Each NFL season is a unique little snowflake, but 2017 is way outside the realm of the typical mold. At midseason, there are a number of different MVP candidates heavily involved in the race that no one saw coming before the season. If you want further proof, look at where some of these guys -- namely Alex Smith, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson -- were drafted in your fantasy league. Spoiler: they probably weren't drafted at all, or at least only taken very late.
And yet, they find themselves right in the mix for the CBSSports.com midseason MVP ballot with a stalwart of this race, Tom Brady.
The Patriots quarterback is having an incredible season, per usual. So good, in fact, that the Patriots were willing to deal away Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round pick, knowing (hoping?) Brady can stay healthy and play at this level into his 40's.
What's wild about Brady's season is he's being asked to do more than ever, even at his advanced age. Julian Edelman was hurt before the season. The running game isn't the same with LeGarrett Blount in Philadelphia. Brady leads the NFL in passing attempts and passing completions through eight games and has completed 66.7 of his 309 attempts. He also leads the NFL with passing yards (2,541) and has thrown 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He's averaging 8.2 yards per attempt and really has not started to get completely rolling with his newest weapon Brandin Cooks.
And yet ... he's not even our midseason MVP. That award goes to Alex Smith of the Chiefs, who won the tiebreaker against Brady because he got my vote and I'm the one writing the story. Smith, Brady and Wentz all received two votes from our panel, while Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson got one vote.
Smith might not win at the end of the year, but he is deserving right now: he has completed 69.1 percent of his completions (259 attempts), has thrown for 2,181 yards, 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions, while averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. We've seen Smith slip back a little bit during the last three games against tough defenses and in rough spots, but he still has fewer interceptions than Tyreek Hill, a wide receiver on his own team. Smith is not being a full-blown caretaker, as he's been pushing the ball down the field and changing the way we think about the Chiefs on a weekly basis.
Look, Brady and Smith have pretty comparable stats. Brady is dealing with a historically bad defense. They both have pretty comparable weapons. Brady has a little more momentum the last few weeks. Give me Smith for the full body of work over the first half of the season.
Wentz is a worthy candidate too, having elevated the Eagles to an elite NFL team this year and sitting tied for the most passing touchdowns in the NFL this year (19, tied with Watson). He's completing 61 percent of his passes and is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt.
And, look, if the Texans ultimately win the AFC South without J.J. Watt playing for much of the season, Watson is going to be given a very serious look for this award, because the difference between him and Tom Savage/Brock Osweiler looks pretty massive right now. He's a rookie who didn't start Week 1 and is still leading the NFL in touchdown passes. It's a remarkable story. He will probably get consideration for another award!
Here's the full tally from our crew of CBSSports.com writers:
Alex Smith: He has 16 touchdown passes and no picks with a completion percentage of 69.1 and a yards-per-attempt average of 8.4.
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Carson Wentz: I'm still not sold on the talent around him. He is elevating that offense and that entire team.
Alex Smith: See above.
Tom Brady: Brady is 40 years old, he has no defense and somehow, the Patriots are still 6-2. Brady gets hit about 40 times every game, and despite that, he's still on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards.
Carson Wentz: He's playing like a top-5 quarterback on the league's best team. We'll see what happens over the final two months of the season with a makeshift offensive line but it's hard not to like what he's done (well, unless you're the Cleveland Browns).
Deshaun Watson: The Texans are only 3-4 blah blah blah. Who cares? There has not been a single player in the NFL that has impacted his team in a more positive way than Watson. That's what the MVP is.
Tom Brady: Without Brady, this Patriots team -- with an improving, but still bad defense -- wouldn't be regarded as a Super Bowl contender. But they are, because Brady has maintained his MVP-level of play at the age of 40.
Offensive, defensive awards
Two teams made huge moves this offseason that are paying off in spades. First there is the Kansas City Chiefs, who used a high pick on Kareem Hunt, a rookie running back out of Toledo, who was mostly going to be a flier in fantasy drafts, backing up Spencer Ware, until the incumbent suffered an injury and Hunt took over. He came out of the gates firing and as a result is the near unanimous choice to win our midseason Offensive Player of the Year award.
Hunt actually didn't get three votes, but those were split among other quarterbacks (basically guys who finished second to the MVP for the voters, see below). For me, Hunt was an easy choice.
He currently leads the NFL in rushing yards with 763 (Le'Veon Bell is fast approaching) and leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,070. He's on pace for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. That would be an incredible debut season. For as much as the offense in Kansas City has leaned on Alex Smith's improvement -- and he has improved to the point that we named him our midseason MVP -- it's impossible not to give Hunt credit for his offensive prowess on the field.
