Welcome to the second annual NFL awards on this blog. Here’s to many more. We have a strong list of candidates for this year’s prizes after what has been a contentious, drama-filled and, at times, quizzical regular season. These nominees demonstrated the best their sport had to offer. We begin this year’s ceremony with the newcomers, the members who have burst onto the season as innovators and prodigies of the sport.
And the nominees are…
Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Redskins
58 receptions for 919 yards, 15.8 ypr, 7 TDs
The Ohio State product was one of the year’s first breakout candidates. In his first five career games, McLaurin registered 23 receptions for 408 yards and 5 TDs. His numbers began to regress once quarterbacks started going in and out of the starting rotation in Washington but we’d seen a glimpse of what McLaurin was capable of in a rebuilding scenario. Imagine what he can do when the Redskins build a team around him.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
242 carries for 1,150 yards, 4.8 ypc, 7 TDs, 20 receptions for 166, 8.3 ypr, 1,316 yards from scrimmage
I always come clean when I’m wrong.
I did not like Jacobs’ tape out of Alabama. He didn’t have elite burst or eye-raising quickness nor did he possess overbearing strength. Jacobs was good at a lot of things but he didn’t seem particularly great at any one thing. I also found his limited reps in Tuscaloosa concerning.
This was one of the worst misses of my life. Jacobs started off with a bang, amassing 100 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in the opener, the first player to do so since the great LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001. All Jacobs did through 2019 was force 69 missed tackles, the most by a rookie according to Pro Football Focus and become the focal point of a bruising Raiders rushing attack, amassing over 1,100 yards in 13 games. Had it not been for injuries, Jacobs might have battled for the rushing title. For the first time since Carr’s career year (earned my MVP vote that campaign), the Raiders looked like a legitimate football team and the drafting of a running back few had a strong first-round grade on made all the difference.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
349/542 for 3,722 yards, 64.4%, 6.9 ypa, 20 TDs, 12 INTs, 55.8 QBR, 93 carries for 544 yards, 5.8 ypc, 4 TDs
Kyler Murray came into a firesale situation. No one expected the Cardinals to be good this year and they weren’t but Kyler was. He had growing pains but a few times each Sunday, you’d see a play that demonstrated the talent valuation of a first-round pick.
Murray was a versatile athlete throughout the season, doing a young Russell Wilson impression much of the year as he did his best to squeak away from a constantly crumbling backfield. Kliff Kingsbury’s first year in Arizona was raw and certainly had some questionable decisions, including one of the league’s worst red-zone offenses and a ppg average of 22.6 (16th) but the Air Raid scheme itself has a storied track record of success. Even if Kliff turns out not to be the guy, Kyler certainly is.
A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
52 receptions for 1,051 yards, 20.2 ypr, 8 TDs
Half of the gym rat duo from Ole Miss was one of 26 receivers to cap 1,000 yards this season. Brown also tied for eighth in 20+ yard receptions with 15 and finished sixth among receivers in yards after the catch (463).
It’s been quite a while since there was a dominant receiver in Nashville. The Titans have had one of the worst receiving corps in football over the last two decades. There are multiple years during this span none of their WRs finished top-50 (4!) The last WR to net 1000 for TEN was Kendall Wright in 2013 (also Nate Washington in 2011) but to find a Titans receiver who finished top-ten in yardage, you have to turn the clocks all the way back to 2004. Derrick Mason finished 15th with 1,168 yards that season but it was Drew Bennett (there’s a forgotten name) who finished in the top-ten, totaling 1,247. The quarterback that year? A duo of Steve McNair and Billy Volek.)
The Titans, finally, might have found their guy. Now, about that quarterback…
Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
285/470 for 3,271 yards, 60.6%, 7.0 ypa, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 42.6 QBR, 67 carries for 344, 5.1 ypc, 12 fumbles
Speaking of the Air Raid, Gardner Minshew played quarterback at Washington State where Air Raid figurehead Mike Leach called home. Minshew, under Leach’s guidance, took the program to a 10-2 regular season mark, tying a school record.
At the beginning of the season, QB Nick Foles goes down with a broken collarbone in his first start after signing a contract to be the franchise quarterback and sixth-round selection Minshew is thrust into the spotlight.
Minshew would start with a 9/1 TD/INT split and end the year with a 21/6 ratio. The Jaguars developed an air attack for the first time since I don’t even know.
(Blake Bortles actually threw for over 4400 yards and 35 TDs in 2015, albeit 18 INTs. Before that? It’s been a while. You have to wade through the Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert years to 2008 when David Garrard threw for 3,620 yards but he also only threw 15 TDs to 13 INTs. The year before that though, in 2007? 18/3.)
Minshew Mania took over the sports world for a few weeks. Minshew’s play did take a noticeable dip in the second half of the season (He lost 12 (!) fumbles) but between Minshew and receivers D.J. Chark, Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook, the Jaguars looked like an offense no longer playing with a handicap.
And the Oscar goes to…
Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
A few years ago, Josh Jacobs, his siblings and father were homeless. Now look where is he. In addition to a year that deserves recognition, Jacobs’ journey deserves applause as well.
I still have questions regarding his long speed and ability to accelerate but Jacobs displayed deceptive quickness and rock-like strength this year. He is by far the team’s most valuable player going forward. Where the Jacobs’ train goes, the now Las Vegas Raiders go.
2018: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants