NFC South: Offensive Player of the Year

At 7 p.m. ET Wednesday, The Associated Press will announce its Coach of the Year.

The Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards already have been awarded to New England’s Tom Brady and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu. But the coaching category might be the first award where the NFC South has a chance at a winner.

You have to at least consider Atlanta’s Mike Smith and Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris. Smith won an NFC-best 13 games. Morris guided a turnaround as the Bucs went from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 this year. Kansas City’s Todd Haley and a few other coaches are going to be in the mix as well. But I don’t think Morris or Smith would be a bad choice.

The question I struggle with is who had the better year of the two? Back when I did our All-NFC South postseason awards, I went with Smith as Coach of the Year. In all honesty, that call was basically a coin flip and part of the reason I went with Smith was to create some balance in representing the NFC South teams (although Carolina was in a different class than New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay).

Truthfully, I see the jobs Smith and Morris did this year as equal. Smith took a talented team with high expectations and won 13 games. He could have put himself over the top with a playoff victory or two, but that didn’t happen. Morris engineered a tremendous upward swing by the Buccaneers. He could have put himself over the top with a playoff berth, but that didn’t happen.

I basically see it as a tie between Smith and Morris. But let’s hear what you have to say. Hit the mailbag or the comments section below.

Awards coming this week

January, 31, 2011
Multiple readers have written to ask why we haven't heard anything on various awards for the 2010 season. That's because they've been pushed back to Super Bowl week.

The announcements will start coming tonight with The Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year award. The Offensive Player of the Year will be announced Tuesday and Coach of the Year will come Wednesday.

The Pepsi Rookie of the Year will be announced Thursday and the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year will be revealed Friday. The Comeback Player of the Year will be announced Saturday and the Most Valuable Player will be revealed Sunday morning.

I'm thinking the rookie awards might be the place where the NFC South has its best chance for representation. Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount have to be strong candidates, although St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford could be an obstacle.

Coach of the Year could go in any number of directions, but Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris and Atlanta's Mike Smith each could have a shot.

All NFC South awards

January, 20, 2011
We've already presented the offense, defense and specialists on our All-NFC South team. Now, it's time for some division-wide awards.

[+] EnlargeMike Smith
AP Photo/David GoldmanMike Smith led the Falcons to 13 victories this season.
Coach of the Year: Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons. There was strong temptation to go with Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris here. He did a fantastic job, but I'm also trying to spread things out. I'll go with Smith. Forget the debacle in the playoff loss to Green Bay. The Falcons won 13 games, and they did that by playing disciplined, smart football.

General Manager of the Year: Mark Dominik, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the league's lowest payroll and a slew of injuries, the Bucs managed to win 10 games. Dominik pulled some rabbits out of a hat by finding some impact players late in the draft, off the waiver wire and off the practice squads of other teams.

Rookie of the Year: Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Exhibit A of Dominik's success. Williams was a fourth-round draft pick, but he immediately was Tampa Bay's No. 1 receiver.

Coordinator of the Year: Greg Olson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams are bigger names. But I'll take Olson just on this season. With Josh Freeman in his first full season as a starting quarterback, a bunch of young guys playing at receiver and running back, and an offensive line that was hit hard by injuries, Olson still made this the most entertaining offense in franchise history.

Defensive Player of the Year: John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons. This was probably the hardest choice on this list. It was not a banner year for defense in the NFC South. I narrowed the list to Abraham and New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma and Malcolm Jenkins. Vilma might be the most consistent and best overall defensive player in the division, and Jenkins probably has the most upside. But Vilma didn't make a lot of big plays, and I'm hesitant to give Jenkins this honor in his first full season as a starter. Abraham had 13 sacks and made more big plays than any defensive player in the division.

Offensive Player of the Year: Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons. Yes, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Freeman got consideration here. So did Atlanta running back Michael Turner. All those guys are good. But when you look at their production this season only, can you really make a case that they were the best in the league at their position? I think you can do that with White, and that's why I'm going with him.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Eric Weems, Atlanta Falcons. He did it all for the Falcons, returning kickoffs and punts and also helping out on the coverage units. He became a big-play guy as a return man, and that's why he's going to the Pro Bowl.

Breakout Player of the Year: Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints. He moved from cornerback to free safety, and even made a brief return to cornerback when injuries piled up. He made some huge plays and showed signs he could become a force for the long term.

Equipment Manager of the Year: Jackie Miles, Carolina Panthers. Hey, I had to get the Panthers involved somehow, and there really wasn't a legitimate case for any of their players, coaches or executives. But the one guy with the Panthers who is the absolute best in the league at what he does is Miles. He might not be an owner, player, coach or general manager, but there are times you watch Miles do his thing and you feel like you are watching Ted Williams (the baseball player, not the guy with the big voice) taking batting practice.

Most Valuable Player: You'll have to wait a bit. That's going to be announced in a column that is to appear Friday afternoon.

Brees gets POY award

January, 12, 2010
Well, Drew Brees didn’t get the prestigious Most Valuable Player award decided by the Associated Press, but that’s being cushioned in other ways.

The Sporting News just announced Brees as its Offensive Player of the Year. Brees also won that award last year. This time around, he won it rather easily. The voting was done by a panel of 636 players, coaches and executives. Brees received 299 first-place votes and Tennessee running back Chris Johnson was second with 166.

Brees also is the quarterback on The Sporting News’ All-Pro offense. New Orleans guard Jahri Evans also made the team.