NFL Nation: midseason awards

AFC East midseason awards

November, 5, 2008
11/05/08
12:10
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Best offensive player: Ronnie Brown, Dolphins.
In five of his games he carried 14 times or fewer, yet he still has 465 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, second only to Tennessee Titans goal-line specialist LenDale White. Brown also has 143 receiving yards and a touchdown pass.

 
 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
 Joey Porter is on pace to set the single-season sacks record.

Best defensive player: Joey Porter, Dolphins.
There was temptation to go with Jets anchor Kris Jenkins, but Porter is playing like the NFL's defensive MVP. He leads the league with 11.5 sacks, putting him on pace to break Michael Strahan's season record.

Best coach: Bill Belichick, Patriots.
He's working without his superstar quarterback, his top three running backs and a defensive captain. Yet even with a quarterback who hadn't started since high school, Belichick has the Patriots two games over .500.

Best front office: New York Jets.
They hit on a series of free agents, including guard Alan Faneca, linebacker Calvin Pace, and fullback Tony Richardson. They traded for Jenkins and were aggressive in landing quarterback Brett Favre. The Jets' draft mostly has been barren, with fourth-round pick Dwight Lowery the lone contributor so far.

Most overrated player: Brett Favre, Jets.
Overrated doesn't equal bad. Favre is an active legend who isn't as good as his larger-than-life reputation anymore. The more he manages games as opposed to dictating them, the better the Jets will be.

Most underrated player: Matt Cassel, Patriots.
Tom Brady's understudy is doomed by comparisons. No, Cassel hasn't maintained the Patriots' high-octane offense. But take a look at his numbers: 67 percent completions, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, 83.4 passer rating. He hasn't been nearly as awful as many think, and he's steadily improving.

Biggest surprise: Greg Camarillo, Dolphins.
Unrecruited out of high school and not invited to the NFL scouting combine, he wasn't expected to make the roster this year. But Camarillo leads Miami with 43 catches for 483 yards and a touchdown.

Biggest disappointment: Patriots pass protection and Jason Peters, Bills.
Only the doormat San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals have allowed more sacks than the Patriots, who boast three Pro Bowl linemen. Peters, the Pro Bowl left tackle who sat out training camp because of a contract dispute, has been mediocre on a team that desperately needs better.

Most effective acquisition: Kris Jenkins, Jets.
The hefty nose tackle is the main reason the Jets own one of the NFL's top defenses. They're second in sacks and fourth in run defense. The Jets gave up third- and fifth-round picks to pry Jenkins from the Carolina Panthers, and he's playing like two players.

Biggest bust acquisition: Ernest Wilford, Dolphins.
On the first day of free agency, the Dolphins gave Wilford a four-year, $13 million contract with $6 million guaranteed. He has been a healthy scratch for five games and has one reception.

Best offensive rookie: Jake Long, Dolphins.
The No. 1 overall selection -- and highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history -- has started every game at left tackle and hasn't looked out of place since leaving Michigan.

Best defensive rookie: Jerod Mayo, Patriots.
The 10th pick from Tennessee is an every-down player, replacing inside linebacker Junior Seau. Mayo unofficially leads the Patriots with 59 tackles.

Best draft value: Dwight Lowery, Jets.
Taken in the fourth round out of San Jose State, he has started all eight games and unofficially leads the Jets with 43 tackles along with nine passes defended. Also worthy of mention is Dolphins guard Donald Thomas, a sixth-round pick who was their opening-day starter.

Worst draft value: Vernon Gholston, Jets.
The former phenom from Ohio State has made zero impact despite being taken sixth overall. Gholston has struggled with the transition from full-time defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. He hasn't started a game and has four solo tackles.

Best undrafted rookie: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots.
Carpenter came to camp from Montana and beat out veteran Jay Feely for th
e job. Carpenter has made 86 percent of his field goals, but hasn't been tested on a long one yet. Green-Ellis began on the practice squad, but injuries gave him a shot at running back. The Ole Miss product has two starts and three touchdowns.

Least-represented team in this report: Buffalo Bills.
The Bills are pretty good in most facets, but they're not consistently mind-blowing anywhere. Their top offensive players -- quarterback Trent Edwards, running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Lee Evans -- have produced dazzling games, but they've also disappeared at times. Injuries and recent shaky play have tempered enthusiasm. The draft class has provided negligible impact.

NFC North midseason awards

November, 5, 2008
11/05/08
12:07
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

You've heard of getting ahead of the curve? Well, we jumped out a bit two weeks ago when we presented our near-midseason awards on a slow Saturday during the bye week. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we're kinda out of juice now that the actual midseason has arrived and the bosses want a true slate of midseason awards to coincide with the midpoint of the season.

