The NFL celebrated the accolades of the regular centennial season on Saturday, Feb. 1, handing out awards to players for their capabilities both on the field and off of it. Awards such as the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year acknowledge the skills, resume and capabilities of football players’ accolades on the field, while awards like the Walter Payton Man of the Year award celebrate those achievements off the field.
This past regular season, the Baltimore Ravens were led to a 13-3 record under the wise guidance of head coach Jon Harbaugh and quarterback phenom Lamar Jackson, the latter tearing through NFL defenses using his legs and rocket right arm in his second season as a starter in the former’s system. Jackson’s unique capability to navigate the pocket, scramble, throw on the run and cause fans’ jaws to drop is something that hasn’t been seen since the days of Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles’ former quarterback Michael Vick.
Jackson broke Vick’s rushing record for the most yards in a season, eclipsing 1,200 yards on 176 rushing attempts throughout the season. When Jackson’s highlight film is shown, the most obvious feature is his uncanny elusiveness through ridiculous runs throughout the season, shedding tacklers and breaking ankles on most scampers. What is lost through that acknowledgment is the improvement of Jackson’s accuracy from his rookie year to year two, as he masterfully threw deep balls, touch sideline throws, bullets across the middle and a multitude of other throws throughout the season. A completion percentage jump of 58.2% from year one to 66.1% year two shows Jackson’s poise, and his maturation, both on and off the field, continues to speak for itself. Jackson finished the season as the first player in NFL history to finish with over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, and it seems unlikely that anybody will be joining him in that club anytime soon.
The Offensive Player of the Year, the hottest weapon in the league outside of Jackson, deservingly went to New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who shattered Marvin Harrison’s single-season catch record of 143 set back in 2002 by hauling in 149 balls for 1,725 receiving yards. Thomas edged out Jackson with 19 votes to Jackson’s 17, followed by Panther’s running back Christian McCaffrey with 12 votes. Thomas averaged 107.8 yards and 9.3 catches per game, really reinforcing that mentality of “#Can’tGuardMike” while helping Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater lead the Saints to a 13-3 record.
The Defensive Player of the Year, the biggest shutdown piece on the opposing side of the ball, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore played a lights-out season, leading the league with 20 passes defended, tying the league for most interceptions with six, while also shutting down the top receiving option for any of New England’s opponents. A quarterback’s average passer rating when targeting receivers covered by Gilmore on the season was 47.4, good for third-best in the league behind teammates J.C Jackson and Bill’s cornerback Tre’Davious White. Gilmore is the first Patriot to ever win the award, and the first cornerback to win the award since Charles Woodson won it with the Packers back in 2009.
The Defensive Rookie of the Year, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, received calls for Defensive Player of the Year votes earlier in the season, showing a dominant ability to take over games with ease. In two contests against the second-seeded Green Bay Packers this season, Bosa made crucial third-down and late-game stops against Aaron Rodgers, leading the 49ers wrecking crew of a defensive front through the Packers and the rest of the NFC with ease.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which is presented to the NFL player that is deemed to have done the most from his advantageous position to benefit not only the city/region where their team is located but the nation as a whole. Each team nominates a player from within the organization, which is then followed by a round of voting by the Associated Press. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell was honored as the recipient of the award for this season, as he and his siblings have worked together to form the CRC Foundation, helping to teach life skills to youths in the greater Jacksonville area and beyond. Campbell comes from humble beginnings, losing his father at the end of his high school career, and temporarily living in a homeless shelter with his seven siblings and mother. Now, Campbell is heavily invested in the local community, providing after-school activities for all age levels at every school in the area, and attempting to provide solid framework and support for the local youth.
The NFL took the time to acknowledge the regular season accolades for those great enough to shine brighter than their peers, but beyond this, the offseason ensues and the boredom of a lack of football will be apparent unless the XFL can really survive this time.