- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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This will be this season’s final edition of QB Watch, a weekly project I’ve enjoyed tremendously this season. With that in mind, we will make this our awards edition.
Here are the awards:
Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Packers. He carries Green Bay and is more valuable to the Packers than any player on any team. He also seems to have the ability to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. We all should enjoy what may be the golden age of quarterbacking. We know all about Tom Brady, who may be the greatest ever and is still outstanding, but he might be only the third-best quarterback in the league.
Best quarterback: Drew Brees, Saints. Rodgers will win the MVP award and he should, because without Rodgers the Packers would be the Colts without Peyton Manning. But Brees is setting all sorts of records and the Saints are having a great season. You could argue Brees gets to play in one of the most quarterback-friendly offenses in history and has as many weapons as any team ever has. But it’s tough to imagine another quarterback running the New Orleans offense as efficiently as Brees.
Best surprise: Matt Moore, Dolphins. If the Dolphins had turned things over to Moore a bit earlier, their season might have been respectable. Moore’s been efficient without a lot of weapons around him. Whoever is coaching the Dolphins next year has to at least consider keeping Moore as the starter.
Worst surprise: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers. I truly believed we’d see greatness out of Freeman this year. His 2010 season, his first as a starter, was filled with all sorts of promise. But 2011 has been a disaster. Freeman deserves some of the blame, no doubt. But his supporting cast has been dismal and that’s made him look even worse. The Bucs have to do something dramatic or else they’re going to ruin this kid.
Worst injury: Jay Cutler, Bears. Before he went down, the Bears were on target for the playoffs. Once Cutler went down, they fell apart.
Best non-injury: Matthew Stafford, Lions. For the first time in his career, Stafford has been healthy enough to start every game. It’s no coincidence the Lions are in the playoffs for the first time in a generation.
Best response to injury: After starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart went down, the Texans turned to rookie T.J. Yates. He led them to victory in his first appearance and won his first two starts. The Texans have stumbled and lost the past two games, but Yates did enough to get the Texans into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Best fullback playing quarterback: Tim Tebow, Broncos. Let’s be real honest. Despite all the miracles, Tebow does not throw like an NFL quarterback. But he can run and he can buy so much time that it sometimes doesn’t matter if his passes are fluttering toward receivers.
Best rookie quarterback ever: Cam Newton Panthers. The numbers say it all. He’s already broken the rookie record for passing yards and has a chance at 4,000. He’s also run for more touchdowns (14) than any quarterback in history. He’s also turned around a franchise that had absolutely no hope a year ago.
Best rookie if this had been a normal season: Andy Dalton, Bengals. Carson Palmer has been forgotten in Cincinnati. Dalton (along with Newton) is just one of five rookie quarterbacks in history to throw for 20 touchdowns.
Worst rookie: Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars. Jacksonville threw this rookie in long before he was ready and it showed. Gabbert’s completed just 50 percent of his passes. While Newton and Dalton have shown they can be the answers for the Panthers and Bengals for the long haul, the Jaguars -- and whoever their new coach ends up being -- are going to have to decide if Gabbert really has a future or if they should look for an alternative.
Best recovery: Alex Smith, 49ers. He’s never going to live up to his 2005 draft status, but the arrival of coach Jim Harbaugh has finally allowed the 49ers to get something good from Smith. He’s not a great quarterback, but he’s shown he can be a very efficient one on a very good team.
Strongest sign that it’s time to hang it up: Donovan McNabb, formerly of the Vikings. Mike Shanahan benched him in Washington last year. The Vikings benched him in favor of Christian Ponder this year. McNabb asked for his release at a time when Chicago and Houston had major injuries at quarterback, but nobody signed him. That should tell McNabb something.
Biggest decision ahead: The Indianapolis Colts. Do they bring back Manning and hope he’s fully healthy? Or do they draft Andrew Luck?