So here then are the first updated near-midseason awards at midseason in ESPN.com Blog Network history:

 
 David Stluka/Getty Images
 No, there's nothing wrong with your computer screen: Kyle Orton is the NFC North's midseason MVP.

Rookie of the year: Chicago tailback Matt Forte
He hasn't had a 100-yard game since the opener, but Forte's steady work has put him on pace for an 1,100-yard season. His best contribution might be as a receiver, where he is more comfortable than anyone could have imagined. UPDATE: Obviously, we knew it was a matter of time before Forte got his second 100-yard game. It came Sunday against Detroit, putting him on pace for a 1,280-yard season.

Coach of the year: Chicago's Lovie Smith
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy got consideration for navigating the Packers through the Brett Favre mess. But Smith's decision to start quarterback Kyle Orton, and his willingness to trust him with a wide-open offense, has put the Bears in the thick of the division race. UPDATE: Smith will really earn this award if the Bears hold on to first place with backup quarterback Rex Grossman at the helm.

Yin and yang executive award: Green Bay's Ted Thompson
Clearly, Aaron Rodgers was ready to assume the team's quarterback position. And clearly, Thompson should have ended the Brett Favre saga sooner. You can only wonder how much of the Packers' penalties and other sloppiness can be traced to a distraction-filled training camp. UPDATE: Thompson is so confident in Rodgers that he's already made him a very rich man. And the Packers still have a limp in their gait.

Quietest 684-yard performance: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson
Yes, he has five touchdowns -- including a 54-yard jaunt last Sunday at Soldier Field. But his production hasn't translated into victories; only one of his four 100-yard games have come in a win. UPDATE: Darn! We thought this would happen but didn't write it: Peterson's 139 yards Sunday against Houston gave him a second 100-yard game in a Vikings victory. Another lost scoop.

Offensive player of the year: Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings
Jennings is the NFL's most explosive receiver, leading the league with 685 receiving yards and 12 receptions of at least 20 yards. Defenses should know by now that he's Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiver. UPDATE: Jennings has slumped to second in the NFL with 764 yards, but he has managed to save face by maintaining his league lead with 14 receptions of 20 or more yards.

Defensive player of the year: Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson
It's been nothing short of miraculous: Woodson is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions despite playing the past six games on a fractured toe. He's hardly practiced but his coverage hasn't suffered. (Ask Dallas' Terrell Owens.) UPDATE: Woodson is back to practicing on a limited basis but it hasn't affected his performance on Sunday.

Most Valuable Player: Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton
Can't say I envisioned writing these words, but Orton is the key to the Bears' success these days. His accuracy and quick adaptation to the no-huddle offense has caught opposing defenses off guard. Face it: with an injury-depleted defense and a mediocre running game, the Bears are a passing team. Gasp. UPDATE: And that means the passer isn't supposed to run. But Orton tried to get fancy the other day at Soldier Field and will miss a few games because of a sprained ankle.

Biggest swing and miss: Detroit's plan to run the ball
The Lions' conversion to a zone-blocking run scheme, a knee-jerk reaction to the pass-happy ways of former coordinator Mike Martz, has been a total disaster. Linemen aren't blocking it well, runners aren't finding the holes and coaches aren't mixing up the calls. Their average of 77.7 rushing yards per game is the third-worst mark in the NFL. UPDATE: That average is now down to 72.0 yards and is kind of like the stock market: No one knows where rock-bottom might be.

Best offseason acquisition: Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian
Berrian has given the Vikings exactly what they were missing last season: A receiver who could take advantage of the attention paid to tailback Adrian Peterson. Berrian's 517 receiving yards rank 10th in the NFL and put him on pace for a career season. UPDATE: Berrian now ranks 9th with 621 yards. He's only a few Gus Frerotte rainbows away from the first 1,000-yard season.

Worst offseason acquisition: Minnesota fullback Thomas Tapeh
The Vikings envisioned Tapeh as a long-term companion for Adrian Peterson and paid him top money for a fullback. As it turns out, however, the Vikings didn't know Tapeh had knee surgery a month before signing. He played in two games and already has been released. The Vikings could be on the hook for as much as $1.855 million. UPDATE: It turns out his name really wasn't Thomas. (Sarcasm alert.)

APB Award: Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila
"KGB" has a half-sack to his credit despite playing in all seven games. The Packers are limiting his playing time to maintain his health, but it's time to start wondering if he has simply seen his better days
. UPDATE: The Packers agree. They released Gbaja-Biamila last Saturday.

