NFL

MVP, Coach of the Year... Who's leading the race for NFL awards?

At the midway stage of the 2021 NFL regular season, we take a look at who's leading the running for end-of-year individual honours.

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MVP, Coach of the Year... Who's leading the race for NFL awards?
Sean Gardner AFP

We’re now at the halfway stage of the 2021 NFL season. We know what has gone before, but we have no idea what awaits us in the next nine weeks of a regular season that has 18 slots in the calendar and sees each team play 17 games.

And when it comes to the NFL, the only thing we can predict is that it will be unpredictable.

Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but you only have to look at what happened on Sunday. With a pack of favourites heading into Week 9 in top form, the stars aligned and they all lost. Most notably, the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills came unstuck, but the Los Angeles Rams also disappointed, going down at home to the Tennessee Titans.

They’re all contenders and I haven’t lost faith in any of them, but I believe these defeats have served to sow some doubts.

That, though, is a subject for another article, because what brings us here today is the traditional stock take that we make each year in AS at the midway point of the campaign, to see who is leading the race for the end-of-season individual honours.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kliff Kingsbury

To consolidate his position at the head of the charge for the Coach of the Year award, Kingsbury led his Arizona Cardinals to victory on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, despite being without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, his two most important offensive assets.

With an 8-1 record, Arizona lead the way in the NFC, thanks to a spectacular season by Murray and a defence that is the second best on third downs (31.73%) and third in the league with an average of 17.2 points surrendered per game.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury (right) and quarterback Kyler Murray look on during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Cooper Kupp

The Rams wide receiver is enjoying his best ever season in the NFL and has, by some distance, been the stand-out player in his position so far in 2021.

After nine weeks, Kupp leads the NFL in total targets (103), catches (74), yards (1,1019) and touchdowns (10).

Kupp has been the chief beneficiary of the Rams’ signing of quarterback Matthew Stafford and, in his fifth season in the league, is on course for his first All-Pro selection.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

T.J. Watt

Although Myles Garrett has half a sack more than Watt (11.5), the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has again shown himself to be the most versatile defensive player in the NFL.

Added to his haul of sacks are 11 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hits, four passes defended, three forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered.

Watt is the leader of a defence which, little by little, is recovering its identity as one of the league’s most dominant.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Ja'Marr Chase

Joe Burrow’s best buddy quickly shook off a poor preseason and, in the first half of the regular season, this wide receiver has put on quite a show for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chase is third in the NFL with 835 yards, averaging 18.98 yards per ball caught, and is fourth in the league with seven touchdowns.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones also has to be in the conversation, but it’s Chase who, as things stand, is in pole position for the award.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Micah Parsons

The New York Giants’ Azeez Ojulari has a higher average sack rate (5.5 to 5), but Parsons has registered 14 quarterback hits, double Ojulari’s tally.

The Dallas Cowboys linebacker also has 10 tackles for loss and two passes defended.

However, he needs to be more disciplined and consistent, because there are plays in which it’s noticeable that he has more to give.

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

Steve Keim

The Cardinals’ general manager picked up a number of experienced free agents who have had an immediate impact, such as J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, James Conner and even quarterback Colt McCoy, who successfully understudied for Murray in Sunday’s win in San Francisco.

Away from the media spotlight that other teams enjoy, Keim has built one of the best rosters in the NFC, although true success will only be achieved if the Cardinals can make it back to the Super Bowl.

MVP

Tom Brady

The NFL’s ‘Benjamin Button’ is second in attempted passes (343), completed passes (231) and passing yards (2,650), and leads the league with 25 touchdown passes.

The quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the reigning NFL champions, said during training camp that with better chemistry between him and his wide receivers, he could surpass his achievements of 2020.

With the return of the injured Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s arsenal will be complete - and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.

Let the second half of the season begin! I can’t wait.