2016 NFL Awards: Our Writers See Matt Ryan as MVP, and It's Not Close
It's the end of the 2016 NFL regular season, which typically means it's time to hand out awards for the 2016 NFL regular season. Before the playoffs started, we got 20 of numberFire's NFL writers and editors to vote for seven yearly awards.
We'll reveal the winners and runner-ups for each award, along with how many votes were received. The reasoning behind those awards will be explained using our Net Expected Points metric (NEP), which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data. Here's how the voting went:
MVP: Matt Ryan (16)
Runner-up: Tom Brady (2), Aaron Rodgers (2)
A lot of the discussion about the MVP award this season has been about how it’s a close race. That wasn’t the case with our voters, who gave the award to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in a landslide.
There’s good reason for Ryan’s runaway victory.
Ryan finished first among all quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back and Passing NEP -- both of which were league-high marks since Peyton Manning’s 2013 season. Rounding out our metrics, Ryan also led all passers in Success Rate, which measures the percentage of plays that positively impact NEP.
It doesn't stop there as Ryan paced the league in yards per attempt (YPA) by over a yard (9.3 to 8.2). His yards per attempt is the third-highest single-season clip of all time among quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts, and the 1.1-yard gap between him and Tom Brady this season is the biggest gap between first and second since the 2001 season. That year’s leader, Kurt Warner, won MVP.
We keep hearing about how the NFL is a passing league, but even with today’s landscape, Ryan’s season has been impressive. He finished with a YPA+, which adjusts for the current year’s league average, of 149. That means Ryan’s YPA was 49 percent better than the league average, which is the highest in a single-season for any quarterback with at least 300 attempts. Only two other quarterbacks have gotten up to a YPA+ of 145, Joe Montana in 1989 and Boomer Esiason in 1988, both of whom won the MVP award in those respective seasons.
Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson (13)
Runner-up: Matt Ryan (5)
For many, the Offensive Player of the Year award is a way to give the year’s best non-quarterback recognition, and that was that case for the majority of our voters. While our MVP came in second, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson was the clear winner of the award. Johnson’s season was overshadowed by a disappointing record for the Cardinals, but without him, it could have been much worse.
On just rushing metrics alone, Johnson’s season wasn’t mind-bogglingly impressive. He finished seventh in rushing yards while having the fourth-most rushing attempts. He was just 11th in Rushing NEP per attempt and 9th in Success Rate among the 19 running backs with at least 200 carries on the year. Where Johnson blew away the other running backs was with his receiving value -- he was basically a full time wide receiver, too.
Johnson finished the year with 879 receiving yards, which led all running backs and was 19th among all players. He had more receiving yards than Brandon LaFell, Jamison Crowder, and Cole Beasley -- to name a few.
He led all running backs in Reception NEP, and only Spencer Ware and Tevin Coleman had a higher Reception NEP per target among backs thrown to at least 20 times, although Coleman and Ware combined for 82 total targets while Johnson saw 120. Johnson led all players in yards from scrimmage (2,118) by 124 yards and reached at least 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 straight games before suffering a knee injury in Week 17.
Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller (7)
Runner-up: Landon Collins (6)
The Denver Broncos repeated as the No. 1 defense by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play this season, and Von Miller was a big reason why. The secondary was great again, but so was the pass rush. Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, the Broncos had the third-best pressure rate on defense. Individually, Miller had the ninth-most pressures for a defender, and he converted that into the second-most sacks at 13.5 behind Atlanta’s Vic Beasley, who only received one DPOY vote.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott (11)
Runner-up: Dak Prescott (9)
All votes cast for this award went to the Dallas Cowboys, but they were nearly split evenly between the two rookie sensations as Ezekiel Elliott edged out quarterback Dak Prescott for the award. Elliott had high expectations placed on him as the fourth overall pick, and it’s hard to say he didn’t reach them, regardless of how you may have viewed the pick at the time. Elliott led the league in both rushing yards and attempts, and he was second among the 19 running backs with at least 200 carries in Rushing NEP per attempt, but Zeke led them all in Success Rate.
