2015 NFL Awards: Who Do Our Writers See as the League's MVP?
The end of the NFL regular season means it's time to start talking about season-long awards. So the football writers here at numberFire decided to hand out some of our own for the league's major categories.
Below are the results of 20 numberFire NFL writers casting votes 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). For those unaware, NEP 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. You can read more about it in our glossary.
MVP: Cam Newton (13)
Runner-up: Carson Palmer (5)
There might not have been a more impressive performance this season than the one put on by Cam Newton, and our voters agreed. While Newton didn’t rank overwhelmingly high in our passing metrics -- he was eighth in Passing NEP per drop back and ninth in Passing NEP -- he added more value than any other player on the ground this season with 41.20 Rushing Net Expected Points. The next highest player was Alex Smith at 34.7. And Newton was also able to do this with a supporting cast that consisted of Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown as the top two wide receivers.
Newton won our MVP vote by the biggest margin for any award, but there’s still a case to be made for Arizona's quarterback (he got my vote). Palmer was second in the league by Passing NEP per drop back -- behind only Andy Dalton (with 158 more drop backs) -- but he was first in Passing NEP. He also led all players in Total NEP -- which includes passing, rushing and receiving -- by a wide margin.
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown (10)
Runner-up: Cam Newton (6)
For most voters, Offensive Player of the Year has become the award for the best non-quarterback, and that’s how this vote shook out. However, four of the voters who picked Newton as MVP also selected him as OPOY.
Antonio Brown was arguably the most impressive wide receiver in a season that saw quite a few impressive receiver performances. Brown ranked third among receivers in Reception NEP and ninth in Reception NEP per target. That per target efficiency is impressive even before considering Michael Vick and Landry Jones were the throwers of some of those targets. Brown was also third in catch rate among receivers with 100 or more targets, catching 70.5 percent of his targets, while having 90 and 47 more targets than the two players in front of him, respectively (Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald).
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald (7)
Runner-up: J.J. Watt (6)
Watt gets most of the publicity as the most dominant defender in the NFL, but since coming into the league, Aaron Donald has been just as good. Donald only had 11 sacks during the season -- still an impressive number, but pales to Watt’s league leading 17.5 -- but all of Donald’s disruption this season came from the interior of the defensive line. Watt was moved around more around the defensive front this season, getting some time on the edge, which makes collecting sacks slightly easier.
Donald was also the most consistent force along the St. Louis defensive line. He out-snapped the number-two lineman on the Rams, Michael Brockers, by over 200 snaps during the season. He was also the only lineman on the roster to play over 60 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. The second-year tackle was also a major player in St. Louis’ third ranked run defense according to our schedule-adjusted numbers, and individually ranked third in tackles for loss.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: David Johnson (6)
Runner-up: Todd Gurley (5)
David Johnson didn’t get consistent playing time until late in the season, but when he was on the field, he made the most of it. Johnson led all running backs -- not just rookies -- with at least 100 carries in Rushing NEP and Rushing NEP per attempt. He was also a big part of Arizona’s passing game and finished the year ranked second in Reception NEP per target, behind only Washington’s Matt Jones. Jones, for the record, was the league’s worst rusher with at least 100 carries, ranking 44th of 44 running backs to hit that mark by Rushing NEP per attempt.
Once Gurley took the field following the recovery from his ACL injury, he looked like the clear front runner for the job. Then, with few weapons to help on the offense, Gurley hit a midseason slump that impacted his numbers, likely costing him this award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Peters (8)
Runner-up: Ronald Darby (7)
The Kansas City Chiefs had the fourth best pass defense in the league according to our metrics, and Marcus Peters was a big reason for that. Peters fought some problems in coverage throughout the season, but tying the league lead at eight interceptions is impressive for any player, let alone a rookie corner. Peters also tallied the most interception return yards, and was one of five players to return two interceptions for touchdowns. Interceptions aren’t all that matter for a corner, but in terms of expecting points, taking the ball away is pretty good and adding points on defense is even better.
Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians (7)
Runner-up: Ron Rivera (5)
Since taking over the head gig in Arizona, Arians has done one of the best jobs of tailoring his system to his players. This year’s Cardinals ranked first in offense and seventh in defense per our schedule-adjusted metrics. Arizona also ranked first in nERD -- which measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average squad on a neutral field -- from Week 3 through the end of the regular season.
Executive of the Year: Steve Keim (6)
Runner-up: Mike Maccagnan (4)
One of the reasons Arians can have the type of success he’s had is because he and Steve Keim have been on the same page with the type of players who will succeed in Arizona. Keim hasn’t missed much during his tenure as Arizona’s general manager, and just this year he was able to bring in talent that paid off during the Cardinals’ impressive run. Our Offensive Rookie of the Year was drafted in the third round, later round picks like J.J. Nelson played roles in the offense, and veteran free agent signings like Chris Johnson and Dwight Freeney even had value.
Super Bowl Winner: Arizona Cardinals (11)
Runner-up: Carolina Panthers (5)
We also had our voters pick who they thought would win the Super Bowl. Overwhelmingly, the selection was the Cardinals, which meshes with our numbers. We have Arizona as the favorite at 26.7 percent, ahead of the Panthers at 19.4 percent. What might have been the most interesting thing about the vote was only one of the 20 voters picked a team from the AFC, and that team was the Kansas City Chefs, who rank seventh in nERD and have a 4.4 percent chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.