Jan 062014
 

Kiko Alonso2013 saw some outstanding performances among defensive rookies, and we have nominated eight for the award won by Luke Kuechly last season. This year’s nominees include (in alphabetical order):

Kiko Alonso, BUF (6-10, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT)
Jarvis Jones, PIT (8-8, 40 tackles, 1 sack)
Star Lotulelei, CAR (12-4, 42 tackles, 3 sacks)
Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (10-6, 68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Alec Ogletree, STL (7-9, 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (8-8, 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
Logan Ryan, NE (12-4, 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 INT, 1 TD)
Desmond Trufant, ATL (4-12, 70 tackles, 2 INT)

This award generated a wide variety of opinions among our contributors, as three different players accumulated first place votes, and one player who received a second place vote and three third place votes didn’t make the final cut (Logan Ryan), nor did another player who received a first place vote (Star Lotulelei). When all the votes are tallied, here are the top three vote winners:

Third Place: Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree led a resurgent Rams’ defense with 117 tackles while forcing six fumbles. Ogletree also returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, had a sack and a half and ten pass breakups. The first round sellection from the University of Georgia, coupled with defensive end Robert Quinn, give Jeff Fisher a solid defensive nucleus entering the 2014 season.

Second Place: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, New York Jets (2 1st place votes)

One of our two selections from the AFC East, Richardson single-handedly made new GM John Idzik look pretty bright this season, as the budding star dominated the line of scrimmage and was a force against opposition running games. Despite being a rookie and joining a very talented defensive front, Richardson proved to be arguably the best defensive player on the Jets’ roster. Richardson closed the season with 76 tackles and three and a half sacks.

First Place: Kiko Alonso, linebacker, Buffalo Bills (4 1st place votes)

Jets’ fans may disagree, but we agree with Mel Kiper on this one. Alonso was the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2013, nearly on par with Kuechly’s performance in 2012. Alonso recorded 159 tackles in 2013, while helping the Bills improve to the tenth ranked offense (in defensive yards allowed). The secondary proved to be the bane of Buffalo’s defensive unit, but Alonso quickly established himself as a dominant and disruptive presence, picking off four passes while breaking up another nine, and tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Alonso finished third in the league in tackles, behind only Vontaze Burfict and Paul Posluszny.

Feb 032013
 

NFL AwardsSuddenly our picks for the post-season awards aren’t looking so far off of the mark.

The NFL announced it’s post-season award winners last night, and we have a recap of the award winners, along with the Gridiron Rats recipient.Um… yeah… we might have pretty well.

Here’s a summary of the award winners.

PetersonMOST VALUABLE PLAYER –  ADRIAN PETERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – ADRIAN PETERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Adrian Peterson was elected the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, gaining 30.5 of the 50 votes cast by an Associated Press group of NFL writers. Coming off an ACL tear in December 2011, Peterson fell just nine yards short of the single-season rushing record, gaining 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. Peterson also captured honors for offensive player of the year, capturing 36 of the 50 first place votes. Peterson is only the third player to win both the MVP and the player of the year honors in a single season, joining Alan Page and Fran Tarkenton.

For the MVP voting, Peyton Manning received 19.5 first place votes. For the Offensive Player of the Year, Peterson finished ahead of Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Calvin Johnson.

Gridiron Rats also gave both awards to Peterson.

JJ WattDEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – JJ WATT, HOUSTON TEXANS

JJ Watt won the Defensive Player of the Year award Saturday night, with a near unanimous 49 out of 50 first place votes (Von Miller got the lone dissenting vote). Watt had a monster season with 20.5 sacks and 16 pass deflections, to go along with 81 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. There is little question that “JJ Swatt” was the league’s most disruptive defensive player in 2012.

Not surprisingly, the Gridiron Rats award went to Watt as well. (That’s 3 for 3 if you’re keeping score at home)

Robert-Griffin-IIIOFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – ROBERT GRIFFIN III, WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Perhaps our most controversial pick, Griffin earned the AP’s recognition with an impressive rookie campaign as he helped transform the Washington Redskins into a playoff team for the first time since 2006. Griffin landed 29 of the 50 first place votes, followed by Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Griffin finished the season with 3,200 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, only five interceptions, and he ran for another 815 yards and seven touchdowns.

We are now four for four, as the Gridiron Rats award went to Griffin as well.

Luke KuechlyDEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – LUKE KUECHLY, CAROLINA PANTHERS

Luke Kuechly picked up 28 of 50 first place votes to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Kuechly tallied 164 tackles as a rookie, to go along with one sack, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and eight passes defensed. Kuechly received the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month award in December, recording a league-high 59 tackles over the final five games of the season. Bobby Wagner of Seattle finished second with 11 first place votes, followed by Casey Heyward, Janoris Jenkins, and Lavonte David.

Kuechly also got the nod from Gridiron Rats, meaning we are five for five. Sensing a trend yet?

ManningCOMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR – PEYTON MANNING, DENVER BRONCOS

Anyone who thought Peyton Manning’s best days were behind him proved to be very wrong in 2012, as Manning returned from four neck surgeries and a missed 2011 campaign to lead the Broncos to a 13-3 record and first seed in the AFC playoffs. Manning threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 105.8. Manning beat out Adrian Peterson for this award. Sadly for Manning, his brilliant regular season was once again tarnished by a post-season meltdown.

Not surprisingly, Manning also captured the Gridiron Rats award, placing us one award away from a perfect record. (Can you tell we are a little pleased with ourselves?)

Bruce AriansCOACH OF THE YEAR – BRUCE ARIANS, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

It’s quite a story when an offensive coordinator wins the Coach of the Year Award, but there is no coach more deserving of this award than Bruce Arians. Arians took over when Head Coach Cuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, and he guided the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth just one year removed from finishing with the league’s worst record, allowing the Colts to draft Andrew Luck with the first pick in the NFL Draft. Chuck Pagano finished second in the voting, followed by Pete Carroll and Leslie Frasier.

Arian was our first award winner at Gridiron Rats, meaning we were a perfect seven for seven in foreshadowing the AP winners. Mind you, that wasn’t our goal; we were simply recognizing the players and coaches that we thought were most deserving of these honors. But apparently the AP voters felt much the same way about each award, and if we are to be criticized for our selections (and there is plenty of debate to be had for some of these awards), then at least we have the satisfaction of being supported by the “official” awards.

Jan 062013
 

Rat's Awards ImageNow we get to the top three awards, beginning with the DPotY. For much of the season, media and fan focus on defense was directed at the pursuit of the sack record by Aldon Smith and JJ Watt, with Von Miller not far behind. And while some consider sacks to be an overrated statistic (as it is not reflective of the amount of total quarterback pressure applied by a team), it is certainly something that grabs our attention and keeps us interested in defensive players. But there were many good defensive stories in 2012, and our nominees reflect the best defensive accomplishments across the league this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Our nominees in this category included NaVorro Bowman (SF), Chad Greenway (MIN), Tim Jennings (CHI), Luke Kuechly (CAR), James Laurinaitis (STL), Jerod Mayo (NE), Von Miller (DEN), Patrick Peterson (ARI), Aldon Smith (SF), and JJ Watt (HOU).

3rd Place – Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith finished second in the sack race with 19.5 sacks on the year, but is a disruptive presence well beyond his sack production. Smith tallied 66 combined tackles, one interception, and three forced fumbles in addition to his pursuit of Michael Strahan’s single season record. But playing alongside NaVorro Bowman, who racked up 149 combined tackles and who was also a disruptive presence for the 49ers’ defense, clearly hurt Smith in the voting.

2nd Place – Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Miller had 68 combined tackles to go along with his 18.5 sacks, one interception, and six forced fumbles as he helped bring the Broncos’ defense back to respectability after the unit struggled at the end of the 2011 season. Miller has quickly established himself as one of the game’s elite pass rushers, accumulating 30.0 sacks in his two NFL seasons.

JJ WattWINNER – JJ Watt, Houston Texans
If you look up “disruptive” in a dictionary, you just might see this picture next to the definition. Watt was an amazing force in 2011, particularly after the Texans lost defensive anchor Brian Cushing for the season. Watt amassed 81 combined tackles, 20.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and an incredible 16 passes defended as the Texans posted a 12-4 record and won the AFC South for the second year in a row. In his two seasons in the NFL, Watt has established himself as a player for whom game plans must be developed. Because of his knack for batting balls down at the line of scrimmage, he was nicknamed “JJ Swatt” by former NFL head coach Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football.

Jan 052013
 

Rat's Awards ImageAlthough we ended up with a fairly clear winner for this award, the ten nominees drew sharply different rankings from our contributors. As a result, our second through seventh finishers were tightly packed in a competitive race.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Our nominees included (in alphabetical order): Morris Claiborne (DAL), Quinton Coples (NYJ), Lavonte David (TB), Casey Hayward (GB), Dont’a Hightower (NE), Janoris Jenkins (STL), Chandler Jones (NE), Luke Kuechly (CAR), Harrison Smith (MIN), and Bobby Wagner (SEA). One receiver of a first place vote (Hightower) did not end up in our top three, highlighting how competitive the field was.

3rd Place – Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams
Jenkins finished with 73 combined tackles, four interceptions, three touchdowns, four passes defended in his first year as a cornerback for the resurgent 7-8-1 St. Louis Rams. Jenkins scored his first two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over Arizona on November 25th and added his third in a 28-13 win over Tampa Bay on December 23. Jenkins was considered a risky character pick for the Rams and was held out of the team’s first game against the San Francisco 49ers for violations of team rules, but the rookie had a solid season and set an NFL rookie record for defensive touchdowns with four, as he also returned a fumble for a score.

2nd Place – Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lavonte David wasn’t flashy in his first year as a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but his play has already drawn comparisons to another Buccanneer linebacker, Derrick Brooks. While David had only two sacks on the season, one interception and five defended passes, he also led the team with 139 combined tackles as the Bucs put together the best run defense in the league in 2012.

Luke KuechlyWINNER – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
All Kuechly did was to tally 164 combined tackles in his first year in the middle of the Panthers’ defense, along with one sack, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and eight passes defensed. In a 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14, Kuechly recorded a career-high 16 tackles and was honored as NFC Defensive Rookie of the Week. Kuechly received the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month award in December, recording a league-high 59 tackles over the final five games of the season.