Prescott was thrown in as the starter following a preseason injury to Tony Romo, and he put on one of the most impressive quarterbacking performances of the year. Among the 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs this season, Prescott finished third in both Passing NEP per drop back and Success Rate. Prescott ended the regular season with the sixth-most passing yards all-time for a rookie, and he ranked third this year in yards per attempt for quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts, trailing only Ryan and Brady.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa (15)
Runner-up: Jalen Ramsey (4)
The lesson here is don’t delay contract signings for rookies because of offset language. After arriving late to training camp and missing the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, Joey Bosa dominated for the San Diego Chargers.
His 10.5 sacks tied for 13th in the league, and they ranked first among rookies. Whether he played as more of an edge-rushing linebacker or had his hand in the dirt at defensive end, he was a menace for opposing tackles all season.
Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett (7)
Runner-up: Bill Belichick (5)
Start rookies at quarterback and running back then take a team that finished 4-12 last season to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and you get a pretty easy case for Coach of the Year. Garrett wasn’t just the benefactor of a great offensive line and having two players come in who were clearly better than the ones in their positions last season. There were changes to the game plan that allowed the offense to get the most out of the skills for both Prescott and Elliott. Dallas looked unbeatable in 2016 unless playing the New York Giants or starting Mark Sanchez. The Cowboys finished the season second in nERD, and they have the second-best odds of winning the Super Bowl, per our models.
Co-Executives of the Year: Jerry Reese and Reggie McKenzie (6)
Our only tie comes for Executive of the Year, and the award gets split by Jerry Reese of the New York Giants and Reggie McKenzie of the Oakland Raiders. Both got here with massive spending on the free agent market during the offseason, but the teams have found success in different ways.
Reese’s spending was more of a quick fix. He dropped $104.7 million in guaranteed money to bring in Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison in an attempt to fix a defense that ranked 25th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play in 2015. All three signings have exceeded lofty expectations this season.
Vernon led the league in individual pressures per SIS charting, Jenkins was third in the league in Success Rate among cornerbacks, and Harrison was one of the league’s most dominant run-stopping defensive tackles. All of this led the Giants to be the second-ranked defense in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play in 2016, and they are a unit which has helped carry a poor offense -- the Giants' offense ranks 26th in Adjusted NEP per play -- to an 11-5 record and a spot in the postseason.
While McKenzie also went big in free agency, his co-win here can be considered more of a process award. McKenzie took the Raiders from cap hell during his first season in 2012 and patiently turned them into contenders in 2016. Draft picks like Derek Carr Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack have broken out to help lead the charge. Free-agent signing Kelechi Osemele was a big addition to an offensive line that ranked first in offensive pressure rate, though the splash signings on defense -- Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, and Bruce Irvin -- haven’t had the desired impact. Oakland still ranks 27th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, but the team still finished 12-4 and they're in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
It’s also worth noting Bill Belichick got as many votes for Executive of the Year (5) as he did for Coach of the Year, and the votes did not all come from the same five ballots.
Super Bowl Winner: New England Patriots (12)
Runner-up: Atlanta Falcons (3), Dallas Cowboys (3)
We also had our voters predict the Super Bowl winner, and the New England Patriots were the overwhelming favorite. Our numbers also have the Patriots as the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Houston, giving them a 35 percent chance to do so. New England is the No. 1 team in nERD, but since 2000, the top-ranked nERD team at the end of the regular season has never won the Super Bowl. The top team has only reached the Super Bowl five times, with the 2014 Seattle Seahawks -who lost to the Patriots -- doing so most recently.
Splitting the second-place vote were the Cowboys and Falcons, who have the second- and third-best odds of winning the Super Bowl, respectively. Only two other teams received a vote -- one each for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.