Saints Super Bowl on the cards if they keep their regular season momentum going.
SB: I agree with Dave that we can save a certain award for Monsieur Mahomes, so I’ll give this award to Michael Thomas. He became the most reliable completion in football down in New Orleans, and one of the most stunning players to watch. It was between Mike and DeAndre Hopkins for me here, and not a decision I take lightly.
Defensive Player of the Year
TF: Aaron Donald. This award may become automatic. 20.5 sacks as an interior lineman is just a mind-boggling feat. 24 tackles for loss is the eighth-best in the history of the sport. If he was an edge rusher he would win the award, the fact he plays inside just makes it a no-brainer. Hat-tip to Kyle Fuller and Leonard though.
DH: Aaron Donald. thank u, next
GB: As much as I’d love to give this award to Khalil Mack for transforming the Chicago Bears defense into the most fearsome unit in the league, you just cannot ignore Aaron Donald. Leading the league in sacks (20.5) and coming so close to breaking the single season sack record from the defensive tackle position is nothing short of incredible. We all knew how good Aaron Donald was before this year, but in 2018 he made a statement that he deserves to be in the conversation of an all-time great. The Rams defense may not have performed up to their lofty expectations, you fear it may have been a lot worse without Aaron Donald’s pressure on every single snap. Despite facing the highest percentage of double teams from his opponents in the league, led the league in sacks, pressures and quarterback hits.
AC: This was maybe the toughest award to sort through with the likes of Khalil Mack and J.J. Watt dominating throughout the year, but I’m going with Aaron Donald. The 20.5 sacks puts him tied for seventh for sacks in a season in NFL history. He’s the biggest game wrecker in the league and deserves the award for that.
TA: Aaron Donald -This isn’t difficult. Aaron Donald joins the growing list of Rams superstars who people say should win the MVP but won’t because it’s a QB’s award. With an impressive 59 tackles (the second highest in his career) alongside his astronomic 20.5 sacks. He is by far the most dominant defensive player in the league, and he was only 2 sacks short of breaking the all-time record. Donald is absolutely incredible.
SB: They’ll rename this ‘The Aaron Donald Award’ one day.
TF: This was the hardest decision. Patrick Mahomes edges it, not because Drew Brees couldn’t be MVP, but because maybe he didn’t need to be as much as Mahomes did. Brees has the numbers and the skill but he simply didn’t throw the ball as much 489-580 attempts and 32-50 TDs. FIFTY touchdowns, that’s unquestionably valuable.
DH: If this is taken literally it has to be made in terms of wins above replacement, so which of the top QBs added the most of those? It’s Mahomes vs Brees for sure, and I’m going to go with Drew Brees given that he earned his team the 1 seed with time to spare and didn’t have much more defensive help than Mahomes, who’ll probably win this several times in the 2020s anyway at this rate.
GB: The most valuable player award should be awarded to a player who has not only performed to an exceptional level throughout the season but to a player whose team would simply not be able to function at the same standard without them. And for that reason, the MVP should be Drew Brees. Yes, Mahomes may have thrown for more yards, more touchdowns and perhaps been the more exciting offensive player to watch, but Drew Brees has led the New Orleans Saints to the best record in the NFL with his surgical level of play and his pure passing ability. Brees completed an almost unbelievable 74.4% of his passes this year (which is an NFL record) while also achieving a 115.7 quarterback rating. But this isn’t just about the stats. It’s about throwing four touchdown passes to almost unheard guys in one game. I mean no disrespect to Tommy Lewis, Austin Carr, Dan Arnold and Keith Kirkwood but this just highlights how good Brees really is and why he deserves the award as the MVP.
AC: Recycle what I said for offensive player of the year and put it here. It’s all about Patrick Mahomes here.
TA: Patrick Mahomes – Patrick Mahomes is the player I hate to love. He is so freaking good. I am a Raiders fan, but I love this kid. His technique, his confidence, his ability to throw on the run – he is truly elite, and he’s only a year older than me. In his first season as a starter he put up numbers reserved for the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Dan Marino – finishint with 5,100 yards and 52 total Touchdowns… What an absolute chap.
SB: Patrick Mahomes was something else this season. As Tristan pointed out to me privately, whilst Brees could have put these numbers up, he just didn’t.