Most patience: Readers of this blog
Thanks for sticking with us through FavreGate I and II, MillenGate, the Soldier Field fracas and the OCCASIONAL typo or misjudgment. Most of all, let's keep having fun. That's what football is about, right? UPDATE: You're right, it's "Rob" Bironas.

NFC West midseason awards

November, 5, 2008
11/05/08
12:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals are the only viable team in the NFC West as the season hits its midpoint. We still found a way to honor the best -- and worst -- this division had to offer.

 
 Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
 Kurt Warner has guided the Cardinals to a 5-3 record.

Most Valuable Player: Kurt Warner, Cardinals

The Cardinals might not be a .500 team without him. Warner has 16 touchdown passes against six interceptions. He's on pace for nearly 5,000 yards passing with a rating well into triple digits (104.2). A poor performance against the Jets is skewing his overall turnover stats, but Warner has otherwise done a much better job protecting the football. That makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Defensive player of the year: Adrian Wilson, SS, Cardinals

Wilson's toughness gives the Cardinals an edge on defense. No player in the division does a better job disguising his blitz intentions before the snap. Wilson still makes mistakes in coverage, but there's no mistaking the toughness he brings to Arizona's defense. The knockout shot he put on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards showed why Wilson is the most-feared player in the division.

Coach of the year: Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals

The Cardinals own the only winning record in the division thanks in part to Whisenhunt's willingness to make bold decisions. The franchise wanted Matt Leinart to emerge as the starting quarterback. Whisenhunt went with Kurt Warner in a manner that helped coax smarter play from the freewheeling quarterback. Whisenhunt benched Edgerrin James. Whisenhunt is similarly bold with his in-game decision making. Sometimes the tactics backfire, but Whisenhunt plays to win and his team has responded.

Overall rookie of the year: Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals

His breakout performance against the Rams in his first NFL start helped Arizona open a three-game lead in the division heading into Week 10. Hightower has seven touchdowns. He has been highly effective as a short-yardage runner. Chris Long (Rams), Donnie Avery (Rams), John Carlson (Seahawks) and Josh Morgan (49ers) have also had their moments.

Offensive rookie of the year: Donnie Avery, WR, Rams

Hightower gets overall rookie honors, but Avery is gaining on him. The speedy receiver has 17 catches for 317 yards and two touchdowns over his last four games. His 18.6-yard average during that stretch shows the big-play ability that made Avery the first receiver chosen in the 2008 draft. I didn't expect Avery to overtake Torry Holt so quickly.

Defensive rookie of the year: Chris Long, DE, Rams

Long is getting to the quarterback more than expected. He has shown the versatility to play on either side depending on how injuries affect the team's personnel needs. Long has four sacks. He is improving just about every week.

Breakout player of the year: Steve Breaston, WR, Cardinals

The Cardinals drafted Early Doucet in the third round to compensate for losing Bryant Johnson in free agency. They also hoped Breaston might challenge for the job. Breaston is on pace for 78 receptions and 1,006 yards. He has enjoyed big games with and without Anquan Boldin in the lineup. Breaston is fearless after the catch. His unorthodox approach can make him more difficult to defend.

Fired coach of the year: Mike Nolan, 49ers

His 2-5 record wasn't enough to keep his job, but it was more than enough to beat out the Rams' Scott Linehan. With Nolan and Linehan out, and with Mike Holmgren leaving Seattle after this season, Whisenhunt becomes the division's only incumbent head coach for 2009.

Interim coach of the year: Jim Haslett, Rams

The Rams became a competitive team overnight when Haslett took over for Linehan after an 0-4 start. St. Louis has lost its last two games and injuries are clouding the team's chances for a rebound, but Haslett seems to be doing a good job.

Thief of the year: Oshiomogho Atogwe, S, Rams

Atogwe has four interceptions in his last five games and 11 in his last 16.

Halftime performance of the year: Mike Singletary, 49ers

Nothing more needs to be said.

Upset of the year: Koren Robinson rejoining the Seahawks

Seahawks president Tim Ruskell has built his reputation on weeding out problem players from the locker room. He ran off Robinson three years ago after the troubled receiver blew a pair of .191s following a traffic stop.

Bringing back Robinson would have seemed unfathomable in August. A desperate situation at receiver convinced Ruskell to take another look.

Safe bet of the year: Cardinals will win the division

Only an injury to Warner can derail the Cardinals at this point, and even that might not be enough given the state of the division.

Backup Matt Leinart might be good enough to start for every other team in the division as long as Marc Bulger is struggling and Matt Hasselbeck is injured.

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