Midseason awards! This week’s Four Verts column is dedicated to the players and moments that have made the 2022 NFL season so special and memorable. The usual group of awards are here, but they don’t encapsulate everything we’re watching. A few new awards have been added that the NFL should consider adopting to paint a more complete picture of the league. Let’s jump in.
MVP: Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs quarterback has been invaluable this year, showing he can still lead an elite passing game while trying to ingratiate a new set of wide receivers into the offense. The Chiefs' offense will work as long as No. 15 is under center. That makes him the most valuable player in the league and one of the most valuable players in NFL history.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill
Hill is having the best season of his career in his first season in Miami. He is averaging 122 receiving yards per game and is on pace to be the first wide receiver to hit 2,000 yards in NFL history. He has been so dominant he should get MVP consideration, but Mahomes has him edged out for now.
Defensive Player of the Year: Micah Parsons
Have you seen Parsons play? He is one of the most unblockable players this era of football has seen. Matt Judon has a case for this award as well, but Parsons brings a different level of juice off the edge.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kenneth Walker III
Walker has assumed the lead role as the Seahawks' bellcow running back following the injury of Rashaad Penny and has hit the ground running. Walker has rushed for at least 97 yards in three of his four starts and has scored a touchdown in four straight games. He has been a home run hit for the Seahawks and his emergence has given Seattle a dangerous, well-rounded offense.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner has emerged as one of the few true shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL as a rookie. No matter the wide receiver, Gardner has been lockdown and truly changed the Jets’ defense. One elite cornerback can change an entire unit and the Jets have reaped the rewards of that.
Coach of the Year: Robert Saleh
Another award for the Jets. Saleh’s Jets have been winning with a top-shelf defense while attempting to mitigate some of the poor factors of Zach Wilson’s play. The Jets are back and it couldn’t have been done without the tutelage and leadership of Saleh, who has improved a lot himself over the past year.
Comeback Player of the Year: Geno Smith
Smith has been an unlikely MVP candidate this year, leading the rebuilding Seahawks to one of the top offenses in the NFL. Smith hasn’t entered the season as a starting quarterback since he was a young member of the Jets in the early 2010s, but he is making the most of his opportunity and just might wind up being the QB for the Seahawks as they continue to distance themselves from the Russell Wilson era.
Jon Gruden Dependent Award: Josh McDaniels
McDaniels is lucky that Mark Davis reportedly paid an undisclosed amount of settlement money to his previous head coach. Two admissions of fault in a calendar year seem unlikely from the stubborn Raiders owner. Las Vegas was built to win this season, but are much closer to having the top pick in the 2023 draft than it is to playoff contention. Being 2-6 with this collection of offensive talent isn’t good enough, but Davis is extremely unlikely to pay two coaches to not coach for him this year. So, McDaniels will get some more time to right the ship and getting the players to produce up to their talent level, all with involuntary help from Jon Gruden.
Cam Newton Award: Justin Herbert
This honor goes to an extraordinarily talented quarterback who is playing in subpar conditions. Newton carried the Carolina Panthers on his back for years before they finally got him legit talent to play with as his physical skills were declining. Herbert finds himself in a similar situation with the Chargers. Against the Atlanta Falcons this weekend, Herbert put together a masterclass of a performance that resulted in just 243 passing yards and 5.7 yards per attempt. The difficulty of throws he completed was incredible and the Chargers were still straining to get down the field and score. Getting his top receivers back will certainly help, but Herbert’s performance in tough circumstances should be noticed.
Tennessee Titans Award: Tennessee Titans
The Titans award goes to the team that exceeds expectations on a routine basis. Negative point differential? Doesn’t matter, they’re 5-3 and winning the division. Taking a rookie quarterback on the road to face Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City? Doesn’t matter, here’s a stressful overtime game where they converted one third down. Injuries, personnel issues, the Titans will persevere and win the ugliest games you have ever seen. This year is no different and the Titans get to be the winners of their own award.
Sid Meier’s 'Civilization' Award: Jim Irsay
Anyone who has played the video game series "Civilization" knows that the possibilities are endless as it pertains to building your country. Players can be as cruel or benevolent as they please. Rage endless wars or be a beacon of peace for the global community. Irsay is on that same power trip now. Mad with power, Irsay has been spurring firings and benchings over the past month. Matt Ryan, Marcus Brady, Frank Reich, hiring Jeff Saturday — Irsay has seen the other NFL civilizations start to pass him by and is doing whatever seems right in his mind to get back on track. As someone who has spent years of their life playing this series, I would like to give Irsay this warning: be careful before there’s mutiny, listen to your advisers and don’t be so quick to dismiss someone when they remind you how the game actually works.
Record Scratch Award: Matt Ryan
The record scratch award goes to the player who can’t believe the circumstances he finds himself in at the current moment. The most appropriate recipient of that award this year is Ryan, the former Falcons legend turned Colts backup. Ryan is not the player he used to be, but he’s still the best quarterback on the Colts' roster and the team was 3-3-1 when he was benched. Now Ryan is behind a young QB who is clearly not the future of the Colts’ organization. It’s reasonable for the Colts to decide that Ryan was not going to be the future quarterback of their franchise. It still has to suck for Ryan personally to be in this scenario at the end of his career.
Relegation Award: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts claim to be an NFL team, but they just pulled off the real life equivalent of a Ted Lasso hire. Jeff Saturday has no experience coaching college or the NFL, and has only a few seasons under his belt at the high school coaching level. Now he’s the interim head coach for one of 32 NFL teams. That’s insane and, more accurately, it’s unserious. Perhaps Saturday will be a prodigy for the Colts and hit the ground running to be their long-term solution at head coach, but the process to get to this result makes no sense. There’s no logical reason to think that Saturday will be particularly good at his job. Going from ESPN airwaves to the head coach of an NFL team over the course of a few days is the decision making of a franchise that isn’t serious right now. The Colts should be relegated to the Big Ten until they decide to get with the times, and Ohio State can take their place in the AFC South.
Scapegoat of the Year Award: Marcus Brady
Marcus Brady basically got Friday’d. Fired on his day off, can you believe it? Not actually his day off, but he did receive a punishment that went too far considering the role he had with the Colts. Brady was the offensive coordinator, but he didn’t call plays — that distinction belonged to former head coach Frank Reich. Still, when the Colts sputtered on offense in their first full game with former sixth-round draft pick Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, Brady was the one who lost his job. This situation is probably not one that Brady would have thrived in, but he was considered an up-and-coming coaching prospect not too long ago. Now, he’s looking to get back into the league. Life comes at you fast in the NFL and Brady is the most recent example of that.
Point Differential Underachievers of the Year Award: Jacksonville Jaguars
This year has been a different type of hell for the Jaguars and their fans. At the midway point of the season, the Jaguars are the only team in the AFC South with a positive point differential at +21. The Colts, who have effectively quit on 2022, sit half a game ahead of the Jaguars in the standings with a record of 3-5-1. The Jaguars are probably a better team than their record indicates, but at 3-6 it’s impossible to say they are a good team. Hopefully they can get some close game luck to go in their favor to close out the season so they can get a record that better indicates the quality of their team.