He is dynamic in the run game, explosive in the pass game. Every time he carries the ball, you can watch him run and imagine him busting off a 70-yard run to the house.
My gut is that it will almost be easier for him to win this award -- it often lands in the lap of a very good running back or wide receiver -- than it will be to win MVP or OROY, which so often go to the best quarterback. He is definitely deserving.
On the defensive side of things, hello DUVAL. We had a party with the Jaguars here, as four voters picked players from the Jaguars, defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive back Jalen Ramsey. The voting was split 2-2, and we're going to give Campbell the tiebreaker for a couple of reasons.
One, he was a free-agent addition who has 10 sacks this season. You can literally put a price on it, because the Jaguars did in signing him, but how often does something work out this well?
Two, look at the Cardinals defense without Campbell and the Jaguars defense with him.
Three, Campbell up front does make Ramsey better in the back end.
Four, I wanted to vote Campbell but then my picks would be the same as Pete Prisco and that sounds gross. And five: several other non-Campbell voters ACTUALLY MENTIONED CAMPBELL.
Here's the full tally from our crew of CBSSports.com writers:
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: He leads the NFL in rushing and has a 5.2 per-rush average. He's also been dynamic in the passing game at times.
Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars: He has 10 sacks, the most of his career, and he's good against there run. He's the best free-agent signing in the league this year.
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Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: Brady is ageless and really should be the MVP, too, because he is the best now and the best ever. But I wanted to share the spoils.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jaguars: Ramsey is playing out of his mind and might be the best defensive back in football these days.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: We tend to get locked into a "What have you done for me lately" attitude with the NFL and Hunt hasn't been mind-blowingly great lately. He only had 68 total yards against the Broncos. But that was his first game without 100 total yards from scrimmage and he leads the league in rushing and scrimmage yards halfway through.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jaguars: Someone from the Jaguars defense needs to win this, and I'm fine with Campbell being the choice. I just think Ramsey has transformed that defense into a terrifying unit and he helps to cut the field in half. He is an absolute ballhawk and going to be the best corner in the NFL soon.
Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles: I'd love to give Wentz my MVP vote, but I feel like Brady's done more with less. If Brady fades down the stretch -- because that sometimes happens to old people -- then I wouldn't be shocked at all to see Wentz take home the MVP.
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys: Through eight weeks of the season, not only is Lawrence the NFL's sack leader, but he's also second in forced fumbles (3). He's been the glue that's keeping the Cowboys defense together. Unfortunately for Dallas, this is going to be some expensive glue. Lawrence is in a contract year and the Cowboys are going to have to pay him a lot money if they want to keep him going forward.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks: He's thrown 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions while running for his life. Now that the Seahawks have traded for Duane Brown, the offensive line should be stabilized, the offense more consistent, and Wilson even better. Heads up, Rams -- Seattle's coming.
Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars: He has 10 sacks in seven games, anchors the Jaguars' defensive line, and is a key cog in the NFL's best pass defense. We also considered teammate Jalen Ramsey here.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: 100 plus total yards in each of the first seven games, including the NFL record for most total yards in an NFL debut. He keeps breaking big play after big play and he is the single biggest reason the Chiefs are atop the AFC West.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys: I highly doubt he'll end up winning the award, but nobody has had a better first half. Lawrence is leading the NFL with 10.5 sacks, recording at least one in each of the Cowboys' seven games. He's also forced three fumbles and recovered two, and he has 13 tackles for loss. (Special recognition for Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, and Jalen Ramsey, who split the Jaguars vote in my head and convinced me to go with Lawrence for now.)
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: Hunt, a rookie, has turned the Chiefs' offense into the big-play machine that it is. Sure, Alex Smith, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill also deserve credit, but it's Hunt's big-play ability that has been the difference this season. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and totaled at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first seven games of the season.
Everson Griffin, DE, Vikings: Griffen leads a Vikings defense that is among the best in football. He's done that by consistently getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He's already notched 10 sacks and has gotten there by recording at least one sack in every game.
There were a pair of pretty unsurprising runaway winners for the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards at midseason. Look, there was a little competition for Deshaun Watson in terms of Kareem Hunt, but how can you pass on what Watson has done for the Texans? He's a borderline MVP candidate. And Lattimore has the Saints playing well on defense, which is a phrase that no one born after 2009 thought they would ever hear.
Lattimore was actually unanimous in winning the midseason award. Hunt was the only guy to challenge Watson, unsurprisingly.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: See above. (Ed. Note: Pete, forever loquacious.)
Mashon Lattimore, CB, Saints: He has been even better than expected. He is outstanding in coverage, but he also tackles. He has really elected their defense.
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Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: Watson is having one of the greatest rookie seasons by a quarterback, ever, and doing it with style. This isn't close.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints: TJ Watt has been a difference maker... but he's missed some time, too. I'm giving the edge to Lattimore and the impact he's had on the long-suffering saints secondary (Tre'davious White is in this conversation as well).
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: Don't ask me to explain how you can pick Hunt as the OPOY and Watson as the OROY because I won't have a great explanation. I just know that Watson transformed what could have been a disastrous Texans season and has Houston flying high on offense. He has been sublime to watch.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints: All you need to know is that the Saints have been, for the better half of a decade, one of the worst defensive teams in football. I don't think Lattimore is the sole reason they're playing well but what a find in the draft for a team that has struggled to get talent in the secondary.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: I'm putting an asterisk next to Hunt because if Deshaun Watson keeps tearing up the NFL like he has for the past eight weeks, then I'd probably go with him when it's time to vote at the end of the season.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints: The Saints defense is actually good this year after being pretty horrible for the past few seasons. A big reason the D has turned around in New Orleans is because Lattimore has turned into a shutdown corner.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: He's been a top-10 quarterback through the first half of the season and the biggest question isn't whether he'll continue to play at this level but why in god's name did Bill O'Brien think Tom Savage was a better option to start the season?
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints: The Saints were desperate for defensive help this offseason and they hit a home run with Lattimore, who has 7 passes defended, 2 interceptions and is the league's top-rated cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: Remember the halcyon days of Weeks 1 and 2, when Kareem Hunt was breaking records and nobody else had a chance to win this award? Well, Hunt is still breaking records and now he has almost no chance to win the award. That's how good Watson has been.
Marshon Lattimore, Saints and Tre'Davious White, Bills: These two rookie corners have been awesome for better-than-expected defenses.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: I already picked Hunt as the midseason Offensive Player of the Year, so I'm obviously picking him to win this award too. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and totaled at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first seven games of the season. The only player that made me pause was Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is also worthy of the award. Still, I'm sticking with Hunt here.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints: Credit for Lattimore for helping turn a perpetually awful defense in New Orleans into a capable one. He has two picks, seven passes defended, and a defensive score. According to Pro Football Focus -- as of Oct. 30 -- he's allowed a 33.3 passer rating in coverage, the second-lowest rating among cornerbacks.
Coach of the Year
If you were holding just a Coach of the Year awards banquet it would be like that Spiderman meme where they're pointing at each other. Just a pair of young dudes named Sean whose last names start with Mc, having taken over terrible franchises and turned them into potential playoff teams in their first year.
There are many things about Sean McDermott and Sean McVay that are different (hair, preference to offense versus defense, age and more) but they are similar in that they managed to make these the Bills and Rams, respectively, really good really quickly.
One of them is probably going to end up winning this award, although you can make a case for Mike Zimmer of the Vikings and Todd Bowles of the Jets (no, really!) as well as Bill Belichick, because he deserves a shot every year.
Ultimately it was McDermott who won the award for us, thanks in large part to him helping a stripped-down Bills team challenge in the AFC East halfway through the season.
Sean McDermott, Bills: Who thought they would be 5-2 in a supposed "tanking" season. They are building something special in Buffalo.
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Bill Belichick, Patriots: If this Pats D really does improve on the fly, just give the man more hardware, because Belichick the GM did the coach no favors despite all the money he spent during the offseason.
Sean McDermott, Bills: Really tough call between this and Sean McVay for me, but the biggest difference I think is the Bills winning in the Patriots division and doing it with a lot less talent. Turning this roster into chicken salad after trading away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby (and then later dealing Marcel Dareus) is crazy impressive. One more win and they beat their projected Vegas total of 6.5.
Sean McVay, Rams: This award might as well double as the Millennial of the Year Award because McVay's going to win that, too. The 31-year-old has completely resurrected a Rams franchise that Jeff Fisher left for dead.
Sean McDermott, Bills: He's taken a mediocre Bills team and fashioned them into winners. At 5-2, this team stands in stark contract to the mistake-laden Rex Ryan outfits that preceded it. And now they have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Mike Zimmer, Vikings: How they hell are the Vikings 6-2? They're starting Case Keenum! Zimmer's defense has been incredible, and he and Pat Shurmur have figured out a way to keep the offense above water with Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Dalvin Cook, and Stefon Diggs injured for much of the season.
Sean McVay, Rams: McVay transformed the Rams' middle-school offense into the second-best scoring offense in football. Jared Goff went from a bust to prolific passer. Todd Gurley went from a wasted talent to one of the most creatively used players. For that, the Rams can thank McVay, who has turned around the Rams in just half a season as a head coach.